The London Tea Party

There’s sometimes a note of condescension in commentary about American politics. It comes from a silent assumption that the crazier elements of public life in our breakaway colony – Fox News, Quran burning, the Ground Zero mosque non-story – could never happen here: that even British conservatives are too level headed to let themselves be infiltrated by sinister madness in the way that the Republican Party has.

Well, the Tea Party, they coming to your town:

Lobbyists behind the rightwing Tea Party group in the US will arrive in London today to spread their message of low taxes and small government at an event organised by the UK’s controversial Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Today’s conference will be attended by Americans who have lobbied in the US to overturn Barack Obama’s healthcare plan and maintain tax breaks for the rich. Several of the groups have close links to the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, prominent tormentors of the Obama administration.

US groups sponsoring the event include the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, which came to prominence in the 1970s as Ronald Reagan’s favourite thinktank. The Kochs, whose private company owns oil rigs and pipelines in the US, founded the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and have spent tens of millions of dollars supporting the Cato Institute. They also channel funds into causes through their business empire and one Koch-owned firm, Flint Hills Resources, has donated $1m (£650,000) to the campaign against California’s anti-global warning proposition being voted on in November.

The Cato Institute, which promotes its views on Fox News and other rightwing media, is one of the Tea Party’s main backers.

Prominent Tory supporters are also backing the conference. Stanley Kalms, the former chairman of Dixons, is a key sponsor of the event along with investment banker Howard Flight. Flight was a Tory MP and frontbench Treasury spokesman before David Cameron became leader, while Kalms was Tory treasurer and one of its main backers.

The European Resource Bank conference, also billed as the Taxpayers’ Conference and Free Market Roadshow, which will be held at various venues in the capital and includes a dinner at the Guildhall, is a spinoff from the American Resource Bank conference.

The Guardian piece barely dents the iceberg of the Tea Party, but its aggressive freemarket ideology and its billionaire financing have been covered extensively by the NYT (it’s also worth mentioning that Fox News, which led the Ground Zero mosque attack, is part financed by Saudi royalty) and its bigotry and conspiracism has been chronicled by teams of weary liberal-left stateside bloggers.

A recent Tea Party rally in Washington drew praise from a blogger on the influential ConservativeHome site recently. This was a huge demo organised by Glenn Beck, a Fox News wingnut with a history of racist jocularity, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march for jobs and freedom. The author, Donal Blaney, described the march as a ‘remarkable gathering of conservatives, independents, monotheists and patriots… Beck’s efforts this weekend cannot simply be ignored, derided or sneered at by bien pensant liberals and self-appointed elites.’

It’s no surprise that the rally turned his dials. Blaney heads the Young Briton’s Foundation, an extreme Tory affiliate or, in his own words, ‘conservative madrassa’, and advocates waterboarding, climate change denial and the abolition of the NHS.

All this is my way of arguing that there is a Palinite tendency creeping into UK mainstream rightwing politics. You see the same malevolent populism in our debates on immigration as in US debates over healthcare. And I’m not sure after the London event that anyone outside it will seriously be able to claim that the Taxpayers’ Alliance is an apolitical watchdog devoted to eliminating waste in the public sector and cutting the deficit (which are both good, legitimate, nonpartisan ambitions). Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant who recently published a report for the TUC on the billions lost to the UK through tax avoidance, gets it about right:

It’s clear the Taxpayers’ Alliance receives a huge amount of support from the US, where there is serious money behind the lobbying for low taxes. The conference is billed as a debate among European thinktanks, but it is a barely disguised front for the most aggressive lobby tactics championed on the other side of the Atlantic.

It regularly grabs slots on the BBC and other media to argue that taxpayers are hard done by. But the freedoms it wants is freedom from taxes for a tiny minority of wealthy people.

A senior TPA figure, Susie Squire, has now become a special adviser to Iain Duncan Smith.

Couldn’t happen here?

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