Last night Prospect held our 9th annual think tank of the year awards, Britain’s most pointy-headed award ceremony, at the RSA in London. The awards are decided by a bi-party panel of six judges over a series of meetings in the months prior to the awards, a process greatly helped by the willingness of nearly 40 think tanks to fill in our various nomination forms.
David Willetts MP, shadow secretary for innovation, universities and skills gave the evening’s key note address, making two striking statements. First, having joked that progressive think tanks like the IPPR faced a choice of whether to become part of the “official opposition” he called on traditional tanks of the left to work with an incoming Conservative government, rather than against it. Then, in a neat turn of phrase, he argued that British think tanks (as opposed to their more staid American counterparts) were the policy equivalent of hedge funds: entrepreneurial, lightly regulated, and prone to taking risks in search of headlines.
Then, following Willetts remarks, we unveiled the winners, which were:
Think Tank of the Year 2009: Awarded jointly to the Centre for Social Justice and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. A split decision—the judges found themselves divided between the moderate social-policy friendly right wingers at the CSJ, and the financial wizards of the IFS. The former were commended for their continuing success influencing Conservative party policy while also reaching out to the current Labour government too, with the judges noting in particular their successes in pushing the Tories into areas like prisoner rehabilitation, and community budgeting. The judges were impressed with the IFS’s huge reach during the year of the financial crisis, the way in which their research provided analysis upon which many other think tanks (not to mention political parties and the media more broadly) based their work, and their early advocacy for some of the most important fiscal decisions of the year, notably the VAT cut and other stimulus measures. Facing a split panel, the judges—for the first time in the history of Prospect‘s awards—decided to award jointly. Think Tank “One to watch”: Demos An award usually given to a new or relatively unknown think tank, this year the judges decided to break with history and give the prize to most rejuvenated, and most exciting think tank of 2009. Showing an uncanny ability to situate themselves on the political fault lines that matter—whether through Phillip Blonde’s red Toryism, the liberal left revival of Richard Reeves and Phillip Collins, or the Open Left project of recently departed cabinet minister James Purnell. Next year, with a little more weight in their research, they will be the think tank to beat. Foreign Policy Think Tank of the Year: The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) A close run award, but last year’s overall winners RUSI came out on top. Pushed forward by new leadership, the judges were especially impressed with their wide ranging publications, and in particular their work on British defense productivity and acquisitions—defining the debate in a year in which the role and scope of the army has been central to political debate. Green Think Tank of the Year: The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) A new award for 2009, and deservedly won by the IPPR. The institute’s work on environmental issues has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with the judges noting in particular their work in 2009 to push a green employment agenda, and the success of their recommendation for a ban on the building of new coal fired power stations without technology to capture their carbon emissions. In particular the judges wanted to comment the creation of their global think tank network on climate change—a genuinely impressive international coordination for British-based institutions, and one which stands well placed to have an impact where at international climate negotiations. Think Tank Publication of the Year: Centre Forum, A Balancing Act: Fair Solutions to the Modern Debt Crisis, by Giles Wilkes Again, a competitive report, but one taken by the best publication of the year from Britain’s lone Lib-Dem think tank. Giles Wilkes publication was rightly lauded by commentators of left and right for its strong technical analysis of the need for financial stimulus during the current down turn, but also for leading the debate on many issues still bubbling under politically, for instance the likely need for a permanent increase in VAT later this year.
UPDATE — There has already been some discussion of the awards, with Sunder Katwala over at the Fabians picking up on Willetts remarks, and Jonathan Isaby at Conservative Home congratulating the CSJ for their (tied) victory.