Richard North, 09/04/2014  
 

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Starting at or around 8pm last night, the Rt Hon the Lord Lawson of Blaby, as chairman of the judging panel of the IEA's "Brexit prize", awarded six prizes to competitors, in order of merit, the one judged best being awarded a prize of €100,000. Yet only the first prize winner has been published online (although printed copies were handed to guests at the private launch meeting).

In an analogous situation, can anyone imagine a book competition - such as the Booker prize - where none of the entries were published before the competition, and then on the day, only the first prize winner was made available to the general public, with everyone having to take the judges' word that it was the best?

And then, with events such as the Booker prize, can you imagine a situation where anyone would seriously expect the judges not to be criticised, or that they would be allowed to get away without explaining why they made their choices?

Well, this is effectively the position we are in. The Brexit prize was a competition to which we - myself and readers of the EU Referendum blog - had also made a submission, but which had been rejected by the judging panel. We had been told this by the IEA's communications officer, Camilla Goodwin, on 26 March of this year. In an e-mail to me, she wrote that:
While your entry was good, and the judges found your arguments intriguing, due to the extremely high quality of some of the entries we are not progressing your entry through to the final.
The prize-giving ceremony yesterday, therefore, effectively made a statement about the quality of our submission. At the very least, and most neutral, it says that there were at least six submissions that were of better quality that ours. We have published our submissions, but five of the winners entries have yet to be published online. And there is no point in doing it days later, after the moment has gone.

The problem here is that we neither believe nor accept the best entry won, and, having seen the winning entry, are convinced that it is not better than ours. In a previous post, I have already written:
It is a poorly-constructed mixture of low-grade wishful thinking, political naivety, and practical minefields that it in no way resembles a workable or even half-way intelligent plan. To say it was "lightweight" would be paying the author a compliment. If the judges did actually select this as the winner, then they need to be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves.
We cannot even make that judgement of the other entries, so we need to see them published online.

Even without this, of course, we are open to the charge of being a "poor loser", or of expressing "sour grapes". However, this is not a game - football or otherwise.Upon the debate over exit plans could depend whether we get to leave the EU.  

There is too far much at stake to allow second-rate submissions to stand as representative of Brexit debate, on a whim of a panel of judges acting in secret. We need much better arguments than Mr Mansfield has to offer, if we are going to win, and if he is the best, what is the standard of those that remain unpublished? We need the best arguments, and we need to ensure that they are given the most exposure. And, to do that, we need them all published.

Much as we would like to walk away and put this down to [a rather unpleasant] experience, therefore,  we cannot leave it there. We have the interests of our readers and the public at large to consider, to say nothing of other contestants with whom we are in touch, and who for social or professional reasons, can't make a fuss.  All these, apart from publication of the other winners' entires, also need from the judges an explanation as to why they came to their decisions.

Therefore, on this blog post here, I make four challenges. The first, though, is to those who would criticise us. This is very simple: hold your counsel until you have read both papers, the first prize winner and ours, and judged for yourself which is better. Only then are you qualified to offer an opinion.

This brings me to my second challenge, which is addressed jointly to the IEA and Lord Lawson. For this, I borrow from the title of Mr Mansfield's winning submission: "Openness not isolation".

As it stands, only one the first winning entry has been published in full. Therefore, of the other five, the IEA is making an assertion about their quality, but is not opening them up to public scrutiny to allow others to make their own judgements.

My challenge, therefore, is that if you, the IEA, believe these five submission to be of the high quality that your judges say they are, then in the interests of openness, publish them in full, all five of them. Do it on your website, and do so before the end of business today. If you do not, we can assume you have something to hide, and that you do not stand by your judges' decisions.

My third challenge is directly to the other prize winners: Rory Broomfield and Iain Murray; Prof Stephen Bush; Ben Clements; Tim Hewish; and Daniel Pycock. Notwithstanding any action taken by the IEA, if you believe that your submissions are better than ours, then publish them online, so that others can judge that for themselves. Either do so before the end of business today, or insist that the IEA does so on your behalf.

If you can do none of those things, then send me an e-mail with a .pdf copy attachment and I will publish them for you. Either way, if I do not see full copies of your submissions before the end of business today (let's say 6pm), then we will know that you have something to hide and do not stand by your own work.

You may, if you wish, add comments separately, as to why you think your submissions are better than ours. You have a week to do that. Please e-mail those comments to me separately.

This brings me to my fourth and final challenge. This is addressed to the chairman of the judging panel, Lord Lawson. It is simply this: you and your panel aver that there are six better quality papers than the one submitted by myself and the readers of the EUReferendum blog. Prove it.

Within one week from now, produce a written justification – a "judgement" - of not less than 2,000 words, setting out in detail why it is you and your panel believe the six winning entries to be better than ours, and then cause that judgement to be published on the IEA website. This is to facilitate public scrutiny, the sort of thing democrats are supposed to favour.

To Lord Lawson specifically, therefore, I would remind you that yesterday you said: "Iain Mansfield's prize-winning entry provides an excellent starting point for this important debate". Immediate publication of the remaining five winning entries, together with your written justification of why they won, would provide an even better start to the debate. Please ensure that this happens on the timescale requested.

More generally, I would say to the IEA and the six winning competitors, please do not ignore the challenges addressed to you. There is no nice way of putting them, so do not be put off by the tone. You, directly and implicitly, asked us to step up to the plate and deliver our best work. A full response is the very least you owe us.

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