Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tory rottweilers

Today seems to have been a day for Guardian commentators to take apart the dishonest and the dodgy. Polly Toynbee, who I normally can't stand, has done a reasonable job of lifting the stone to uncover the Taxpayers' Alliance. The group is used by the Tories as a kind of off-balance-sheet PR group to bash the civil service or just moan about anything where tax is spent on stuff they don't like.

Often, their claims are repeated in the news media and on blogs without the kind of intelligent skepticism that should be employed with such narrowly focussed special interest groups. Their tactics closely follows those used by similar groups linked with the Republicans in the US. Their purpose is to generate media outrage and provide an opportunity for Tory spokesbods to get their mugs on the telly.

Whilst they rightly challenge public sector profligacy, they are relatively silent when it comes to tax evasion. Don't want to get off message with those donors do they?

It's no surprise that the Taxpayers' Alliance has aligned itself with fundamentalist road group the Association of British Drivers. The ABD, another group not unfamiliar with getting itself in the press, is pretty much against anything they consider to be anti driver. The ABD has bought into the religion of climate change denial and rabidly challenges any road safety initiatives which could slow down drivers.

Like the Taxpayers' Alliance, the ABD is named so as to give the impression that they represent a body of society, when in reality they have no such remit. Like the Alliance, their press releases are treated with undeserved reverence and unquestioned trust by the media.

Lobby groups like these are formed, or used by, political interests to build an angry and outraged consensus. They offer simple messages which are easily picked up and cut and pasted into articles, where real context, too complex to fit into the average news story, is lost.

Perhaps many journalists and bloggers don't want to, don't have the ability or don't have the space, to critically examine the output of these groups to an adequate extent. Or perhaps they are so blinded by political allegiances that such material, no matter how badly manipulated, is too good to waste.

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