The murky finances of the many pressure groups and "think tanks" that swarm around our Westminster rulers are fascinating, but shrouded in mystery (see here for the recent Sunday Times expose on IPPR's Cash for Access funding).
Given current events, it's particularly interesting to ask how those high profile but totally ineffective moderate Muslim groups are funded. Take the Muslim Council of Britain, for instance; founded in 1997, the year Labour came to power, it's been a Blairite favourite. But how much are we taxpayers stumping up to fund it?
Let's set on one side the question of whether such organisations actually encourage the cultural separateness that is so damaging to British society, and let's gloss over the worrisome MCB "vision" statement that "we are British citizens with an Islamic heritage who stand by our citizenship responsibilities so long as the cause is just". How much are we actually spending on them?
First stop is their accounts. Since MCB is a charity, they should be lodged with the Charities Commission, right? Well- surprise, surprise- when you look here, you find their accounts are "overdue" and haven't been lodged since... ahh... hey, it seems like they've never been lodged. All we can glean is that their total cumulative income up to 31 March 2004 was £57,209. Since then, silence.
The next stop is the government accounts. Of course, as we explained here, since we don't have a Transparency and Accountability Act, it's very difficult tracking exactly what the government has given them. But here are three snippets which suggest that funding has ballooned:
- £300,000 from DfID "to work with the UK’s Muslim community to increase awareness of the role that can be played by faith communities in reducing global poverty" (July 2006)
- £250,000 from DTI "to tell people their rights under a new law to tackle workplace discrimination" (Nov 2004)
- £150,000 from Home Office: "Letters between the Home Office and MCB reveal that the government has given at least £150,000 to it. MCB, led at the time by Sir Iqbal Sacranie, received the grant after asking the government for £500,000, according to correspondence disclosed under the freedom of information act (FOIA)"
Already we're up to £700,000, and there's almost certainly more.
Now, you may think a few hundred grand is not worth bothering about. But it's amazing how a few hundred grand here and there still adds up. And more fundamentally it highlights the incestuous dysfunction at the heart of so much "public engagement". The MCB held itself up as this great spokesthing for Muslims, and the government has been so delighted to have some clear body with which to "engage"- ie to pass the buck to- that it's handed out wads of our cash and even a knighthood to its leader.
But no amount of funding and general bigging up can disguise the obvious fact that the MCB is unrepresentative and entirely detached from the "disaffected" elements that our threatening our security. And attempting to use it as a government propaganda tool will not work. No end of emergency Ruth Kelly meetings will change that.
So for the life of me, I just don't see what taxpayers are getting for the money. Can anyone explain?
PS If a company failed to file accounts, it would get closed down. So wtf doesn't the Charities Commission apply the same standards?