Young Blood Needed at the Daddy of Think Tanks

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: The venerable Institute of Economic Affairs is the grand-daddy of think tanks. Founded in 1955 it fought long and hard for the cause of economic liberalism, laying the intellectual foundations for the defeat of socialism, inflation and the framework for monetarism. They had policy success from the late seventies for two decades.

The IEA’s example spawned think tanks around the world and spread the Thatcher-Reagan Revolution worldwide. In the New Labour era it has been eclipsed, first by the IPPR, then as the Tories march to power by Policy Exchange.

It spends a million pounds a year, more than even Policy Exchange, yet makes little impact. The IEA’s publishing seems focused on reprints from the glory days. The director, John Blundell, is low profile, and never seen on broadcast media. He has successfully raised £1.4 million for the Ralph Harris Fellowship, mainly from the late Dorian Fisher (the founder’s widow). He himself is the fellow and it consolidates his own position – some 20% of the IEA’s income pays for the compensation of John and Christine Blundell.

The low profile and high cost of Blundell is beginning to concern the trustees. The complete lack of influence on the Conservative Party agenda on the eve of government is a big disappointment. One IEA insider lamented to Guido that the fledgling IEA off-shoot in Ghana got more media coverage than the half-century old former intellectual power house.

Blundell has long wanted to take up a think tank position in the U.S. In comparison to Cato and Heritage in Washington the IEA has contracted as they have grown in the last decade. Some trustees think that his fellowship could be a cheap price to move him sideways across the Atlantic, taking a step back from the day-to-day operations, letting him concentrate on fund raising from U.S. foundations with a new grand title. A fresh director could take his place and re-energise the IEA.

The IEA Founder’s party tonight will be a scene of much gossip and gentle jostling for succession. Possible successors to Blundell in the running are said to include; Tim Evans from the Stockholm Network, Matthew Elliott from the Taxpayers Alliance, City A.M’s editor Allister Heath, the IEA’s own Roger Bates and Julian Morris from the International Policy Network. If they want to influence the agenda of the next government, there needs to be a change at the top soon…




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