Richard North, 12/02/2016  

It really is an example of the most extraordinary chutzpah for the Independent to complain of collusion between right-wing think-tanks. When it comes to such endeavours the Fabian Society is the granddaddy of them all.

Nor is it exactly news that 55 Tufton Street is a nest of vipers. It harbours groups which form a nexus of influence which dominates the fringes of right-wing Conservatism. And it provides the spiritual home of those who believe they are entitled to run the "leave" campaign.

What is helpful about the two articles produced by the newspaper is that it raises the profile of an issue known to many but given little prominence. We touched on it in March last year, with observations on the low-grade of work produced by the London-based cabal of think-tanks. But now, at least, it is partly in the public domain.

Predictably, though, apart from the low circulation Independent, no other newspaper has picked up the story. But then one would not expect the right wing media to bite the hand that feeds it. The think-tanks provide it with an endless supply of free copy, making for an incestuous relationship that is never going to get proper scrutiny.

But such is the closed world of the "SW1 crowd" represented by 55 Tufton Street that in October last year we even found ourselves in agreement with Nigel Farage about the undesirability of letting them near the lead campaigner designation process.

The reports, though, give substance to the claim that Vote Leave is an establishment stitch-up and further re-affirms the idea that the and GO nexus is the default choice for designation. Despite its manifest failings, it would have to struggle to be worse than the Tufton Street nexus - leaving campaigners with the choice between low-brow demagogues and jaded eurosceptic tropes. Neither is at all satisfactory. 

But if the designation does go to the grouping, it will represent a high-level failure of the right-wing think tank "community" to dominate the intellectual high ground and to provide leadership to the movement against EU membership. 

At the time in 2013 when the IEA launched its Brexit competition, we really thought that we were being presented with an opportunity to set the agenda for the forthcoming referendum.

But when the Institute botched its own competition, changing the rules not one but twice during its course, and had to disqualify two of its judges for being unduly partisan, we knew the writing was on the wall. When it then awarded the "prizes" to six entrants of such poor quality that they have disappeared without trace, that marked the end of a brave initiative.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, therefore, the one thing of which we can already be certain is that, despite the expenditure of millions of donors' money on the establishment and maintenance of these London-based think tanks, they will contribute next to nothing to the greatest political event of this century so far, and for many years to come.

This was an opportunity for these organisations to shine and, as we see from their lack-lustre output, they've missed that opportunity. When an unpaid, self-motivated group of individuals coordinated by a blogger based in a Bradford suburb can produce, in Flexcit, something far better than the entire think-tank collective could deliver, it is time to serve a redundancy notice on this collective of useless mouths.

If nothing else, the referendum is an opportunity to rethink how we do political research in this country, working towards the idea of virtual think-ranks, freed from the stultifying grip of the Tufton Street Gang, and the intellectual constraints that it brings.

With that, of course, we need to see a new funding model. If we are to get a fresh flow of political ideas, they are going to have to come from outside London, and we are also going to have to break the grip of the small number of extremely wealthy donors who call the shots.

This blog has been fortunate in having a variety of donors, some big, but mostly small. It is through their support that we have been able to keep going. I cannot express enough our appreciation for this continued generosity. But we also want to bring in more people, more minds to the mix, and act also as a conduit to fund the resurgent blogging movement.

Shortly, we will be launching a new proposal which will cover just this, from which we expect a renaissance of political thinking, of a nature that the stale, pampered minds of the London think-tank circuit have been unable to deliver.

With that, nothing would give me greater personal pleasure than to bid the Tufton Street Gang goodbye.

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