Players: Young Britons’ Foundation
Sometimes the most important parts of a political movement, like that larger part of the iceberg, remain out of sight: so it is with the Young Britons’ Foundation, and for the most part its CEO Donal Blaney. The New Conservatives know of the YBF and its head man, and many of them might call themselves his friends. But this is a world into which few away from the circle of true believers regularly see.
The inspiration for the YBF was from organisations like the Young America’s Foundation, one of the groups cited in the YBF’s official history, which credits Blaney and Greg Smith as being its co-founders. However, there was a third co-founder, Ben Pickering. Sad to say, though, Pickering was convicted of mortgage fraud last December and his name has, by mysterious coincidence, been airbrushed from the organisation’s history.
The YBF’s raison d’être, though, and its place in the New Conservative firmament can be put simply. Its philosophical approach has been summarised in its own history.
“Working together, US think-tanks, activist groups and training organisations ensure that the next generation of conservative activists are well-briefed on the academic backbone of conservative ideas, trained in campaign techniques, media skills and political organisation. No one group claims a monopoly, but all contribute to conservatism in America through their own initiatives. Equally, none of these groups are directly affiliated to or at all associated with the Republican Party” observes the YBF of the US Conservative Movement.
Armed with this mindset, the YBF then claims it is “non-partisan”, a claim also made by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance. But, like the TPA, its revolving door leads into the Conservative Party. Moreover, the YBF trains activists for the Conservatives, as well as projecting its own staff into the party.
Donal Blaney is a past president of the Tories’ youth wing Conservative Future. This organisation sources its training from the YBF. He has said that “We go into schools and we proselytise conservatism and we get hold of the best kids and train them up … We have been described as a Conservative madrasa, so we bring the next generation out to the States and bring them back radicalised”.
A “Conservative Madrasa”. Part of this is undoubtedly Blaney bragging and attempting to project his own mythology, but part of it is also about indoctrination.
It is when considering the kinds of opinions on offer from the YBF’s CEO and his colleagues that the manner of the indoctrination becomes clear.
Blaney has argued “humiliation or psychological interrogation techniques are, in my view, not a problem … Waterboarding doesn't do the prisoner any permanent physical harm although he may be reluctant to shower or use a flannel again in the future when/if he is freed”. He “has called for environmental protesters who trespass to be ‘shot down’ by the police and that Britain should have a US-style liberal firearms policy. In an article on his own website, entitled Scrap the NHS, not just targets, he wrote: ‘Would it not now be better to say that the NHS – in its current incarnation – is finished?’”
Matthew Richardson, formerly the YBF’s executive director, “told a major conference of conservative activists in Washington DC that the NHS is ‘the biggest waste of money in the UK’ and in the same speech, he also described global warming as ‘a scam’”. Richardson was part of Nigel Farage’s UKIP team at the last General Election. In this, he proved a controversial and even divisive character.
Although there has been a spate of multiple shootings across the USA in recent years, Blaney is unapologetic in his enthusiasm for a relaxing of gun laws in the UK, and YBF activists visiting the USA have been taken on firearms training courses: “In 2008 he took activists and young Conservatives to the Blue Ridge Arsenal in Virginia, reporting that the feeling of ‘hot brass, gun recoil and smell of gunpowder was incredible’”.
All of this has led some Conservative politicians to try and distance themselves from the YBF, which would be an interesting thing to see, as the YBF has seen its staff and those it has trained enter the party and ascend its greasy pole. The YBF is slowly instilling its more radical agenda into the Tories. Yet the protestations continue.
Before the 2010 General Election, Eric Pickles spoke at a YBF meeting held at the House of Commons. A week later, his spokesman, in the wake of press coverage highlighting some of Donal Blaney’s opinions, said “We don't agree with these views … The YBF organisation is independent of the Conservative party”.
But by that time, the YBF was working with Conservative Future on pre-election training of young activists. The number of prominent Tories who had spoken at YBF events now included Liam Fox, Michael Gove, David Davis, John Redwood, and Ed Vaizey. Nominally Tory MEP Daniel Hannan has served as the YBF’s president.
Backbench MP Conor Burns has been a YBF vice-president. Blaney claimed that when researching content for inclusion in his planned “YBF-branded manual called Reading the Right Books: Essential Reading for Young Conservatives”, he had received suggestions from the likes of Jeremy Hunt, Oliver Letwin, David Willets, Damian Green, William Hague - and David Cameron himself.
All of that points to one conclusion: the YBF has extended its reach into the Tory Party, and while the attempts by those within the party to distance themselves from it may placate the more easily distracted part of the press, they do not alter the fact of the matter.
Why this has come about can be put down to a number of causes: the Tories have lost membership at a steady rate for many years, with organisation in all too many constituencies effectively moribund. The influx of motivated and idealistic young blood has largely gone unchallenged, as it is seen as a godsend, in the same way that the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance gets its copy straight into the papers.
Likewise the training of those activists: the YBF will do the hard work for the Tories. Only later on, it seems, do the party’s more senior figures stop and ask whether they have allied themselves with the right sort of people, and by then, as has been shown, it is too late.
Donal Blaney and the YBF have, for the wider public, remained in the shadows all the while. They and he have been that much more effective for that.