Wikipedia tells me that Think-Tanks were introduced in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but my memory is that they came into my consciousness in the UK around the time Edward Heath was Prime Minister (1970 - 74). I'm sure there are exceptions but until then I think we felt that most thinking about matters great and small was done in universities who at least tried to explore knowledge impartially rather than push a particular point of view.
Not so Think-Tanks, which by and large do seem to want to push a particular point of view. Some of the most powerful are endowed by very rich individuals or groups and tend to be right-wing because rich and powerful individuals and groups tend to be rich and powerful though the persistence of right-wing ideas, particularly in relation to free-market economic philosophies. (In fairness I suppose some of them think that their prosperity trickles down to the lower orders. It doesn't)
In their frightening book "The War Against the BBC" Patrick Barwise and Peter York helpfully list some of the most prominent on page 104. They are the:
- Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA);
- Adam Smith Institute;
- Taxpayers' Alliance;
- New Culture Forum;
- Centre for Policy Studies.
According to Barwise and York "Each . . . has its own emphasis, but they tend to have several points in common, including being opaquely funded, an aversion to being described as a right-wing think tanks, scepticism about government regulations, the scientific arguments about man-made climate change and the EU - and hostility to the BBC."
Although we tend to assume each Think-Tank works independently Barwise and York point out that 53 Tufton Street, (near Westminster and Whitehall), calling itself "Right wing Policy Central," houses several of them, and others are a stones-throw away on Tufton Street itself, Lord North Street, Great George Street, and Great Smith Street. Co-ordination of campaigns is not difficult.
Barwise and York are particularly concerned by their orchestrated attacks on the BBC, via the licence fee (to open up space for their profit maximising supporters, Fox News et al) and to propagate right-wing views as opposed to the BBC's attempts at "balance."
So far vis a vis funding the Think-Tanks have been very successful. Since 2020, when David Cameron's government came to power the BBC's funding has been reduced in real terms by 30%. (page 26).
The newly appointed Chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp, is a former banker who has donated £400 000 to the Conservative Party in the past 20 years and is a founder and former board member of the Centre for Policy Studies Think-Tank (see list above).
Is the BBC in safe hands as far as the right-wing are concerned or as we the public are concerned? It can't be both.
When asked to which news source they would turn to for impartial news almost half the UK adult population (44%) chose the BBC.(p233) That's more than four times as many as its nearest rival, TV (10%) A mere 3% chose my main choice, the Guardian. But, before you crow that's three times as many as the 1% each who chose The Times, Mail, Independent or Sun.
The BBC is a precious asset, both here and abroad, and essential to the health of our democracy.
We should defend it.
Maybe Mr Sharp, now he's in charge, will change his spots. He's already agreed that the licence fee is "the least worst option" and "good value." That should endear it to his right-wing heart.