The ruthless business techniques employed by a global network of right-wing think tanks operating in the UK are revealed in a document unearthed by The Red Roar.
The Atlas Network coordinates more than 475 right-wing groups around the world from its headquarters in Washington DC, including at least fifteen such groups operating here in the UK.
Two of those groups – the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) – have come under fire for failing to reveal their funding, despite receiving £720,000 in foreign donations from American organisations run by Atlas Network personnel. Another named the Institute for Free Trade recently launched to promote a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but refused to answer questions on its funding.
Now a guide produced for Atlas Network groups sheds light on their secrecy, instructing them to be ruthless in keeping their sources of funding private.
“Fund Raising for the Free Society” was authored by Atlas founder and former IEA director John Blundell, and is offered as part of the network’s training for affiliated free market think tanks. In a section titled “It’s your business and nobody else’s”, the guide states that while “many non-profit circles believe there’s a ‘right to know’ everything that goes on at an institute … this attitude is utter nonsense and can be highly damaging.” It adds that “outsiders who persist in inquiring into your affairs for no legitimate reason” should be rebuffed, and that “staff members who gossip should be sacked”.
The guide is just as ruthless when it comes to raising funds, recommending that donors are told whatever they need to hear to part with their cash: “if the donor thinks ‘all academics are lazy layabouts’ you downplay their role in your operation. And so on.”
It is clear throughout that the Atlas Network considers its member think tanks to be business propositions, addressing readers as “intellectual entrepreneurs” and assuring them that “you are selling a product”. Potential donors must be given “short examples of the effectiveness and leverage of past donors’ dollars.”
It shows that as well as pushing a ruthless business ideology in politics, the Atlas Network and its partners have turned politics itself into a business.