The Tufton Street Candidate – Byline Times
Sam Bright unravels ties between Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss and Westminster’s network of opaque libertarian think tanks
Boris Johnson’s post as Prime Minister of the Conservative Party is dying. It’s currently unclear how quickly or quickly the rot is setting in, but there’s no doubt that his political career is on a steep, downward trajectory.
His Downing Street team have held several parties in breach of lockdown rules this year and last year, some of which were attended by the Prime Minister. Public reaction has been fierce, with focus groups story former Downing Street pollster James Johnson that the Prime Minister is a “coward”.
“There was something about him that made him a little more likable to me,” said a Focus Group voter, who first backed the Conservatives in 2019. “It’s gone now, because we we lost that trust in him. . Now he’s just a jester… He can’t be trusted.
Scenting an opportunity, rivals for Johnson’s throne are now surrounding the Prime Minister – preparing their campaigns for when his leadership begins its final descent. Foreign Minister Liz Truss is one of the first of this group, due to her popularity among Conservative Party members.
But Truss also has another crucial support group that could bolster her efforts to take control of the Conservative Party: For years she has developed close ties to the “Tufton Street Network” – a group of libertarian think tanks and pressure groups, many of them opaquely funded, who for years have exercised considerable influence over the political decisions and workings of the Conservatives.
Several of the groups are currently or were once based in brick-clad offices along Tufton Street in London’s Westminster, creating an association between political ideology and address – as well as suspicions that these libertarian organizations closely coordinate their work.
“Behind closed doors, Johnson andhis cabinet does not applaud the NHS– They oppose it ideologically’
Tufton Street looks a lot like ‘Fleet Street’ – the old home of the newspaper industry. While the titles once based there have now spread across London, “Fleet Street” is still used as a shorthand phrase for the industry – much like “Tufton Street” and the world of libertarian politics.
Indeed, Shahmir Sanni, a Brexit whistleblower who previously worked within the Tufton Street network, says these groups held regular meetings at 55 Tufton Street to “agree on a single set of right-wing talking points” and to “[secure] more exposure to the public.
These organizations are linked by their support for Brexit – the Vote Leave campaign was originally registered at 55 Tufton Street – and their vigor for low taxes, laissez-faire the economy, a small state, and a seemingly close relationship with Liz Truss.
A Thatcherite Revival
Attempting to institutionalize a right-wing political ideology, the Conservative Party deployed the public appointments system to install sympathetic people in top government positions.
This strategy was embraced by Truss, seen actively during his tenure as International Trade Secretary from July 2019 to September 2021, which involved awarding public posts to Tufton Street insiders.
In October 2020, for example, the far-right radical site Guido Fawkes happily reported that Truss had named “a bunch of free-market thinkers” to its updated “Strategic Trade Advisory Group” – a forum of businesses and academics, which meets regularly to discuss the international trade policies of the UK.
These meetings included:
Lord Hannan himself was also appointed as an adviser to the Board of Trade – a trade body within the Department for International Trade – in September 2020. His free trade initiative was previously based at 57 Tufton Street, sharing an office with the Colville’s Center for Policy. Studies, based around the corner from the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Following these appointments to the Strategic Trade Advisory Group, former Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake wrote to Truss, asking if proper due diligence had taken place in the recruitment process. Brake asked him to explain what additional checks had been carried out on the organizations that employ these people – who have a habit of not declaring their donors – to ensure that they are not funded by them “who could be considered agents of a foreign principal”.
Core members of the Truss team are also drawn from the Tufton Street network.
Sophie Jarvis – who previously worked as “head of government affairs” at the Adam Smith Institute – served as special adviser to Truss at the Department for International Trade and now at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Nerissa Chesterfield, a former communications officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs, was also employed as a special adviser to Truss from August 2019 to February 2020 – leaving to work for Rishi Sunak, one of Truss’ main competitors for the Conservative leadership. .
Truss was also recently given responsibility for post-Brexit negotiations with the EU, tasked with ensuring a diplomatic resolution of various trade disputes. Minister of State for Europe Chris Heaton-Harris, who chaired the European Research Group, a network of far-right Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, is assisting Truss in this task from 2010 to 2016.
Conservative successionThe failures of Liz Truss
In August 2019, Truss appointed eight advisers to recommend locations for new post-Brexit ‘free ports’ – ports where normal tax and customs rules do not apply – two of whom were senior members of think tanks from Tufton Street. One was Tom Clougherty – head of taxation at the Center for Policy Studies. Clougherty was previously executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, editor of the libertarian Reason Foundation and editor of the Cato Institute – co-founded and funded in part by the Koch brothers, two radical right-wing American billionaires.
Truss surrounded herself with leading figures from Tufton Street, her departments often relying on their political advice. She and her ministers held a series of formal meetings with representatives of Tufton Street think tanks and lobby groups during her time at the Department for International Trade, departmental records show.
Controversially, two meetings between the Institute of Economic Affairs and Truss were removed from departmental records in August 2020 – justified on the grounds that they were personal rather than official meetings. Labor accused Truss of appearing to evade rules designed to ensure integrity, transparency and honesty in the public service, and the records were later reinstated.
It was also revealed in December 2018 that Truss had met with five American libertarian groups during a visit to Washington DC which cost taxpayers over £5,000. Organizations included:
- The Heritage Foundation, a Donald Trump-linked think tank linked to Rebekah Mercer, the top Republican funder that has invested in Breitbart, Cambridge Analytica and Talk
- The American Enterprise Institute, a neo-conservative think tank
- The American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing, corporate-funded lobby group that advises lawmakers across America
- Americans for Tax Reform, a low tax advocacy group
- The Cato Institute
The majority of these organizations have been closely associated with climate change denial or policies that hinder efforts to address climate change and its effects.
Americans for Tax Reform is part of an “international coalition of anti-tax and free-market campaign groups called the World Taxpayers Associations,” according to DeSmog. This includes the Taxpayers Alliance – an influential British libertarian lobby group founded by Matthew Elliot, who was the CEO of the Vote Leave EU Referendum campaign.
Elliott, an authoritative figure on the right, reserved special praise for Truss after an event hosted by Policy Exchange in September 2021, which they both attended. Truss was in “great form”, he said, “outlining a bold and exciting vision of how boosting international trade is benefiting UK consumers and workers across the country.”
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Truss, along with a number of her colleagues, recently signed up as a parliamentary supporter of the Free Market Forum – a new free market project launched by the Institute of Economic Affairs and advised by Elliott.
MP for South West Norfolk since 2010, she is widely seen as a political chameleon – a former Liberal Democrat and supporter of the Remain campaign in 2016 – but her libertarian beliefs have been evident since entering Parliament in 2010.
At the September 2021 Policy Exchange event, the Oxford University graduate highlighted her desire to “[champion] open markets and free enterprise”, asserting that “protectionism is no way to protect people’s standard of living”. It could well have been a veiled swipe at his boss, Boris Johnson, who has been seen as an interventionist prime minister – using state spending and power to achieve his political goals and raising taxes accordingly.
“At this critical time, we need trade to curb any increase in the cost of living through the power of economic openness,” Truss added.
These sentiments match the attitudes of the Tufton Street network, making Truss the Thatcherite candidate in the next Tory leadership race – whenever it takes place.
Johnson has authoritarian instincts and is certainly no moderate prime minister. However, whichever direction the Conservative Party takes in the post-Johnson era, it seems likely to be more radical – especially when it comes to the economy. Truss, as the Tufton Street candidate, represents the pointed end of that spear.
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