Anthony Browne paints a portrait of Britain’s centre right think tanks in a double-page feature in this morning’s Times. Mr Browne focuses on the monthly breakfast gatherings of these think tanks which take place under the chairmanship of Open Europe‘s Neil O’Brien.
The Times’ analysis shows a marked increase in media interest in the output of the right-leaning think tanks. The rise of the TaxPayers’ Alliance is particularly dramatic. The organisation created by Matthew Elliott has gone from just 60 media mentions in 2004 to 529 mentions last year.
Media mentions are not always the best way of measuring influence, however. The TaxPayers’ Alliance may be the media’s favourite go-to-organisation but Policy Exchange probably has most influence on the Tory leadership. Its approach to housing policy and public service reform is almost indistinguishable from that favoured by David Cameron and it was no accident of timing that it published polling on the attitudes of young British Muslims on the very same day that David Cameron made his speech on Islamic extremism. In terms of influence on Project Cameron there is one think tank that is conspicuous by its absence from The Times’ feature: the Centre for Social Justice. The compassionate conservatism campaigning organisation – founded by Iain Duncan Smith and overseen by Philippa Stroud with unrivalled links to Britain’s best poverty-fighters – rivals Policy Exchange in terms of setting the agenda for Project Cameron.
The article rightly notes the ways in which the think tanks are becoming more than think tanks. It spotlights the rise of 18DoughtyStreet.com, for example, and its new weekly political commercials that are attempting to popularise the issues being championed by the Westminster think tanks. This week’s video on tax was the first product of 18DoughtyStreet’s co-operation with the community of think tanks. The right’s dominance of Britain’s political blogosphere is also remarkable.
Missing from the article is much sense of the differences between the centre right think tanks and Project Cameron. Civitas, for example, has criticised the illiberal attitude to religious freedom evidenced by the Government’s treatment of the Catholic Church (treatment shared by David Cameron). Reform are much keener on overhaul of the public services than Messrs Willetts and Lansley. The Social Affairs Unit takes a much more hawkish approach to the war on terror. MigrationWatch is much more sceptical about the benefits of immigration. The Centre for Policy Studies does not share the Tory leadership’s view on tax, academic selection or Kyoto. And, as far as ConservativeHome understands, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has quite extraordinarily never once met the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
18DoughtyStreet’s CentreRight.com provides daily links to the best of London’s think tank community.