Vote for your favourite independent campaigners this year
The recent elections across Europe have been widely regarded as a rejection of the current political class, as well as marking the rise of a variety of ‘populist protest parties’, some of them are very nasty indeed. To some mainstream commentators, Britain’s political class, hounded by the mood of anti-politics, has become self-loathing and scared of its own shadow. To others, even after the elections, the political class remains mired in a seemingly cheerful self-delusion about the extent of the gulf that has opened up between them and the public. For those that do ‘get’ it’, no-one within seems quite sure what the solution might be.
Yet one part of the political class remains seemingly untouched and unperturbed by the present anti-politics – the think tanks that see themselves as helping to shape public debate, set the political agenda, influence the current political class and develop new policy. Next month sees the annual presentation of the so-called ‘Oscars of the think tank world’, the Prospect magazine Think Tank of the Year Awards 2014. In the spirit of the current anti-politics, here we announce the launch of our alternative think tanks of the year award for 2014. But first, some background.
The Prospect Awards opened for nominations earlier this year and submissions were invited from UK and international think tanks. The Awards are a good guide to what the political class thinks and who they ‘rate’ (and find politically acceptable). The awards were founded in 2001 as an “annual celebration of the important and influential work done by think tanks across the globe.” According to the organisers, the Awards aim to “give credit to the most original, influential and rigorous work on the most pressing challenges facing people, governments and businesses.” A panel chaired by Prospect’s editor Bronwen Maddox will decide the awards and the final winners will be announced at a big bash in London on 16th July. As in previous years, the Awards have received financial support from big corporates, with Shell and the Institute of Directors stumping up for the canapés this year.
We’ve discussed some of the issues with think tanks on this blog many times in the past. Clearly, think tanks can play a very useful role in examining policy issues, proposing new approaches, and providing governments and political parties with new ideas. At the same time, think tanks seem increasingly out-dated and exclusive given the rise of social media, blogs, online voting and discussion platforms, a generalized distrust of ‘experts’ and a generational desire for people to have more of a say in the decisions that affect us. Think tanks of various varieties have offered their own solutions to the current crisis, but in the age of anti-politics perhaps the traditional model of the think tank is part of the problem, not the solution. We need new ideas from new people – those outside of the political class, who are more connected to the issues they consider because they experience them directly.
Last year around the time of the Prospect Awards we proposed some alternative winners, highlighting some of the independent campaigners and groups outside of the political class who have done much to raise issues, challenge the mainstream and generally provide an alternative to the what the political class thinks and thinks is important. This year we will again award our ‘alternative think tank awards’ for 2014 – the ‘Guerillas’ – and we’d appreciate your nominations.
We’re looking for the best small, independent, self-organised grassroots groups as well as individuals who are passionate, committed, determined and imaginative in challenging the mainstream agenda and assumptions. We’re not looking for big charities, well-funded campaigns or those led by the media themselves, rather we’re interested in ‘guerilla’ movements from individuals, groups and communities, and highlighting those campaigns that have had some influence, secured wider interest or even gone viral and made things uncomfortable for the political class. Given the focus of this blog, we’re interested in your suggestions across social policy, but we take a broad interpretation of this – and we’d welcome your proposals for further categories as well. Here’s our suggested categories for the 2014 awards, and some initial ideas for contenders to prompt your own suggestions:
Most positive impact on public debate
Examples could include the Everyday Sexism project, set up by the writer and campaigner Laura Bates which provides a place for women to tell their stories of everyday sexism in their own words. The project went viral and has received thousands of entries. Jack Monroe’s blog about her £10 a week food shop for herself and her son also went viral and helped to put a human face on poverty and low incomes in Britain today. Other campaigns worthy of note include the Trussell Trust’s work to show the rise in the number of people using foodbanks, the 38 Degrees campaign to get the Government to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking, or the sadly unsuccessful campaign to prevent the closure of the Independent Living Fund.
Most effective use of social media
Examples could include the #nomakeupselfie campaign, a grassroots campaign started by two young women who posted pictures on Facebook of themselves wearing no makeup to show solidarity with the bravery of women facing cancer. Other campaigns worthy of note include the various spoofs of the Tory Chair Grant Shapps’ Twitter info graphic on the cuts to the ‘bingo tax’ and beer duty announced in the Budget. Frontline bloggers who have made effective use of social media include Dr David Wrigley who successfully crowd sourced 1,000 signatories from across the NHS for an open letter to campaign against new rules to force greater competition in the NHS from being snuck through Parliament without adequate scrutiny. Kate Belgrave has used social media to share stories of people dealing with public sector cuts, whilst Inspector Michael Brown continues to be a authority on policing and mental health through his Mental Health Cop blog.
Best international campaigns
There have been various equal marriage campaigns in North America, Australia and New Zealand – a personal favourite is the New Zealand Parliament, which burst into a moving Maori love song after approving a marriage equality bill. In Canada, the Quebec Student protests against increases in student tuition fees involved a underwear protest march.
Most success in making life uncomfortable for policymakers
Examples could include the campaign against Atos and the Work Capability Assessment by disability campaigns, which made life uncomfortable for ministers with the then Employment Minister Mark Hoban refusing to meet with Spartacus. 38 Degrees has been campaigning to stop the new Care.data database of medical records from being launched and NHS England have now announced a pause in their plans. Laura McInerney has been battling with the Department for Education for the right to know how it decides which free schools to approve. Frontline probation bloggers such as Jim Brown at On Probation Blog and the Probation Officer have been tireless in pointing out the risks associated with the outsourcing of the probation service.
Most innovative approach to protesting
Going a bit outside our traditional social policy focus, examples could include the fracking protests in the south of England, which have achieved fame, not least because the Green MP Caroline Lucas was arrested as part of them. Elsewhere, student protests against the outsourcing of support services at the University of London was picked up by the media and on social media. Other protests worthy of note include recent student protests at both Sussex and Birmingham Universities and the UK Uncut campaign against corporates such as Starbucks who pay little or no corporation tax in the UK.
Most impactful report, blog or article
The well received book NHS SOS on how to save the NHS co-edited by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis could be a strong choice. Posts that have trended across social media over the past year include Sue Marsh’s post on The Big Benefits Row or squidgetsmum’s open letter to the Daily Mail, while Joe Halewood’s blog SPeye has been required reading for anyone interested in or affected by the bedroom tax.
And finally, Best ‘Guerilla’ group or individual of the year. Who do you think deserves to be the overall best Guerilla group or individual of the year? Who has exerted the most influence on policymakers, or just represented their cause with most passion and determination?
So get in touch. Tell us what you think. Have we got the right categories? Which group has had the most positive impact on public debate, who has made the most effective use of social media and who is the best ‘Guerilla’ group or individual of the year? We welcome your suggestions, via comments on this blog or via social media:
We’ll announce the winners of the awards on Friday 18th July.