There is a section in Douglas Adams’ great work Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where the residents of earth decide they have had enough of consultants, public relations men, telephone sanitizers and other non-productive sorts. They send them out into space in a specially selected spacecraft for VIPs, claiming the planet is about to be consumed by a huge, inter-galactic goat.
My pre-dilection is to fill the craft with London think tanks (with a few honourable reprieves). Why?
Because they are collectively responsible for the sheer absence of radical thinking in British politics, the explanation of why party manifestos, rhetoric and vocabulary sound increasingly and depressingly the same. Scarcely a week goes by without some or other party leader sounding off in their midst with negligible political effect. Collectively they are responsible for a dearth of genuinely new ideas.
The explanation is relatively simple. Karl Marx claimed “Social being determines consciousness,” and if we examine the denizens of ‘think-tank world’ we will find people of astonishingly similar backgrounds, experiences and education who unsurprisingly come up with astonishingly similar views of the world and its problems.
There is ample scope for some ‘Sociology of Knowledge’ here. Ought we not to be surprised if prominent members of Centre Forum cosy up to Liberal Democrat leaders one day and Labour Prime Ministers the next?
Ought it not to concern us that party leaders’ speeches all contain the tellingly limp line, “Yes, I know our political opponents also say X (fill in blank), but they don’t mean it quite like we do”? Ought we not to start building that spaceship?