Before the fortuitous turn of events that took me into journalism, I did a lot of work with think tanks.
These organisations come in all shapes and sizes – some are small, scrappy policy shops while others are quite grand, well-funded institutions. What they all tend to have in common is a staff of smart, dedicated people who believe in the benefits of certain policies and positions.
Over the years, I worked for think tanks covering social justice, civil liberties, welfare reform, rural policy, foreign affairs and economics. One of the organisations I advised around five years ago was the Legatum Institute, whose mission was to study and understand the drivers of prosperity. My job was to get them media coverage, which was difficult as all they wanted to do was talk about microfinance initiatives in Africa. Important work, but hard to place in the pages of a Sunday newspaper.
However, following a recent change of leadership and some savvy hires, this think tank has decided to weigh in on Brexit, and has attracted a lot of attention in doing so. More than I ever garnered for them. In recent months they’ve talked a lot about trade and have met ministers to discuss their work.
This is what think tanks do, whether on the left or the right of policy debates: they advocate ideas that they believe to be beneficial. However, such is the sensitivity surrounding the subject that a handful of anti-Brexit MPs and campaigners have put a target on the Legatum Institute, implying nefarious Russian involvement based on some ancient history relating to the (wealthy) founder’s investment decisions.
You can read up on this and come to your own conclusions, but to my mind it’s a silly charge undermined by a mere glance at their public criticism of Russia’s policies and their vocal support for Putin’s critics. One may easily disagree with Legatum’s policy proposals, but it’s a low blow to smear them as agents of Russian meddling.
Osborne has gags to go
George Osborne was the star turn at a parliamentary lunch yesterday for political journalists. He began by saying how good it was to be back in the heart of power where the real decisions are made, adding “oops, that’s my Goldman Sachs speech, sorry…” It was the start of a string of gags that had hacks chuckling, but the chancellor-turned-editor also snuck in an admission that he doesn’t rule out a return to parliament in the future. For now, though, he’s having too much fun.
It's not the season of goodwill in the Tory party
Speaking of Westminster, the mood among Tory MPs is not good. Even if May salvages a deal on the Irish border, her bungling of the initial attempt has reignited talk of a leadership challenge among her MPs. One tells me that whereas he was prepared to put up with her in the name of stability it’s now “not clear that she can survive”. A minister vented similar sentiment, telling me that the chances of a Corbyn victory are uncomfortably high – and rising. It’s hardly the season of good will.
LSE row has left everyone weaker
For weeks the row between Sir Chris Hohn and the board of the LSE was confined to an exchange of letters between the two sides, but now that Hohn has forced an EGM the shareholder groups are coming out into the open. Unsurprisingly, they’re backing the LSE chairman, Donald Brydon, and recommending a vote against Hohn’s motion to kick Brydon out. Yesterday Glass Lewis joined ISS in advising shareholders to crush Hohn’s rebellion. Brydon will probably survive the vote, but he and the LSE have been weakened by this saga.
Bitcoin's energy boom
Amid all the excitement of bitcoin’s remarkable surge, little is understood about the processes behind it. Yesterday we ran a feature that looked at the strange world of bitcoin mining, where massive computer power is required to trigger the release of new coins, and as of 5 December the electricity consumption harnessed in this endeavour hit 31.96 terawatt hours – or 0.14 per cent of the world’s total electricity usage. Think about this when assessing the ‘cost’ of the coins…