British Think Tanks

8 m.   |  2019-04-17

In the UK, think tanks are known for their active role and influence in analyzing the internal and external political processes in England as well as the development of new ideas. According to research by the University of Pennsylvania, Great Britain ranks 3rd when it comes to the number of analytical establishments in the country with around 444 centers.  There are about 13 British Think Tanks in the World’s most influential 100 analytical centers: British Chatham House ranks the 2nd in the top 100 centers.

Analytical centers in Great Britain are divided in the following criteria, these categories help us better understand the peculiarities of British Think Tanks.

  • activity orientation,
  • relationships with different agencies,
  • relationships with political parties.

Analytical centers mentioned in this article have been mostly selected by the list of the most influential British think tanks presented by The Guardian and Oxford University Career Center.

Analysis of the British think tanks tells us more about the specific ideological orientations they support. The following groups constitute as the main wings of British Think Tanks:

Conservative: The aim of conservative think tanks are to promote conservative movements, social systems, traditional beliefs and strengthen their values in the political field (International Institute for Strategic StudiesBow GroupThe Bruges Group and so on). For instance, the Bow Group supports Brexit, the sovereignty of Great Britain, its national identity and preservation of traditions. In 2016, the Bow Group was awarded a prize for “Think Tank of The Year” during the annual “Public Affairs Awards”, which predicted both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election victory. During the discussions on the Brexit payment, the centers Chairman Ben Harris-Quinney announced, calling for the step down of Theresa May, pointing out that the government should act in favor of people.

Liberal Conservative: the aim of a think tank with liberal conservative orientation is to protect liberal, democratic and traditional values (such as Bright Blue). In September 2018, Bright Blue Think Tank published a new essay collection, exploring how the UK can strengthen its liberal conservation policy.  

Centre-right: the aim of Centre-right think tanks are to provide social justice, promote free market economy, improve public services, strong society and launch of dynamic economy (Centre for Policy StudiesThe Centre for Social JusticePolicy Exchange and so on). During the last few months The Centre for Social Justice the Government presented a proposal to create a National Commission for Minorities Rights (particularly religious minorities), which will have a mandate to monitor policies, protect and promote rights of minorities as well as contribute advice on policy matters. It is also interesting, that Fiona Cunningham, the former Senior Adviser to Theresa May, is also among the center’s experts, who joined them immediately after quitting her job.

Right wing: Right wing think tanks support tax and public services reforms (TaxPayers' AllianceInstitute of Economic Affairs and so on). It should also be noted, that after Brexit, the Institute of Economic Affairs suggests building the EU-UK economic relations based on a Canadian–style free trade deal, which will include a new Anglo-Irish treaty for keeping the Anglo-Irish open border.

Centre-left: Centre-left think tanks aim to reach long-term results through practical and gradual reforms (Fabian SocietyInstitute for Public Policy Research and so on). It is noteworthy, that in spring of 2018, Fabian Society prepared a report, in which the Government was offered to make changes on fiscal policy, increase powers for trade unions, devolve strong economic powers to local authorities and so on.  Three parliamentarians from the Labor Party also had their contribution in the preparation of the report.

Neoliberal: Think tanks of the Neoliberal orientation protect free trade and classical liberal ideas (such as Adam Smith Institute). In May 2018, the Adam Smith Institute published an investigation, which mentions, that UK taxpayers have forked out a tax more of their income. In another report, the center suggests replacing the animal meat with the lab grown meat, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Great Britain, a number of think tanks provide analysis, proposals, as well as carry out various programs for increasing the work efficiency of different departments, including the involvement of government officials. This use of government officials potentially is another method to influence the decision making process.   

Parliament: Among the think tanks cooperating with the British Parliament are Institute for Public Policy ResearchResolution FoundationSocial Market Foundation and Bright Blue, which carry out different projects with the involvement of MPs. It is noteworthy, that there are also MPs within Social Market Foundation and the Bright Blue enjoys the support of 158 MPs, whose names are published in the center’s webpage.

Government: Among the analytical centers cooperating with the British Government are Institute for GovernmentChatham HousePolicy Exchange, which conduct programs with the involvement of Government decision makers. For instance, in 2013-2015 the Institute for Government conducted a program, aiming to increase the efficiency of political decision usages.

It should also be noted, that The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) acts within the UK Department of Defense, which is funded by the Ministry. The center develops strategic plans and prepares conceptions for policy makers. The representatives of analytical centers have personal relationships with political parties, in which they are very often involved.

Among the centers related with the Labor Party are CompassFabian SocietyPolicy NetworkSmith Institute. The President of Policy Network is Peter Mandelson, the former Labor Cabinet Minister of the UK and member of the Labor Party. Director of the Smith Institute is Paul Hackett, who was adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister (from Labor Party) from 1997-2005.

Among the think tanks with ties to the Conservative Party are the Centre for Social Justice, the President of which is parliamentarian Iran Smith (from the Conservative Party, 2001-2003 was the President of the Party), the Centre for Policy Studies, founded by Margaret Thatcher, who also represented the Labor Party. Legatum Institute is also affiliated with the Conservative Party.

Theresa May and British Think Tanks

A ccording to different estimates, current authorities of Great Britain, particularly Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister Theresa May, unlike previous members, cooperate relatively less with the Think Tanks. However, we can mention a few think tanks, whose activity is highlighted by the current authority.

The Royal United Services Institute, founded in 1831, which conducts research in security and defense spheres, which has been qualified as a center that encourages creative thinking on strategy by Teresa May. Policy Exchange think tank is also at the center of Prime Minister May’s attention. Natali Evans, who was appointed to the post of Leader of the House of Lords by Teresa May in 2016, had been the deputy director of Policy Exchange in 2008-2011. As it is mentioned on the Policy Exchange’s official website, think tank could have a great influence on the Government’s policy development. An example of such influences is the adoption of laws on police commissioners by people, pupil premium and free school system introduction.  

Teresa May’s speech at Policy Exchange Think Tank, February 6, 2019

Some British media mentions, that the activity of the Bright Blue think tank is also highlighted by Theresa May. It is the result of the research conducted by this think tank, Theresa May started to pay special attention to the protection of environment. In January 2017, the Government fleshed out its plans to phase out coal by 2025, the importance of which was highlighted by the Bright Blue earlier.

Legatum Institute think tank also had a great influence on the Brexit: according to different information, it was this think tank behind the letter sent by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove urging Theresa May to take a tougher stance on Brexit. Legatum Institute's economics director, Shanker Singham, who has drawn up the letter, is famous about having close relations with Brexit officials and participates in their discussions.

In conclusion, although the current Government does not stand out with its active cooperation with think tanks, the analytical field is very well developed and think tanks have the ability to influence indirectly on decision-making processes.