The Prospect magazine Think Tank of the Year Awards - the so-called ‘Oscars of the think tank world’ - were announced this week. As a guide to what the political class thinks they’re quite revealing - and a bit odd in places. Here we offer our alternative think tank awards for 2013: the ‘Guerillas’, if you will.
The Prospect Think Tank of the Year Awards were founded in 2001 as an “annual celebration of the important and influential work done by think tanks across the globe”. According to the organisers, the awards aim to “give credit to the most original, influential and rigorous work on the most pressing challenges facing people, governments and businesses.” The small judging panel is made up of Prospect editor Bronwen Maddox, David Willetts MP, David Lammy MP, Shami Chakrabarti (Director of Liberty), Sir Richard Lambert (former Director General of the CBI), and Bill Emmott (former editor of the Economist). So, no-one from the frontline of public services then, and no public voting or input (it also costs each think tank £50 to nominate themselves, despite the awards being sponsored by Shell). But as a guide to what the political class thinks is ‘original, influential and rigorous’ it’s quite revealing.
This year’s award winners were headed up by the Resolution Foundation, a worthy UK Think Tank of the Year for its work on wages, living standards and the ‘squeezed middle’, including its Commission on Living Standards. Beyond this, things get a bit more contentious (four days on from the awards, Prospect hasn’t yet issued any commentary on why who won what, so we don’t know what their reasoning is). No-one could deny that the Centre for Social Justice, awarded UK Social Policy Think Tank of the Year, is central to the Government’s welfare reforms (it helps of course if your organisation was established by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions). But is its work ‘original’ and ‘rigorous’ compared to the Resolution Foundation (which was only the runner-up in the same category)?
Perhaps more importantly, is it socially just? Undoubtedly, the CSJ has helped to shift the public debate from child poverty and incomes to ‘welfare ghettos’ and ‘dadlessness’. In doing so, along with the right-wing press, it has helped to ensure that the political class is increasing free to blame the poor for their own poverty, and ignore the stagnant incomes and insecurity that are its real causes, including in-work poverty (as evidenced by the Resolution Foundation).
The UK Economic and Financial Think Tank of the Year was shared between CentreForum and Policy Exchange (the latter being another source of welfare ideas - ‘Wonga Week’ et al) for their joint report on Heathrow expansion. This report put forward the idea of moving the whole airport just a bit to the west (er, over the M25) - called a “very odd report, with some very dubious logic… and contorted arguments” by AirportWatch, an umbrella movement of national environmental organisations, community groups and individuals opposed to unsustainable aviation expansion and its damaging environmental effects. Even more bizarrely, the Institute of Economic Affairs won UK Energy and the Environment Think Tank of the Year; the IEA’s latest proposal is to privatise the road network, and it has promoted publications arguing that global warming is a natural, cyclical phenomenon not been caused by human activities.
Given all this, here’s our alternative think tank awards for 2013. We proudly present the Guerillas.
Most positive impact on public debate
Winner: Resolution Foundation - for its consistent focus on analysing and improving living standards for the 15 million people in Britain on low and middle incomes.
Most pernicious impact on public debate
Winner: Policy Exchange - for being behind so many of the Government’s pernicious welfare reforms, including ‘Wonga Week’, and for boasting about it.
Runner up: Reform - for consistently claiming that cuts won’t affect the quality of frontline public services.
Margaret Hodge award for making things uncomfortable for policymakers
Winner: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation - for its longstanding work on poverty and its critical analysis of the Government’s welfare reforms.
Most effective use of social media
Winner: Joseph Rowntree Foundation - for being by far the largest UK think tank by social media following, and for leading Tweeters such as Chris Goulden (@Chris_Goulden), Emma Stone (@jrfemma), Kathleen Kelly (@jrfKathleen), and James Grant (@bristoljames).
And ‘now a word from our sponsors’ award
Winner: Reform - the ‘determinedly independent’ think tank whose ‘corporate partners’ and supporters include Capita, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, G4S, KPMG, PwC, Serco, Sodexo, BMI Healthcare, Bupa Home Healthcare, Centrica, UnitedHealth UK, Citibank…
Alan Partridge ‘Did they really say that?’ award
Runner up: Policy Exchange - Blair Gibbs, former Head of Crime and Justice, for his tweet that was much appreciated by police officers struggling with cuts at the frontline.
Involving the frontline
Winner: IARS - for pioneering user-involvement and user-led research methods, for example its research on refugee women’s experiences of GP and solicitor services in London, and the 99% youth-led campaign.
Runner up: Centre for Social Justice - for its CSJ Alliance, a free members network of grassroots charities and voluntary organisations from across the UK.
The Alanis Morrisette Award for irony
Winner: Institute of Economic Affairs - for criticising ‘sock puppet charities’ but as a charity taking money from tobacco companies (the IEA’s campaign against plain packaging legislation is entirely coincidental of course).
Runner up: IPPR - whose report on civil service reform, the first commissioned from the Cabinet Office’s ‘contestable policy fund’ - part of the Government’s commitment to open policymaking - was conducted in the typical manner largely behind closed doors.
Guerilla think tank of the year
Winner: Tax Justice Network - an independent, international network of researchers and activists for its campaign about the harmful impacts of tax avoidance and evasion, tax competition and tax havens.
Runner up: We are Spartacus - the grassroots group on aspects of welfare reform and social care services that affect disabled and sick people; most recently Spartacus has been part of the successful campaign to force the Department for Work and Pensions to go back to consultation on the 20m limit imposed in the Government’s Personal Independence Payment regulations.
One not to watch
Winner: ResPublica - for its failed campaign against marriage equality, its widely-reported financial difficulties, ‘Dave’s Brain’ Phillip Blond’s public tirade against his former political masters, and most recently slagging off British academics for their lack of ‘policy impact’.