Opinion: Blue Skies Thinking

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?

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17 Comments

  • If you don’t like the ideas that thinktanks are coming up with, then rather than pointlessly trying to prevent them from thinking, maybe you should come up with some ideas of your own

  • This article is aimed at me as much as anyone – I am an academic, and on the advisory board of both Centre Forum and Policy Exchange.

    This week I published a column in Inside Housing, a longer version of which is to be published by Centre Forum. I argue that we should allow social housing tenants the right to sell the property they live in, and use the money to buy another one that they like (which would then be owned by the social landlord, who is essentially unaffected). In this way social tenants would have greater freedom. Now we can debate the merits of this idea, but I think it daft to claim that it is unoriginal.

    My challenge to John is simple: demonstrate that I am unoriginal and should be put in your spaceship by telling me where have you seen this particular idea before.

  • Jock: the former. They would sell something that they do not own, and use the money to buy something to replace it. Future affordability is not affected. As you say, and as I hope John will agree, it is novel. It reduces state control over the lives of people who are poor, without costing others anything. That sounds good to me! If you send me your email, I will send you a copy. I am not opposed to your idea, which could be used concurrently. Indeed, under my scheme, if they want to buy somewhere more expensive, they can, and it would then be shared equity.

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