Welcome to the House of Think

How rival think-tanks have cosied up to each other in the same south London office - all in aid of making the world a better place
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Indy Politics

From the outside, it looks like any other example of 1960s brutalist architecture. But inside Elizabeth House on London's South Bank you'll find the cream of the country's wonkery. A dozen of the newest and brightest think-tanks have moved in together to think lofty thoughts and invent radical policies.

From the outside, it looks like any other example of 1960s brutalist architecture. But inside Elizabeth House on London's South Bank you'll find the cream of the country's wonkery. A dozen of the newest and brightest think-tanks have moved in together to think lofty thoughts and invent radical policies.

Instead of being dotted all over Westminster and Whitehall, scores of the best minds from the think-tank world have joined forces to work side-by- side in this renovated office block minutes away from the Tate Modern. And, like the Tate, they claim to be cutting-edge - not just in the ideas they are generating but the way they are working together. Forget the old rivalries between right and left, they say.

The think-tanks have taken over a 13,000sqft floor and given it a makeover of which Changing Rooms would be proud. Instead of dingy offices littered with yellowing pamphlets, and filled with the aroma of St Bruno Flake - the stuff of conventional think-tank land - there is an open-plan space with ash desks, brightly coloured sofas and lush plants. In one corner is Demos, pointy-heads keen on technology, creativity and communitarianism, whose founders greatly influenced Tony Blair in opposition. Cheek by jowl is Seed UK, an organisation set up by Lynne Franks, the Ab Fab PR queen, to encourage women in business.

Down the corridor is the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, a social affairs offshoot of the Institute of Economic Affairs, whose ideals played a significant part in shaping Thatcherite philosophy. Among others working alongside them is the New Policy Network, a group influenced by the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and set up to look at foreign policy initiatives emerging from the democratic left on the Continent, and the Foreign Policy Centre, headed by Mark Leonard, which is concerned with Europe and modernisation of the Commonwealth.

Behind the new venture are two church ministers whose interests, until now, have been social action. Andrew Mawson of the United Reformed Church and Adele Blakebrough, a Baptist, run the Community Action Network, a link-up between UK grass-roots organisations in Britain and advocate of "social entrepreneurship" which offers individual initiatives as solutions to social problems. Both have impeccable connections to Blairism: Mawson is a friend of Peter Thompson, the clergyman who took the Prime Minister under his wing at Oxford, while Blakebrough is married to Ian Hargreaves (the former editor of the Independent) who is chairman of the trustees of Demos. Like the Blairites, they are more than willing to do business with business. Among those who have given financial backing to the new venture in Elizabeth House are Coca-Cola, British Nuclear Fuels and BG plc.

Mawson is evangelical is his belief that the solution to Britain's problems lies in cross-fertilisation of ideas and unlikely combinations of people. "We won't get anywhere if people stay in their little boxes," he says.

Some of the connections are formal ones: through joint projects, lunches and seminars. Others are more spontaneous. Last week, for instance, Charlie Leadbeater, author of the Prime Minister's bedtime reading, Living on Thin Air, dropped in to see his former Demos colleagues and ended up in an intense discussion with Mark Leonard and the ISCS's David Green about the work of the sociologist Manuel Castells.

Will Elizabeth House always remain so good-natured? Last week, David Green got a taste of the new order's tyranny. His grey filing cabinets got the thumbs down. "The style police said they wouldn't do," he said. "It's very Ikea in here. We weren't conforming."

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