From left to right, they're all thinking

John Redwood will join a crowded field with his new think-tank. Catherine Pepinster reports
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The Independent Online
IS THERE room for yet another think-tank? Forget lofty thoughts about the future of Britain's role in Europe, or the need to privatise welfare - think-tankland is agog with gossip about last week's announcement that a new organisation is being set up to promulgate the philosophy of John Redwood.

Proposals to form a new institute have been drawn up by Hywel Williams, the former Welsh Secretary's specialist adviser and his leadership campaign organiser.

Mr Redwood describes the new organisation as a policy centre that would need to be "genuinely independent, open to the whole Conservative Party". But among the existing think-tanks clustered around the House of Commons and Whitehall the conversation turns to whether there really is a need for another ultra-intellectual talking shop.

Could Mr Redwood's pipe dream lead to the demise of longer-established organisations? Officially, the intellectuals of London SW1 speak of there never being too many organisations where people are encouraged to explore ideas, write pamphlets and influence politicians.

But off the record, some profess doubts as to just how many groups can survive.

How much demand is there for booklets calling for privatisation of the monarchy, or the creation of a separate Ulster state? And the think-tank world is a very crowded one.

In the past 20 years, as the political spectrum has shifted and shunted, so different policy organisations have emerged and developed in response to this ideological flux.

The Institute of Economic Affairs, once the main powerhouse of Hayek- influenced free-market thinking, has been joined on the right by the Adam Smith Institute, the Centre for Policy Studies, and the Social Affairs Unit.

The centre ground has been taken over by the rightward-moving Social Market Foundation, while the left's thinking no longer just goes on within the Fabian Society but also inside Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Even more important than demand for ideas in the think-tank equation is supply.

Thinkers of the calibre of Robert Skidelsky (of the Social Market Foundation), or intellectual publicists with the flair of Geoff Mulgan (Demos) are not easy to find.

Nor is the money needed to run an office close to Parliament, host expensive dinners for Cabinet ministers, lunch senior civil servants, pay staff and writers and print pamphlets.

While many think-tanks do enjoy the patronage of charitable trusts, most also need funds from private individuals and business to survive.

And just as the recession has been keenly felt at Conservative Central Office with the falling-off of donations, so financial contributions to think-tanks have also dropped.

Mr Williams is believed to have lined up financial support from Redwood supporters who believe there is a need for an equivalent to the Centre for Policy Studies, founded by the then Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974 to work on free-market ideas.

Last week, there were think-tankers claiming that such a new grouping could sound the death knell for the CPS, which suffered a considerable blow when its previous director David Willetts quit and joined forces with the Social Market Foundation.

In the past few years, the CPS has been criticised for its low profile, although it does lay claim to having considerable influence on the Government's thinking on education.

"This new organisation could be the death knell of the CPS, chiefly by dragging funds away from it,'' said one observer last week. "The organisation has been low-key for some time."

Sir Alfred Sherman, who helped found the CPS, was dismissive of its current record. "What has it done since 1983? I don't know what it is doing. If it still made an impact, we would know about it."

"Maybe we have had some identity problems," said CPS deputy director Sheila Lawlor. "But we have a lot of experience of the academic world. We are there to influence politicians but we should be separate, too."

Other think-tank staff were more sceptical about a Redwood brains trust succeeding. "It would be an organisation based on one individual and a grudge. Does that inspire intellectual coherence?'' asked one doubter.

As the think-tank combatants, like their politician acquaintances, began packing for their summer break, the voice of their grand old man, the IEA founder Lord Harris of High Cross, carried above the din.

"Any new organisation is of interest to me. We need a free range of ideas in this country. After all, nobody holds a monopoly on truth," he said. Think-tanks from left to right Institute for Public Policy Research Founded 1988 by businessman Lord Hollick and Neil Kinnock's office. Original team included Kinnock's former press secretary Patricia Hewitt and David Milliband (now with Tony Blair's office). Mission to persuade world that there is an alternative to the all-conquering market. Crowning moments Responsible for running and producing the report of the Commission on Social Justice set up by the late John Smith. Pzazz factor 1/10 More zzzzz that pzazz Barmy quotient 1/10 er... if only it were barmy. Its own first director James Cornford left a valedictory report warning "IPPR has been more solid than adventurous." Headquarters A champagne socialist cliche. In the heart of Covent Garden. Demos Founded 1992 by Geoff Mulgan and Martin Jacques, now deputy editor of The Independent, on the premise that rapid changes in technology, society and culture require a new creativity in public policy; willingness to work across traditional party and disciplinary b oundaries. Crowning moments Bringing Amitai Etzioni to an unsuspecting public. Launched his theory of communitarianism as the nineties' Big Idea. Pzazz factor 8/10 A talent for the zeitgeist. Among the first to question the difference between Englishness and Britishness. Barmy quotient 5/10 Produced eight works on parks. Surveyed 12,000 users of parks to get their views on ....gardening. The organisation responsible for making Perri 6 (a person) famous. Headquarters Small suite of offices in an EC4 basement, not far from the Financial Times. Social Market Foundation Founded 1989 with money from David Sainsbury. Had strong links with David Owen's SDP but has now moved further right to skilfully advocate the merits of the social market economy. Run by Lord (Robert) Skidelsky and Daniel Finkelstein, former adviser to Lord Owen. Crowning moments Luring David Willetts away from the Centre for Policy Studies to write for the SMF Pzazz factor 8/10 Lots of influential writing on the function of the market and welfare from the likes of John Gray, fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, MP Frank Field, and CBI boss Howard Davies. Barmy quotient 3/10 Very silly exercise totting up the costs of very silly demands for extra Government cash for just about everything made by complaining rentaquotes on the Radio Four Today programme. Headquarters Elegant rooms in Queen Anne's Gate in the same building that housed the SDP headquarters. Institute of Economic Affairs Founded 1955 by Arthur Seldon and Lord Harris of High Cross to expound the ideas of free market economics. Crowning moments Profound influence on monetarist thinking in Thatcherite governments. Its health and welfare unit first brought Charles Murray to Britain. Pzazz factor 8/10 Hosts lots of well-attended seminars and receptions where the supply of wine flows according to demand. Barmy quotient 7/10 Financed by the millions made in battery chickens by Antony Fisher. Founder Lord Harris spotted recently at the front line of the free market battle - on a Brighton bound train puffing his pipe in support of smokers outraged by buffet car no-smokin g ban. Turning its attention to green issues; has published "Global Warming - apocalypse or hot air". Headquarters In the heart of thinktankland in Lord North Street, SW1. Centre for Policy Studies Founded 1974 by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher to convert the Conservative Party to free-market ideas. Crowning moments A radical cutting edge in the late seventies and eighties which influenced the whole of government. Pzazz factor 3/10 The first flush of youth is long gone. But claims to have heavily influenced this government on education. Barmy quotient 2/10 The organisation that brought the influence of professor Alan Walters to bear on the Cabinet. Headquarters Rochester Row, not far from the police station but further away from the House of Commons than both the IEA and the ASI. Adam Smith Institute Founded 1978 by Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler to promote free market thinking, and still run by the same duo. Crowning moments Seeing its lengthy advocacy of education vouchers and privatisation bear fruit under John Major. Pzazz factor 5/10 This year saw an historic publication - of Pirie and Butler's Sherlock Holmes IQ quiz book. Barmy quotient 8/10 So opposed to the interference of the state that it produced a guide to regulations for tripe boilers, posing nude, and why sausage makers need a licence in England but not Scotland. MP Hartley Booth wrote ASI pamphlet urging homeless to be involve d in "Paint to rent" scheme. Advocates residents to be shareholders in community and town halls abolished. Headquarters Great Smith Street, round the corner from the IEA and the House of Commons. Social Affairs Unit Founded 1980 as an offshoot of the IEA by Dr Digby Anderson to provide the social equivalent of its parent's free market thinking. Now overshadowed by the IEA's own influential health and welfare unit. Crowning moments Tricky. Giving Sunday Telegraph writer Dr James Le Fanu his first break? Pzazz factor 3/10 Provides the Daily Mail with lots of why oh why pieces written by Digby Anderson based on SAU's pamphlets. Barmy quotient 9/10 Spent years monitoring left wing groups and Communists in the voluntary sector. Very keen on exposing "political welfarists" who indulge in "milking funding agencies and in dissembling their ideological concerns under a variety of benevolent covers" . Questions the need for long pre-trial safety trials for drugs. Headquarters Dusty office block in Regent Street, inconvenient for Whitehall and Westminster, but usefully close to Broadcasting House for soundbites.