This morning David Cameron announced a new Conservative plan to fund 5,000 "community organisers". Those organisers would be given a rather vague mandate to "identify local community leaders, bring communities together, help people start their own neighbourhood groups, and give communities the help they need to take control and tackle their problems." There is clearly a huge risk that the organisers could use their position to take up political causes and push those that fitted with their own views.
We don't know how these community organisers are going to be chosen. But there are some clues in the Conservatives' full report - "Building a Big Society". They say that the organisers will be trained at "National Centres for Community Organising" and the training will be provided by "independent third parties, such as London Citizens / Citizens UK, who have proven track records in training community organisers and activists." That means that the organisers will either be self-selecting - those who turn up to courses run by groups like London Citizens - or they will actually be chosen by that organisation or others created in its image.
That is very bad news. London Citizens are a radical left-wing group. They organise campaigns for controversial objectives such as an amnesty for illegal immigrants. The idea that such an organisation should receive new government funding to train activists is incredible. Why should someone who doesn't want an amnesty for illegal immigrants, or a big rise in the minimum wage in London, or more hassling about recycling, pay to train organisers so they can campaign for those objectives?
Today has also seen the launch of "quality of life scorecards" from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which aim to "challenge the notion that Britain is broken". Various government agencies already collect statistics on things like crime rates, material deprivation, divorce and teen pregnancy and a million other variables that could help someone judge if Britain is "broken". It isn't the business of the Department to involve itself in that debate. So sadly the Government and the Conservatives are both pushing taxpayer-funded politics on the same day.
We set out a number of reasons why taxpayers shouldn't be funding lobbying and political campaigns in our report last year:
- It distorts decision making in favour of the interests and ideological preoccupations of a narrow political elite.
- It slows adjustments in the direction of policy in reaction to new evidence or circumstances.
- It increases political apathy among the public.
- Taxpayers are forced to fund views they may seriously disagree with.
Politicians and officials shouldn't be abusing their access to taxpayers' pocketbooks in order to promote their political views. The plan the Conservatives announced today is extremely bad news. If they want to encourage local charities, it would be far better to reduce the burden of taxes and regulations and get the bureaucracy out of their way.