This week’s blogs: the fourth estate

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 every so often. 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,’
he writes.

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

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 HMRC despite the data scandal.

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

Alex Hawkes

The ICAEW is looking at plans to slash its 100 strong council, after meetings
in which some members had to sit on the steps because there were no seats (ICAEW
council cuts plotted after seat crunch, 2 October).

Have I not been saying this for several years now? It is a pity that it is
the lack of seats that has prompted the ICAEW to address this issue.

I suppose we should be grateful that they did not propose building a larger
council chamber!

Ken Frost m

Related reading