Letters: Climbing out of the think-tank

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The Independent Online
Sir: Trends in the relative strengths of Britain's think-tanks and the quality of our political thought (9 July) have not gone unnoticed among the policy and academic communities.

The traditional focus of such activity - the political parties - have learnt that thinking in public can be severely punished, not least by the sharp eye of the press. Much of the activity of the think-tanks, on the other hand, has become bogged down in the constraints of specific funders and detailed projects, and this has left little space to think "new thoughts".

It was concerns of this kind, together with strong encouragement from Tony Blair, that led to the foundation of "Nexus", the centre-left ideas network, earlier this year. In less than six weeks, Nexus has attracted more than 600 academics, policy researchers and others on to a central data-base for the exchange and development of ideas, and theme groups have formed to focus evidence and thought on a series of specific intellectual and policy-relevant ideas such as "the stakeholder society", the criteria by which government success and failure can be judged, the role and limitations of the state, the constraints and opportunities offered by globalisation, and so on.

People have little incentive to think about policy relevant ideas if they feel that nobody's listening or that there's no prospect of change. But with the real likelihood of a change in administration, the whole activity has suddenly got a lot more interesting.

Dr DAVID HALPERN

Faculty of Social and

Political Sciences

Cambridge University

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