The best of ThinkTent 2021

It’s almost the end of the party conference season. For a few weeks every year, politicos descend on exhibition venues somewhere outside London and spend days on end watching speeches and debating policies.


The same goes for us at TaxPayers’ Alliance. Whether it's responding to the big speech from the Labour leader or confronting cabinet ministers on the cost of living, we don’t miss the chance to make taxpayers’ voices heard - not least through our famous ThinkTent at Conservative Party conference in Manchester. 


With a packed programme of events, here’s our roundup of our favourite bits: 

In Conversation with… the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP

Having the opportunity to interview the Chancellor, one-on-one, has to be a highlight for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to approach the discussion: I was obviously keen to talk about recent national insurance increases, but I was also conscious that spending too much time on minutiae would reduce the scope of the session. After all, I couldn't waste a chance to talk to the Chancellor about responsible spending, too, as it's not something discussed enough in mainstream debate. Rishi was across the detail and it was fantastic that he chose a session at ThinkTent as his only Conference fringe event. I hope I was able to represent our thousands of supporters in posing some challenging questions to the man responsible for taxpayers' money.


John O’Connell, Chief Executive 

Just how big is the quango state?

Just about everyone knows the problems with quangos and how much money they waste, and every politician likes to promise to do something about it. But they rarely do. Few people have ever been able to get a handle on the situation. The few who've tried were there, in that session, telling us what went wrong and how to do it better next time. That’s the sort of insight management consultants charge a small fortune for - yet we give it away for free at ThinkTent! 


James Roberts, Political Director 

Why does council tax only ever go up? 

Every year at ThinkTent, we host a session on council tax and wasteful spending at a local level. And every year, this session delivers. The councillors on the panel told us about some shocking examples of wasteful spending in their patch, and we heard from a number of other councillors in the audience too. Grassroots activism is at our core, so this is a really important topic for us to include in our line up. 


Sara Rainwater, Operations Director 

Will net zero punish the poor? 


A pressing and tense topic at the best of times, this discussion was bound to divide an audience at Conservative Party Conference; but both sides were able to make compelling and well-rounded arguments. A personal highlight of the event was when a member of the audience laid bare the stakes; reminding the panel that projected, theoretical outcomes often differ substantially from those of the real world - a pertinent point given the trillions of pounds of taxpayers' money on the line for decades to come. 


Joe Ventre, Digital Campaign Manager

Not only was there lively debate amongst the panelists, the passionate interventions from the audience really enhanced the discussion. The best moment from this panel for me was the highlighting of how green innovations, such as more efficient boilers, often have a substantially shorter lifespan than their "less efficient" predecessors. This intervention from the floor raised a point seldom mentioned in the media or parliament: the carbon impact of regularly replacing household essentials which historically were built to last.


Ben Elks, Fundraising, Events and Operations Assistant

Quids Inn: do politicians hate the Great British Pub?

I enjoyed our Quids Inn event, focusing on the challenges faced by pubs and the hospitality industry. Pubs run in my family so the issues felt personal to me, and I think covering areas often ignored by Westminster is vital. I particularly enjoyed the passion that everyone in the packed room had for their local - a nice reminder after 18 months of lockdowns and social distancing! 


John O’Connell, Chief Executive 

Are the Conservatives now the party of high tax and spend?

This was my favourite panel. Or perhaps it should be my least favourite, because sadly it seems that the Tory party has answered this question in the affirmative! Of course, the MPs on the panel made it clear how uncomfortable they were with recent measures like the national insurance hike. But what’s worrying is the possibility that taxpayers could be made to suffer yet more of the same. As Dr Gerard Lyons of Policy Exchange pointed out, in two years time we could be talking about wealth taxes to pay for the government’s gluttony. 


Harry Fone, Grassroots Campaign Manager

Should we save the high street?

This was one of the panels where we saw people’s views put directly to the government minister responsible. It covered everything from high street parking charges to an online sales tax, including a fascinating debate on the idea of increasing VAT by a small amount and scrapping business rates. In any case, all agreed rates were crucial. We can only hope that the upcoming fundamental review of business rates is as ambitious as the small business minister, Paul Scully, suggested. 


Duncan Simpson Research Director 

Boom or bust: the economy in a post-pandemic world

This was a very interesting discussion on the current UK economy and the outlook for the future. A wide range of quite complex issues were covered in a way that was actually understandable and enjoyable to listen to. I was fascinated and somewhat worried to learn that monetised debt due to quantitative easing accounts for about 40 per cent of current GDP, suggesting inflation may continue for longer than expected.


Scott Simmonds, Researcher

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