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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

To follow up from this Clive Davis post, the beginning of this puff piece on Brian Anderson got me thinking again about affairs this side of the Big Pond:

Anderson is a senior editor at City Journal. He's typical of an increasingly influential type of journalist, the full-time, on-staff, journal journalist who, paid by a think tank like the Manhattan Institute or the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has the time and space to work on policy articles for months at a time before having to pull the trigger on a finished piece. The result is a densely fortified style of reporting and argumentation that puts to shame mainstream journalism's call-and-quote product.

I’ll just second Clive Davies on this: where is the British equivalent to the
Atlantic Monthly, to Commentary or Policy Review? I have purposefully only picked right-of-centre publications, because I think the left-of-centre Prospect easily matches the quality and depth of aformentioned US publications.
As in the quote above part of the secret lies in think tanks: the US has them by the wagon load, but the UK? We can hardly say that the Centre for Policy Studies -as good as some of its work undoubtedly is- is quite in the same league as such Washington monsters like the Heritage Foundation or the AEI. Or more specifically, where’s the British equivalent to, say, the Lexington Institute? Is this it? Again, the politics here matters. Even if I disagree with a lot on political gronds, the quality and influence of say Demos, the Fabian Society or the Foreign Policy Centre is sufficient for them not to feel inadequate in comparison with their American counterparts. So, where are the right-of-centre big hitters in the UK think tank scene? Restricted to largely economic issues, at the Adam Smith Institute and the IEA.

Where am I going with this? I am just trying to emphasise that the British right’s political decline is connected to an intellectual one as well. And this becomes especially apparent in comparison to conservative power in the US. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge note:

Consider the battle for ideas. Back in the 1970s London was a ferment of conservative ideas, a co-founder of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution; now it is an also-ran. . . .
. . . Over the past half-century or so, American conservatism has laboriously constructed an intellectual counter-establishment to balance the liberal establishment that dominates the universities. . . . According to one survey, more than $1 billion was pumped into right-wing think-tanks in the 1990s.

If British conservatives are interested in regaining positions of power and influence, not just in politics, but also in society and the wider national culture, there needs to be some good hard thinking. Given that this requires, besides time and the virtue of patience, money, I’m not sure how this can be achieved.
Necessary it is though. It might have spared us the choice of immigration policy for the election.

Update (Jan 26/2005, 1758): The link to the Lexington Institute is corrected now.

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