Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who Does Your PR?

What initially appeared to be just another feature in the Guardian's G2 section on Friday seems to have a more dubious genesis.
Andy Beckett ostensibly examines the Policy Exchange thinktank ( ), the body which gave us that report on how it would be so much better for us northerners if we migrated en masse to London & the south east. More of that to follow.
However, the Guardian's piece was, claims Recess Monkey, originall commissioned by Policy Exchange to try and undo some of the damage caused to its brand by media reaction to the inner-cities report ( ).
Recess Monkey, however, doesn't mention the fact that, despite the thinktank's close links to Cameron's Tories, one of the report's authors, Dr Tim Leunig, is a member of the Liberal Democrats, a finding that I revealed on this blog on August 14th.
Despite the background to the piece, Beckett does offer up some intriguing observations about the thinktank:
"In its publications and public statements, Policy Exchange has argued that business should run parts of the welfare state; that planning laws should be radically relaxed in favour of developers; that more power should be devolved to local communities; and that the Routemaster bus should return to the streets of London. It has suggested 'a doubling in size of the current motorway network' and the lowering of fuel and road taxes."
Apart from the nebulous guff about more power for local communities & a Boris Johnsonesque embrace of the old double-decker buses, it's as though Thatcher were still Tory leader (one of her more overlooked quotes was a paean of praise for "the great car economy").
Anthony Browne, the outgoing director of Policy Exchange, ruminates on the controversy caused by the thinktank's report, suggesting a mass exodus of cities such as Liverpool:
"Browne still defends [the report] and its timing, but with a selection of not completely compatible arguments. 'It was published unwittingly on the day Cameron was going to start his tour' [of north west England], he begins. He frowns: 'We actually had an outside PR agency dealing with publication...' Then his frown disappears: 'That's what thinktanks are there to do - stir things up.'"
Seems like the PR agency did a brilliant job, &, yes, I suppose a thinktank's raison d'etre is to "stir things up". The problem, however, was that it contributed nothing to a debate which should be held, viz., the role & purpose of post-industrial areas.
Beckett's piece also contains an intriguing section concerning questions raised by BBC's Newsnight about Policy Exchange's methodology over a report about "extremist literature" in British mosques.
However, it's Policy Exchange's take on the market turmoil in the last few weeks which ought to be the real eye-opener. Beckett asks if recent events have forced the thinktank to revise or review its pro-free market stance:
"Browne looked slightly uncomprehending. 'Financial services are quite heavily regulated already,' he said. 'You don't need to bury the financial services industry under a mountain of regulation.' But didn't the failure of the banks have wider implications for deregulated capitalism? 'Just because there's been a crisis in the financial sector doesn't mean it's any less of a good thing to have competitive markets in welfare provision.' The Conservatives have reacted to the crisis in a similar way so far."
So there we have it. Welfare provision is to be placed at the mercy of the markets, at the whims of the bankers & brokers responsible for Wall Street's meltdown, & at the feet of those neo-liberal short sellers who think of the price of everything & the value of nothing. Its dramatis personae could be observed in Washington the other night, as US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reportedly got down on one knee in supplication at the feet of Democrat Nancy Pelosi, pleading for her support, despite the fact that the bail-out's sworn opponents were Paulson's fellow Republicans ( ).
Put your faith in the markets? Yeah, right.

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