The pressure group Hope Not Hate is celebrating the news that the British National Party will be denied €100,000 of European Union funding. After lobbying from the organisation, the European Commission has rewritten its rules so that political parties can only receive grants if they respect human rights, ‘including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.’
Most of us will feel relieved to know that our tax money is not being used to promote the agenda of a party whose views we find abhorrent. However, I suspect that many will be surprised to hear that public money is being given to any political party. The sums involved are not trivial. The European Parliament granted €31 million to political parties in 2012, in addition to large sums given to pressure groups, charities and think tanks. To give just two examples from my recent IEA paper Sock Puppets, the International Union of Socialist Youth and the Young European Federalists both received €50,000 grants this year. Countless environmental groups, temperance societies, anti-smoking organisations and anti-capitalist groups receive millions of euros on an annual basis. Much of this money is used to mould public opinion and lobby MEPs. Is this, then, the future of the European Union - state-funded parties being lobbied by state-funded pressure groups for state-approved policies?
The situation is no different in the UK. As Guy Bentley writes in The Commentator, left-wing think tanks such as the IPPR and the New Economics Foundation have relieved the taxpayer of hundreds of thousands of pounds in the last decade. If you hear a charity spokesperson on the radio calling for new legislation or higher taxes, there is a good chance their organisation is at least partly funded by the involuntary contributions of the taxpayer. 27,000 charities rely on statutory funding for at least three-quarters of their income. The extent to which the government lobbies itself is shown in these new IEA infographics (below).
As Bentley says, it does seem to be the case that left-of-centre organisations have benefited more from the expansion of statutory funding of ‘civil society’ than right-leaning groups, but that is almost beside the point. No one should be forced to fund the activities of groups with whom they disagree, whether they are the BNP, the New Economics Foundation, the Smokefree Coalition or Friends of the Earth. If the money tap has been turned off for a handful of fascist organisations in Europe, that is a good start. The next step should be withdrawing funding from all political activists.