Personally, I have no interest in playing down the Smith Institute story or diverting attention away from it. My view is that both main parties sail very close to the wind when it comes to their relationship to "independent" think tanks. This is about something else.
The short version (a longer version is in the pipeline) is that the Tories may finally be managing to create the impression that they are electable and that they're using the interwebs as an important part of that process. As such, their behaviour ought to be scrutinised in a way that it really hasn't been up till now. I believe this is essential if we are to have any hope of actually improving the standard of behaviour of our politicians, particularly on the interwebs but more generally too. I'm sure most people (party types aside) would agree that an improvement is desperately needed.
So, following on from Unity's post on Policy Exchange, I did some googling to see what other people had to say about this "independent" think tank and it's director
The Globalisation Institute: Britain's most influential policy wonks
Nicholas Boles is part of the Notting Hill Set of Conservatives surrounding Tory leader David Cameron. The think tank he founded, Policy Exchange, very much sets the ethos of the Cameron leadership, and publications from Boles's organisation are very likely to be adopted by Cameron as Tory policy. A future Cabinet minister.Spin Watch: After Blair
But The Smith Institute, named after ex-Labour leader John Smith and set up to pursue a social justice agenda, is closest to Brown. Bell Pottinger's Bingle goes as far as to say: 'The Smith Institute will provide the strategy and context under which Brown operates. [Its director] Wilf Stevenson is the holder of the Brown agenda, bringing it all together and moulding it.'An "independent" charity which openly charges money to corporations for providing inside intelligence on the way the leader of the Conservative Party thinks?
Policy Exchange has correspondingly strong ties to Cameron. It was set up three years ago by director Nicholas Bowles, the MP Michael Gove and Francis Maude.
Bowles says its key areas of interest will be economic competitiveness, security and terrorism, childcare, the environment and public service reform. A main income source is a 'business forum' that companies pay £5,000 to £10,000 to be part of. Members include BP, SAB Miller, BSkyB and Bupa.
'Corporates want intelligence about the policy directions and instincts of how a Cameron-led government would think', he explains.
Here's my favourite.
Reform (no lefties there): The champions of New Politics
Policy Exchange (PE), founded by Tory MP Michael Gove and chaired by the former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, is closely tied to David Cameron.The director of an "independent" think-tank being rude about Tony Blair and helping the boy wonder write his conference speech?
While Reform's closest links at the top of the Tory party are with David Davis, the home secretary, Policy Exchange is tied to Cameron and his 'Notting Hill' advisors.
Policy Exchange claims to be the most progressive of the Tory think tanks. Boles, 41, is severely critical of Blair, arguing that his failure to be radical during his third tenure has been a disaster for him and the government. PE has about 15 different events and interviews on the fringe at Bournemouth this week and it's a fair bet that Boles will have had a hand in Cameron's big speech tomorrow.
And here's Jesse Norman, a senior fellow at Policy Exchange and already selected as a Conservative candidate at the next election, having a wee cheer for Cameron and a wee pop at Brown (and plugging a book) in the comments at CiF. I hope he wasn't doing that on "independent" charity time...
So when Iain Dale, Conservative A-lister and trustee of the "independent" Policy Exchange, Cameron's favourite conservative think tank, makes lots of noise on the interwebs about Brown's overly close connections to an "independent" charity while failing to mention his own connections to a very similar organisation with very similar connections to the boy wonder, I'm inclined to believe that it wasn't a great day for standards of openness and transparency in political life on the interwebs. I am, rather, inclined to think about pots and kettles, glass houses and dirty tricks.
That's what this is about.