Following a complaint from this blogger, the Charity Commission has launched an inquiry into the status of the Atlantic Bridge, a charity whose main activity appears to be the sponsorship of predominantly private events at which senior Conservatives – including shadow cabinet ministers – and their US allies may bond behind closed doors.
Now the Atlantic Bridge has cancelled its reception at this year’s Conservative Party conference where, ‘members of the Shadow Cabinet [were to] be joined by a prominent American leader.’ This is a bitter blow to the organisation, which has been denied the chance to defy health secretary Andy Burnam’s call to ban anti-NHS Tories from the Manchester event.
A charity must never endorse a political party or play any part in party politics, so the Atlantic Bridge achieved charitable status in 2003 by claiming to be an education and research scheme or think tank.
The Atlantic Bridge’s partisan agenda was clearly affirmed by Margaret Thatcher (with whom they are obsessed) at a dinner in New York. Concluding what the Margaret Thatcher Foundation has ranked as a major speech, she set the Atlantic Bridge a clear goal: it was to become ‘a bulwark against the… people on the left’.
With Margaret Thatcher as its honorary patron, the Atlantic Bridge includes on its advisory board shadow chancellor George Osbourne, former Tory leader and shadow foreign secretary William Hague, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling and two other shadow cabinet members. Another shadow minister, a hereditary Conservative peer and a backbench Tory MP complete the UK line-up.
A submission to the Charity Commission misleadingly claims the Atlantic Bridge is dedicated to fostering good transatlantic relations and developing policy solutions for common problems. The organisation’s website is more candid declaring, ‘the simple aim of “Strengthening the Special Relationship” exemplified by the Reagan-Thatcher partnership of the 1980s.’
The Reagan-Thatcher partnership
Far from being an exemplar, the Reagan-Thatcher partnership famously sponsored the Taliban in Afghanistan; sponsored Saddam Hussein in Iraq as he embarked on genocide; supported Pinochet in Chile as he made thousands of people disappear; it defended the apartheid regime in South Africa (the only evil for which current Tory leader David Cameron has apologised).
Thatcher gave the developing world’s shadiest regimes master classes in corruption. Britain’s aid budget was used not to boost development, but to subsidise the arms trade and businesses who donated to the Conservative Party. Thatcher was so corrupt, she even used overseas aid money to support the career of her arms dealer son, a man who may not enter the USA because he has been convicted of a terrorism related offence.
The Thatcher years were years of shame for Britain to which nobody outside of the Conservative Party would ever wish to return.
The Atlantic Bridge and charity status
Founded in 1997 by Dr Liam Fox, current shadow defence secretary, the Atlantic Bridge registered as a charity in 2003. In order to become a charity the trustees submitted a quite different set of objectives from those stated elsewhere. Most importantly, these objectives make no reference to the Conservatism and idolisation of Thatcher that actually defines the Atlantic Bridge.
In common with the charity’s advisory board, the current trustees are all very experienced Conservative politicians. In addition to Liam Fox, they are Professor Patrick Minford, who sits on the council of Conservative Way Forward, which exists, ‘to defend and build upon the achievements of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership’; Lord Astor of Hever, a hereditary Conservative peer; and the lobbyist Andrew Dunlop a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher.
Last year the Charity Commission concluded an investigation of the Smith Institute, a charity that had become too close to Labour, and set the following criteria to determine, ‘whether the educational and research work carried out by the Institute is educational in a charity law context.’ It asked if the charity’s work was:
- of educational value or merit;
- balanced and not seeking to promote a particular point of view; and
- made sufficiently available to the public.
The Atlantic Bridge appears to have made remarkably little effort to conform to these requirements. In defiance of the obligation to share its thoughts with the public, it has yet to publish the results of any study.
Typical Atlantic Bridge activities include paying for Tory MPs to visit Washington to meet fellow Conservatives, or to have dinner in Los Angeles with Fox News personalities. No similar opportunities are offered to politicians from other parties or any attempts made to share what they have learned with the wider public.
In 2006, Liam Fox gave an unashamedly party political interview to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It reported that he was in Pittsburgh, ‘to promote The Atlantic Bridge, an organization he founded in 1997 to build close personal and political relationships between American and British conservatives.’
It is more than reasonable to expect such senior and experienced politicians – and their advisors – to understand that charities may not take part in party politics. The Charity Commission is unaware of any case of a charity being identified as a sham by a court in England and Wales. The Atlantic Bridge may be the first.
Posts on the Atlantic Bridge are collected here.