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What’s wrong with the TaxPayers’ Alliance?

TaxPayers' Alliance logoThe TaxPayers’ Alliance is a tremendously successful campaign group. Barely a day goes by without Chief Executive Matthew Elliott appearing in the media, representing the views of "ordinary taxpayers". In fact never a day goes by: the Alliance boasts an average hit rate of 13 media appearances a day and puts the links on its website to prove it.

Margaret ThatcherThe problem is that it isn’t an alliance of ordinary taxpayers at all. It is an alliance of right-wing ideologues. Its academic advisory council is a who’s who of the proponents of discredited Thatcherite policies, including Eamonn Butler and Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute, academics Patrick Minford and Kenneth Minogue, and former Institute of Directors policy head Ruth Lea.

Not everything the TPA says is wrong. Who could disagree with its commitment to "criticise all examples of wasteful and unnecessary spending", or to putting 2012 London Olympic spending under scrutiny? But the Alliance’s concern for better public spending is a stepping stone to its desire for less public spending. And far from being a voice for "ordinary" taxpayers, its policies – opposing all tax rises (what, for everyone, in any circumstance?) and backing a flat rather than progressive tax – will increase inequality and shift wealth from poor to rich.

The silent majority

Membership chartThe very concept of an alliance of "ordinary taxpayers" is a nonsense. We are all taxpayers and so the TaxPayers’ Alliance might as well claim to represent everyone. It in fact claims 20,000 supporters – an impressive enough figure, but one that represents just 0.04% of the adult population in Britain. What about the other 99.96%?

Stop wasteful public spending

Olympic Stadium, LondonThe TaxPayers’ Alliance is right about one thing: the government has a responsibility to spend wisely and efficiently. And Labour has indeed squandered public funds through schemes like the Private Finance Initiative, and by shelling out huge subsidies to private train operators. Imagine our surprise, then, when we spotted high-profile recipients of such wasteful spending among TaxPayers’ Alliance supporters. They include Malcolm McAlpine, Director of Olympics contractor and PFI provider Sir Robert McAlpine, and Sir Tom Cowie, Life President of Arriva, the train operator whose poor punctuality seems to grow in proportion to its subsidies. We demand that the government finds more efficient ways to spend our money.

Who pays for the TaxPayers’ Alliance?

For an organisation so concerned with transparency, the TaxPayers’ Alliance is surprisingly opaque about its own finances. No list of donors is available. It states only that all donations are from private sources and that no single donation accounts for more that 5% of income. But 5% of what? The Alliance’s 2006 accounts record an income of £130,000 – up from £68,000 in 2005 – but that seems hardly enough to sustain 10 full-time staff and offices in London and Birmingham. Let’s hope those staff are at least paid the minimum wage and claim any tax credits due to them. In 2007 the TPA published “abbreviated” accounts, which meant income and expenditure were withheld.

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