I don’t know whether UKIP has successfully put some psychotropic chemical in the water supply, but the bizarre stories seem to just keep on coming at the moment.
The latest is the launch of a “network” – how do you launch a network? called You Forgot the Birds, fronted by Sir Ian Beefy Botham, legendary cricketer and boyhood hero of mine and many others of my age. YFTB claims to be concerned that the RSPB is wasting its members money and not looking after birds properly. YFTB are so upset they have made an official complaint to the Charities Commission that RSPB are being naughty and not behaving proper charitably.
Who are YFTB? Botham’s photo is plastered all over their substantial publicity they have received in the last few days since their launch. Botham s a keen shooter and owns a shoot near his home in Yorkshire, so it would be reasonable to assume that the RSPB’s stance on shooting might have generated this ire. Although as Mark Avery has pointed out, their public stance is very mild indeed, as it usually is on matters where someone might get upset.
I was curious as to who might be behind this “Network”. I use quote marks because as far as I can make out, it YFTB is an astroturf outfit. It purports to be a grassroots campaign of ordinary people, who are keen on monitoring the activities of the RSPB, and it would also seem they have their sights set on the Wildlife Trusts too. Although there are two other “figure-heads”, both from the shooting fraternity, they are just photos with attached quotes as far as I can see.
The real work is done by Campaigns Director Ian Gregory. Gregory has been in the media and lobbying business for years and now works for Centaurus Communications. Gregory did PPE at Oxford (so is very well connected) and worked for Maggie Thatcher before moving to the Beeb as a producer, then onto global corporate support outfit Accenture. Centaurus Communications are in the business of corporate lobbying and reputation management. They are managing the reputation of companies that produce e-cigarettes for example. They also did a promotional job for the new authoritarian President of Hungary Viktor Orban, whose views have shocked many in Europe; and who has taken the Hungarian Government so far to the right that the main opposition party is Jobbik, who are neo-nazis.
I also recommend you look at CC’s latest “insight” into the murky world of corporate lobbying. They deride ideology, asking “how long would a climate change refusenik last at the BBC?” Now this could be read both ways, but I think the implication is that, rather than correctly casting climate change denial as an ideology, belief in human-induced climate change is part of an ideology, and the refusenik is the victim of ideology. I wonder whether CC also include the Global Warming Policy Foundation amongst their clients.
Does it matter that someone is agitating against the RSPB? Are there real issues that YFTB have raised? Hen of Save our Woods has expressed sympathy with the issues raised by YFTB. In a sense, it is right and proper that the RSPB should answer the accusation, after all, as a charity RSPB benefit from tax breaks and the opportunity to receive funding from Grant Making Trusts, benefits that individuals of corporate entities do not have. And the Charity Commission’s job is to make sure that Charities abide by the rules. They have up until recently done a pretty poor job as a regulator but profess to becoming more enthusiastic about this role from now on. Indeed they recently stepped in to quietly nudge The Global Warming Policy Foundation about their evidently uncharitable political lobbying. But rather than change their ways, Nigel Lawson and his wealthy backers, merely decided to split GWPF in two, and carry on with the cynical political-corporate work, outside the charitable sector. Of course, the Charity Commission has singly failed to address the uncharitable political activities of the right wing think tanks such as the Institute for Economic Affairs and Centre for Policy Studies; perhaps someone should ask the Commission to investigate. Oh, hold on, they have. Did anything come of it? No.
The current Government, goaded by right wing thinktanks like the IEA, are keen to clamp down on political activity by charities, by muzzling them through the lobbying act. But rather than go after the corporate mouthpieces (IEA are funded by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries) who corrupt democratic processes, instead they are gunning for Oxfam and the RSPB.
Funny old world eh?