Thursday, 1 September 2016

Private Eye gets it badly wrong

On the handful of occasions when I've been familiar with a story in Private Eye I have noticed that they always get it completely wrong (see, for example, this). Having read the magazine every fortnight since I was twelve years old, that is not a comforting thought. Still, the cartoons are good.

Yours truly makes an appearance in the latest issue in the context of People Against Sugar Tax. I wrote about this only last week in response to a Corbynista wack-job who had written a factually inaccurate blog post about it. Perhaps this is where Private Eye are getting their news these days?

To recap, PAST is a small, grassroots organisation run by a guy called Brook Whelan that exists on a shoestring. From the outset, Brook said that he wouldn't take any money from business because he wanted to avoid the kind of ad hominem attacks that result from doing so. As we shall see, that is turning out to be quite ironic. I explained in a comment to the aforementioned wack-job that there is nothing to see here...

When he set it up, Brook asked some people who knew about campaigning (eg. Alex [Deane]) and some people who knew about the evidence (eg. me) to act as advisors. A reasonable thing to do, n'est pas? We agreed to do so, unpaid, because we agreed with his aims but after a while I realised that I was unable to dedicate sufficient extra-curricular time to the project and reluctantly dropped out.

Even if I had still been involved I fail to see how it would validate your libellous claim that the group is "corporate astroturf". Brook has been clear from day one that he would not accept a penny from industry or government. Indeed, he has sunk a considerable sum of his own money into the group. You owe him an apology.

And now Private Eye owes him an apology as well because they've printed this...

Just who are People against Sugar Tax (PAST), the self-styled "grassroots campaign" opposing the government's planned soft drinks levy?

The group has provided folksy cheerleading for the pro-sugar campaign, its social media accounts plugging press appearances by industry spokespeople and devout free-marketeers such as the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). Members of PAST's executive board include the noted grassroots figure of, er, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, as well as Alex Deane, a former chief of staff to David Cameron and Bell Pottinger lobbyist who has written Telegraph pieces bashing the tax.

Someone who opposes the sugar tax writing articles against it! Whatever next?

Another asset is Chris Snowdon, the IEA's abrasive director of lifestyle economics, a reliable purveyor of anti-tax copy for Spectator Health and rent-a-quotes for the Sun.

Hey, that abrasive guy is me! (I'm not actually on the board, but I was until a few months ago.)

Many of these sugar-loving folk have a background in political lobbying and PR...

That's why Brook got them on board as unpaid board members to offer advice. Not a bad idea.

Eye 1416 reported Snowdon's outrage at so-called 'sock-puppets'—pseudo-campaigning charities that receive public cash.

Indeed. And guess which charity has just been short-listed for the Campaigning Team of the Year Award 'for its work on the sugary drinks tax'. Step forward Sustain, which gets around half of its income from—you guessed it—the government.

That kind of scandalous waste of taxpayers' money wouldn't interest Private Eye these days, though. Not when it can speculate about who People Against Sugar Tax got a few tenners from.

While PAST's chief executive, former Tory councillor Brook Whelan, maintains it is funded by public donations and his own pocket, critics wonder if the "People" might serve the same purpose for the soft drinks industry.

Who are these critics? Isn't there a [citation required]? And isn't the fact that Brook has explicitly told you where his organisation gets its money from enough to satisfy your curiosity? Unless you are going to call him a liar, it's time to close the file on that little mystery.

Certainly public generosity won't get them far: although PAST boasts a 650 percent increase in donations between the first and second quarters of 2016, all this means is a grand total of £10 up to March, followed by £65 up to the end of June.

Alright, it's a tiny, impecunious group raising the odd fiver from its Twitter followers. Don't rub it in.

Private Eye are so busy scoffing at PAST's modest means that they don't notice that this ruins their whole conspiracy theory. If, as the Eye is not-so-subtly implying, the group was being bankrolled by sugar barons and Big Pop it would have some real money in the bank. But it hasn't because it isn't.

Still, it is surely mere coincidence that its promotional material bears more than a passing resemblance to that from the British Soft Drinks Association (BDSA)—and that PAST's own website and that of the BSDA campaign against the tax both happen to be registered with the same private domains service in Arizona.

A quick check on shows that and were registered more than a year apart by GoDaddy. According to its website, GoDaddy has registered over 63 million domain names. It is 'the world's largest domain name registrar'. So yeah, it probably is a coincidence, but not a very impressive one. I bet they both use Google too.

As for the promotional material being similar, click on the two websites above and see if you can see any similarities. I can't.

And that's it. The article ends there.

Seriously, that's it. That is the extent of their exposé—two organisations both used the world's biggest domain name registrar to register their domain names. Wake up sheeple!

Still, the cartoons are good.

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