I am pleased to report that the New Deal of the Mind Think Tank Clash at the Soutbank Centre on Tuesday went down a storm. The event sold out the Purcell Room, which suggests that there is an audience for ideas out there.
We wanted to have a series of quickfire debates (two minutes per speaker) on the pressing issues of the between the directors of Britain’s think tanks. Each think tank was then asked to produce a star witness to bank up its argument. So the bouts were as follows: Progress v ResPublica on Red Toryism; Fabians v Reform on Equality; Demos v RSA on Character and IPPR v Policy Exchange on The Role of the State.
Rory Bremner was the perfect master of ceremonies, shifting seamlessly from impressions, to serious political interrogation without pausing for breath.
I was worried that we would be accused of dumbing down, but if anything the two minutes added a rigour that helped refine the arguments.
Sunder Katwala has a good account of the event on his Next Left blog and Reform’s Dale Bassett covered it for Conservative Home. Jonathan Rowson, who spoke for the RSA on the night, points out that his organisation is not strictly speaking a think tank, but calls for more such events.
There was much talk in the green room after the event about taking the show on the road, so watch this space. Joe Dyke has a comprehensive report on Total Politics. And there’s an altogether more spiky version of events at Arbitrary Constant.
The event also allowed me to discover the delights of Winkball, a website which employs students (dressed in a canary-yellow uniform) to record mini-interviews at public events.