Fears Over Cost of Living ‘Solutions’ Proposed by Truss-Backed Think Tanks

Yves here. UK outlets predict Liz Truss will be chosen as Prime Minister on Monday. Note that her elevation will be by the same wildly undemocratic mechanism that led to Boris Johnson being first chosen as Prime Minister, that of a vote by Conservative Party members. At the time of the Johnson contest, their ranks swelled to ~200,000. Admittedly, Johnson soon legitimated his position in a general election win. Will we see that with Truss?

The Tories have long been the party of mean, and that looks to be set to be even more true under Truss. So what does that make Labour? The party of lame?

By Adam Bychawski, a reporter at openDemocracy. He tweets @adambychawski. Originally published at openDemocracy

The secretive think tanks behind more than a dozen of Liz Truss’s campaign pledges have proposed cost of living solutions including scrapping childcare regulations, abandoning net zero, allowing AI to diagnose patients and abolishing the energy price cap altogether.

Between them, the Truss-backed think tanks have also lobbied against a windfall tax on gas and oil companies, called for a windfall tax on renewables firms instead, and urged ministers to cut taxes rather than provide further support for those who will struggle with soaring bills this winter.

Analysis by openDemocracy has identified a string of Truss policies and campaign staff originating from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies.

MPs and campaigners have raised the alarm about Truss’s closeness to the groups, saying a government led by the Conservative frontrunner would be a “puppet” for the organisations.

Truss is particularly close to the IEA, having founded its parliamentary wing FREER in 2011 and hired its former communications director to run her campaign.

Her policies to scrap the planned rise in corporation tax, crack down on the right to strike, review inheritance tax, loosen financial solvency regulation and deregulate the childcare sector were all first proposed by the IEA.

None of the think tanks discloses its funders, but the IEA has received donations from BP and ExxonMobil and, along with the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies, the tobacco industry. The IEA and the Adam Smith Institute have also received millions of dollars from US funders of climate denial.

SNP MP Deidre Brock said that Truss lifting a number of her policies from the think tanks “raises worrying questions about the functioning of our democracy, the impact of dark money on UK politics and the allegiances of Boris Johnson’s potential successor”.

“Liz Truss must immediately answer concerns about her close personal connections with these organisations and the lack of transparency around their donors,” she said.

The Labour MP Clive Lewis added: “Truss being a puppet for dark money interests is, unfortunately, the rule of how British politics is done, and not an exception to it.

“The government has the power and tools needed to address the cost of living crisis – for example, through extending the windfall tax, nationalising utilities, funding a mass home retrofit, and establishing universal basic income and services.

“The only reason such a programme will not be delivered is because it will not favour the private interests who are benefiting from the cost of living crisis, such as the funders of dark money think tanks that appear to be driving the incoming Truss government’s agenda.”

Charities campaigning for increases to Universal Credit in response to the cost of living crisis have condemned the IEA after it referred to them as a “poverty lobby” in July and dismissed benefits aimed at alleviating poverty as “handouts”.

Neil Cowan, policy and campaigner manager at the Poverty Alliance, said that anyone opposing an anti-poverty campaign is the “real poverty lobby”.

“People in the UK believe in justice and compassion,” he said. “They believe everyone has a right to a dignified, secure life. Putting those values into practice is not difficult – business can pay people a real living wage, and social security can be strengthened to keep people out of the grip of poverty.

“Anyone opposed to those policies is opposed to freedom, dignity, compassion, and justice.”

The IEA’s list of policy prescriptions to address the cost of living crisis, published in July, pushed for a windfall tax on the renewables industry and an end to the UK’s target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

“A serious approach would stop putting Net Zero targets at the heart of policy, preferring instead efforts to align market carbon prices internally and with our industrial peers,” writes its chief operating officer and energy analyst Andy Mayer.

The IEA’s former deputy research director Richard Wellings was criticised last week after saying pensioners could burn “wood, old books etc” to stay warm.

The think tank also called for removing or reducing regulatory requirements on nurseries, which include regular inspections by the education watchdog Ofsted.

Helen Donohoe, policy manager at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said the proposals were a “reductive hash of already rejected ideas”.

“The prospect of these proposals reaching anything like a serious discussion in government is eye-wateringly worrying,” she said. “For early years and childcare they represent a surrender of all that we have gained, for children and for parents, in the name of shoddily substantiated claims to cutting costs.”

Truss’ pledges to end the ban on fracking and reduce the size of the government have been lobbied for by the Adam Smith Institute, where her longest-serving special adviser previously worked.

Meanwhile, her plan to create free ports and “full-fat” investment zones – where business rates and regulation are suspended altogether – echo the Centre For Policy Studies’ 2019 proposal to create “opportunity zones”. Her vow to scrap green levies from energy bills was also first called for by the think tank in May.

Another of Truss’ advisors previously worked for the CPS and she has regularly given speeches at the think tank, which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher.

Campaigners say if Truss goes ahead with all three of the think tank’s tax plans it would mean “less money to support families, less cash for the NHS and social care”.

“This is a cost of living scandal. The last thing Liz Truss should do is cut taxes for the biggest most profitable companies while some people are choosing between heating and eating,” said Tax Justice’s executive director, Robert Palmer.

Truss is widely expected to be the winner when the new Conservative leader and prime minister is announced on Monday. openDemocracy approached the Truss campaign for comment but it had not responded at the time of publication.

Update, 1 September 2022: This article was amended to make clear that Poverty Alliance had criticised anyone opposed to anti-poverty policies as “the real poverty lobby” rather than naming the IEA specifically.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    On the political side of things, my guess is that Truss will go for a quick election. Fear can be a powerful driver for people to ‘return to nurse’, and the uncertainty over costs and the coming cold winter could play into her hands. She has a reputation as a gambler, I think it would suit her to go for a November election if possible. I think her handlers will also know that she is a terrible media performer, so better to have an election before undecided voters have the time to suss her out.

    In a broader sense, I think we’ve seen over the past few years that the Conservatives have ceased to be a broad church conservative movement, an infamously effective election winning machine. They’ve essentially been taken over by a particularly narrow set of libertarian/right/English nationalist viewpoints, which are increasingly at odds with even mainstream centre right thinking. In the long term, this will doom them (at least in their current form) as an electoral force, but thanks to the electoral system and the pathetic opposition, they can still win and do enormous damage to the fabric of UK society. It will be a generational task to just undo the structural damage caused in the last 10 years, let alone what Truss will do if she has a free hand.

    1. Lexx

      ‘Quick, let’s get her elected before she speaks publicly again and the electorate gets to know her.’ Better to be thought a fool? Johnson would have been fine if only he’d avoided talking in public, or really just flappin’ his gums anywhere at all.

      In the U.S. we breathed a small sigh of relief to hear Obama’s voice after eight years of Bush (that bumble-tongued hick!), only to find Obama was very much the same kind of political animal – different party name/different pigment. Audacious hope died quickly. We longed for even one speech delivered from someone as oily and posh sounding as Tony Blair; the longing for conniving and smooth almost got us Hillary… if only she hadn’t cackled. Witchy Poo for President!

      You would think by now that voters had figured out that they can’t trust anything of what they’re seeing or hearing in the run-up to an election. The candidate before us has nothing to do with the public, except we pay the bills, wave our flags on cue, then head home to endure whatever comes next. Saints preserve us.

      1. digi_owl

        Because in the end, a president alone can’t enact lasting change. Whether it was planned or not, his promised health care reform was savaged in congress. After that he had no other goal than status quo ante, likely what got him past the smoking room in the first place.

        And frankly, Hillary’s campaign died from a thousand cuts. The history of her husband’s presidency, her own performance as secretary of state, and her choice of platform simply didn’t resonate with the public.

    2. H. Alexander Ivey

      my guess is that Truss will go for a quick election

      Hmm, despite being a Yank in Singapore and have only set foot in the UK in Heathrow and London, I’ll take that action (£5). No early election November or elsewise. Why run any risk? For legitimacy??? Hahaha. Since when is a Tory concerned with legitimacy? Easy money come Christmas.

      ps. we could consider it as part of NC’s fund raising, yeah. (like candy from a baby…)

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, PK.

      Just two quibbles. The structural damage goes back 40 years. There was greater loss of manufacturing and deregulation under Blair. I don’t think the damage can be undone. It’s probably too late. In any, how many people really think there’s a problem?

      With regard to an election, Truss is reported to be considering upping the ante against the EU after the Tory conference. That will put Labour on the back foot and deservedly so. All good for a khaki election.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Oh, I agree that it goes back to (at least) the damage caused by the first Thatcher administration. But while its easy to pile on to Blair, its often forgotten that Labour did at least put a lot of money into regional balancing and most elements of the welfare state (albeit while similarly injecting the poison of neoliberalism into many sectors). On my trips back to the UK at the end of the Blair era I was pleasantly surprised at how good some formerly neglected cities looked – Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham in particular did very well in the period either side of 2000.

        I don’t have the data, but the impression I get is that the real acceleration of damage occurred at the end of the Cameron period, especially with Universal Credit. Its often forgotten that cutting back social protection doesn’t just affect the poor – it also has a knock on effect on businesses in poorer regions ,leading to a cycle of decay in areas already falling behind, which has become all too visible now. Its very hard to reverse this.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, PK.

          SureStart and devolution were good things. What you say about the provincial cities chimes what I have heard, but not seen.

          You’re right about Cameron, whose mother’s cousin, Ferdinand Mount, was an adviser to Thatcher, and the impact of austerity, a choice. It feels irreversible.

          I am unkind to Blair and Brown as they ought to have known better and sought to reverse Thatcherism. In addition, I live near the country seats of the Blair family in Buckinghamshire and often see how the ultimate sacrifices of other people facilitated their wealth.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Oh, I certainly wouldn’t defend Blair. I think the good things that occurred under his PM-ship were primarily down to other people (including Brown – I’m not a fan, but at least he did understand how important social safety nets are). I think the general rot of the overall governmental structures continued under both, albeit at a slower pace than under the Tories. But economically, I think the regions did reasonably well and there was some rebalancing – not least of course because they wanted money going to traditional Labour areas.

            1. Revenant

              Colonel, I don’t believe the rot is irreversible but some days I wonder where to start….

              PK, regional cities did well under Labour but at the expense of the shires. The best hospitals and schools are in the metropolises. Look at the Crap Town website for what the effect on Taunton or Chichester was – no-bus market towns and small cathedral cities with private affluence and public squalour. Or worse, places like Corby and Kettering, without even the private affluence.

              The recent “re-balancing” is typical zero-sum vengeance. A Tory with a grasp of MMT would have let them all have prizes. Bojo’s desire to please and, er, build bridges was as close to MMT as we got….

              Sure Start was a Good Thing. Our first child was born just as it was undone by austerity and the effect on the places we were living (Brexit central, of decayed seaside town Bognor and angry famer Torridge) was clear by the time number two came along. Joined up children’s services were obliterated, health visitor and pregnancy care system was a joke, help and community for new mothers vanished….

              I don’t think the Tories are out on a limb. The things they want are in tune with their majority, especially on social issues. The only weakness is that some of the neoliberal economic policies are 180deg from what their voters want – but there is no danger of them going elsewhere because Labour offers the same thing!

              The problem is not the Tories have left centre-right policies behind but that all UK parties have. They are all swivel-eyed market-based solutions fanatics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Given your economic security is safe in no party’s hands, voters like the Tory’s because they espouse conservative “values” on issues where Labour come across as rootless cosmopolitans (defence, trans issues, immigration, justice). Neither side delivers, of course….

    4. WIHAWN

      I’m not sure if the public will forgive them for an early election though. There is already a lot of grumbling about a ‘zombie government’ in the face of the cost of living crisis due to the leadership election. If Truss then compounds that by going for a quick election which will equally paralyse the government during the campaign at the same time that the increased bills from the October price cap increase start to hit…I don’t think it will go as well for her as she may think it would.

  2. David

    Well, it doesn’t take much research or analysis to see the hands of the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies up Truss’s back. They’ve been doing the Tory party’s thinking, or what passes for it, for generations. And I don’t think they are really important.

    Truss is an example of those figures who appear in the last days of system, non-entities whose names no-one can quite remember, after the rubble has stopped bouncing. She will soo be forgotten or marginalised, even of she clings to office for a while. She’s way over her head in terms of even understanding current problems, let alone finding solutions, and in that she’s typical of her party, and for that matter these think-tanks as well.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, David.

      What’s worse is the opposition is little better. When Charmer was on holiday last month, various members of the opposition front bench took it in turn on the air waves. God have mercy on us!

  3. Petter

    And yet, as awful as she is, there’s a likelihood that she’ll call an election and win? What does this say about the state of politics in Britain?

    1. Pokhara

      What is more interesting, perhaps, are the connections between UK think tanks and their US counterparts (Heritage, Cato, etc). As sites like Opendemocracy, Byline Times, and DeSmog have shown, the recent mutations of the Conservative Party have been driven by a rather tight transatlantic network of think tanks, campaign groups, and donors. (The Orban regime also fits in somewhere, as the most successful example of ‘national populism’ in action.) We have our own wannabe Mercers ( a figure like Paul Marshall, another hedge fund manager, comes to mind), but we also get dark money flowing direct across the Atlantic. And the cultural politics of the American Right are just cut and pasted, without any real attempt to tailor them to the UK context. Post-Thatcher, there has always been a symbiotic relationship between the US and the English political classes (New Labour = New Democrats), but this is another level. That’s why the Tory culture wars have an even more synthetic quality than the US equivalent; it’s like the players are reading from a script that has been badly translated from another language. The only thing that is really distinctively English about the current regime is that so many of the key players are — how shall I put it? — the grandsons and granddaughters of Empire? Which is also something that Byline Times writers like Hardeep Matharu have tried to explain.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you and well said, Pokhara.

        Just two quibbles.

        The opposition front bench, whether Charmer or his potential successor Wes Streeting, the Pete Buttigieg of Britain, have links to Democrat think tanks, Wall Street and US health care. They are equally venal, if not worse.

        Unfortunately, Open Democracy and Byline Times are staffed by a bunch of f’ing clueless remainers, including Matharu, who are opposed to any form of socialism or social democracy in the UK. I used to work in that world and despise these fake leftists more than the Tories.

        1. Pokhara

          Thank you Colonel.

          Agree entirely with your view of Labour under Starmer. For me, the writing was on the wall from the moment, back in July 2020, when he announced that he would be having unconscious bias training. And this is part of the answer to Petter’s question above — clearly one reason why rabble like Johnson, Truss, etc are making all the running politically is the total void on the Left. But that is hardly a new observation.

          I also share some of your reservations re Byline Times and Opendemocracy — but at least some of their people occasionally get out and do a bit of old-fashioned investigative journalism…

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Pokhara.

            I have had reservations about Starmer since his political, if not racist, approach as DPP, sabotage of Corbyn’s talks with the EU and use of Paul Mason to harass and harangue Catholic socialists Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon at hustings on religious grounds.

            I agree with you about the odd gem from Open Democracy and Byline Times.

        2. Revenant

          Say what you really think, Colonel! :-)

          Agreed on Byline Times and Open Democracy. A waste of oxygen….

      2. Paul Art

        Is there a British ‘Thomas Frank’? Someone who could explain why the UK keeps voting Conservative? I never understood how antisemitic smears alone could have taken Corbyn out of the race so completely. For some brief shining moments a couple years back I thought, wow! here comes the backlash to that cretinous plague of Blairites and then it all dissipated.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          John Harris in the Guardian is quite good, before and after the last couple of elections he did a series based on just wandering the country and talking to random people. His predictions proved a lot more accurate I think than the pollsters.

          1. Paul Art

            Thanks PK, yes I have read him. I read the Guardian US edition every day right after I recover from apoplexy after reading the NYT.

      3. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Pokhara.

        I am the child of immigrants from a former colony and, in particular, know the type of Tory you refer to. My family has come across that type since the 1950s.

    2. Bristol-Brit

      The Tories are currently about 8 points behind in the polls. Yes, polls are just polls but Labour would win a majority (by 8 MPs) according to the latest one.
      I really can’t see Truss calling one this year.

  4. Paul Art

    “allowing AI to diagnose patients”
    Those Physicians- especially the Specialty variety had it coming.

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