Taxpayers’ Alliance is a sign of things to come

Just what is the influence, positive or negative, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance?

Ross Clark has a crack at registering the campaign body’s impact on public discussion over at the Spectator.

It’s something I think about occasionally. I wouldn’t say we use a lot of their press releases, but occasionally – in part because the fuss they are kicking up becomes an important political tax event in itself – it’s unavoidable. Should we use them more, or less, I wonder?

The body is undoubtedly interesting. And as Ross says, it’s very one-sided:

It is so one-sided that one almost yearns for some opposition on the subject.

But I don’t think, as he says, that the reason it is doing well is because the political parties are not talking about tax. Or that tax has reached ‘saturation point’ – even if we were pretty lightly taxed relative to where we are now, there is always a market for ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’ stories. Dislike of elements of the public sector runs pretty deep.

I’d argue, as he mentions in passing, that the Alliance is just filling a gap where investigative journalism used to be. Without indulging in dewy-eyed nostalgia, surely it is the duty of local papers to be highlighting a lot of this stuff? Being understaffed compared to where they were, they can’t (the same might be said of national newspapers’ coverage of tax, frankly).

Of course, were the papers highlighting the ‘waste’ of government funds, arguably there might be more balance to it. Newspapers have forums for people to bite back and claim, to use an example the Alliance has got hot and bothered about, that Paul Gray was doing a good job at HM Revenue & Customs despite the data scandal.

Personally, I think the Alliance provides a worrying sign of the likely future of public debate, where PRs and well-funded interest groups, rather than traditional media (for all their faults), dominate debate. It won’t make for sensible public discussion.

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