Sunday, 29 May 2011

In search of a new think tank

Will Hutton's bit in The Observer today (was weak willed and bought it) sort of chimes with what I've been thinking. The labour movement is really lacking good policy ideas in the bit of the world that I'm interested in (ownership, governance, etc). I'm as guilty as the next man for this, but much of our response on the Left to the crisis has been to repeat cherished policies that we already favoured pre-crisis. (Of course the Right have done the same. I quite liked Jesse Norman's little book, but the governance reforms suggested look rather late-1990s vintage.) Or, if we've been really radical, we've gone back and dusted off some old ideas that haven't been fashionable for some time. Massive generalisation, obviously, but you know what I mean.

What we need, I think, is some new ideas. Where I disagree with Will Hutton is that I'm not convinced existing bodies are necessarily doing the job, because they are not really set up to do so. I am coming around to the view that what we really need is some sort of think tank type organisation focused primarily on economic and financial reform. I think we need it focused in this way because I don't think more generalist organisations would be able to grant enough time and resource to do the type of work involved. Also I think a more specialist body could make good links with some of the more interesting and technically-minded bodies already out there.

But it probably needs to be a think tank because it should be proactive in terms of pushing policy ideas too, not just generating them. Indeed I would like to see something emerge that could popularise some good reform ideas in the same way that the TPA has through a steady drumbeat managed to create cynicism about the value of the public sector. As a comparison
in the US there is a grouping called Americans for Financial Reform, which has quite a bit of union backing. From a conversation I had with a mate in the US labour movement, I understand that this was originally set up to lobby for the reform package that came together in Dodd-Frank, but has continued after achieving the main objective.

Anyway, just a brief post to lob this thought out - am interested to hear if anyone else thinks this is a good idea, or not.

* Incidentally, much as I am no Nick Clegg fan the cartoon on the main comment spread is particularly bad - Clegg has shat on the NHS reforms, hur hur hur.

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