Mr Wilsdon writes…
Jonathan Matthews at GM Watch brought to my attention the piece you’ve just written on Demos in the ‘Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy’ book.
I read it with a combination of amusement and incredulity. The combination of half-truths, slurs and innuendos that you apply in support of your case is worthy of the best you can find at any of the big PR agencies.
I’m not going to attempt to address all the points you raise – but let me just take you up on a few things.
You make an enormous amount out of the fact that for four years of its fourteen year life, Demos shared an office with various other think-tanks and charities at Elizabeth House in Waterloo. There is in fact a rather mundane explanation for this – namely, that a bunch of cash-strapped organizations teamed up to save money on office space and facilities. The Mezzanine certainly wasn’t (as you seem to imply) owned or subsidized by Shell or any other corporate funder. And when Demos grew in numbers in 2003 and 2004, we started to look for an alternative home. In any case, the building was falling to bits while we were there, and has since been vacated and earmarked for demolition. Some of the organizations that were there have moved together to a new shared space at 1 London Bridge. Many – including Demos – have gone their separate ways.
So given that you see fit to update aspects of Demos’ history in your piece (e.g. the fact that Tom Bentley has now gone to work in Australia), it’s a little odd that you mention nowhere that since 2004 we haven’t been based in the Mezzanine! This is hardly a secret – our address is all over our website.
I was also bemused by your description of Shell as one of our ‘major funders’. In the past 7 years, we have had precisely £10,000 of funding from Shell for organising two seminars – approximately 0.15% of our turnover during that period.
I support your efforts to highlight the often shadowy links between think tanks and corporate/government agendas. We’re all aware of where this can act against the public interest – especially in the way certain think tanks have systematically undermined the science of climate change.
But in your case against Demos, there are so many half-baked arguments and outright lies, I don’t really know where to start in responding. I can’t speak for what Demos did or didn’t do in the early 90s — but I have worked there since 2001 and am its second-longest serving member of staff. The picture you paint is of an organization I simply don’t recognize.
Demos has long advocated far greater transparency within the think tank world. Like all think tanks, we occasionally get approached by companies wanting to ‘sponsor’ research that pushes a particular line. We take great pains to select our projects very carefully — and often turn down funders where we believe the work or line being pushed stands in conflict with our stated aims and values, or in some way undermines the public interest. For example, both as Head of Strategy at Demos (2001-2004) and Head of Science and Innovation (2004 – ), I have on several occasions turned down offers of money from the biotech industry, the nuclear industry and others because I disagreed with the line they wanted us to promote.
Yes, we operate within mainstream politics, which means we engage with politicians from all the main parties — particularly but by no means exclusively Labour. Yes, we take some money from business — around 15% of our £2.1 million turnover last year — the rest coming from the public sector or charitable trusts. All of this inevitably brings ethical dilemmas and occasional compromises, which we navigate with care.
But we are what we say we are — an independent think tank and research institute that aims to promote and support what we describe as ‘everyday democracy’. We are staffed by serious, committed people who research and write about these issues. And all our work is freely available to everyone through our website and the ‘Creative Commons’ licensing system.
You are of course free to write and say whatever you like about us – but it’s a shame that in researching your piece, you didn’t get in touch to ask us about some of these points. As I say, there’s a serious debate to be had about the accountability of think tanks (and the wider media and PR industry) – one that we’d be more than willing to enter into. But your sloppy attitude to the facts undermines your case and makes you little better than the ‘fakers, spinners and spies’ that you and the other contributors to the book set out to criticize.
Head of Science and Innovation
To: James Wilsdon
Subject: RE: your essay on Demos
You have sent me an email (and copied it to a third party) in your official capacity as a member of staff of Demos in which you stated:
“The combination of half-truths, slurs and innuendos that you apply in support of your case is worthy of the best you can find at any of the big PR agencies.”
I would like to ask your board of trustees if they will back you up in this assertion, because you have a problem here: quite a few of your trustees have been and some still are members of “the big PR agencies” who may not agree with your assessment of the work of ‘any’ of the big PR Agencies. They should also bear in mind what you repeat later in the letter with:
“…there are so many half-baked arguments and outright lies […] But your sloppy attitude to the facts undermines your case and makes you little better than the ‘fakers, spinners and spies’ that you and the other contributors to the book set out to criticize.”
I should also point out that in your email there are no counter assertions or any evidence presented which would contradict anything I have asserted and presented supporting evidence for, so it is difficult to see this as a rational debate.
I note that Demos had a number of past trustees who were also part of the PR world such as Lord Stevenson, Alan Parker and Bob Tyrrell for example. In addition former funding ‘partners’ such as Bell Pottinger, Ketchum Communications, KPMG Consulting, Sorrel Foundation and so on, have PR connections. A number of your current advisors also have PR connections at Brunswick, Rio Tinto, Pwc, Horsesmouth and CSR Consulting. Is it your view that ‘any’ or all of these are engaged in the innuendos and slurs you speak of.
I am interested in hearing if you can point to any specific inaccuracies in the chapter. The lack of any such comment in your email implies you do not, but I would be interested to hear if you do.
Yours William Clark
Thanks for your reply. But after five days to think about it, is this really the best you can do?
Let me resist the temptation to be rude to you — much as I’d enjoy that— and instead restate the point of my last message — which is to reject your essay’s central assertion that Demos is some kind of neo-liberal front pursuing a corporate or CIA-inspired agenda to undermine the British left.
But first, to clarify one point, I am not writing to you in an ‘official capacity’, merely as someone who — having taken the trouble to plough through your chapter — felt it was so riddled with inaccuracies that it merited some kind of response. I’ve not had an opportunity to discuss your piece, or my response to it, with anyone else at Demos. Believe it or not, we have better things to do than sit around crafting collective rebuttals to conspiracy theorists.
However, having started this exchange, I may as well go one more round for the hell of it. Your reply to my message (and your assumption that it is somehow an ‘official’ response) is interesting in that it highlights a wider misunderstanding about how a think tank like Demos operates.
In particular, you seem to have an oddly rigid and hierarchical view of the relationship between our trustees, advisory council and staff. Like all charities, Demos is required by law to have a board of trustees, and ours, both past and present, has included people from various walks of life — politics, the media, business, charities and — unsurprisingly — the media and PR. Similarly, our advisory council includes several figures drawn from the ‘great and good’, most of whom have no meaningful engagement with what we do. Our advisory council only ever met once a year, and hasn’t met in any form since 2003.
The board of trustees meets more regularly (four times a year) and is legally responsible for Demos as a charity and limited company. But as with most charities, it has very little say in the day-to-day running of the organization, the selection of projects, and the prioritization of research themes. This task falls to the Director and the senior staff, who collectively define Demos’ agenda at any given time, and develop projects and funding on the basis of that.
So to persistently overplay the significance of our trustees or historic figures on the Demos advisory board, or to resort as you do in your reply, to some perceived inconsistency between my view and that of the trustees, is to misconstrue fundamentally how Demos works. There isn’t some rigid party line laid down from on high by Lord Stevenson, Gordon Brown or Rio Tinto that we are being forced to adhere to. Nor am I about to get knee-capped by the burly henchmen of Bob Tyrrell or MT Rainey for voicing some concerns about the lack of accountability within aspects of the PR industry.
Demos welcomes diverse debate on a whole host of issues (including our own legitimacy — hence me bothering to engage with you at such length!). One of the qualities we look for in our staff is the capacity for critical, independent thought. This is reflected in the way we define and select our projects and, as I stated in my earlier message, the care we take in choosing who to work with, and where to seek funding. Among our current team, there are individuals who are members of all three major political parties and (the majority) who are members of none. There are a handful of people who — just to take one hot issue — broadly supported the war in Iraq, and many more who opposed it.
On the issue of accountability within the PR industry and the wider media, as I indicated in my earlier message, I support the efforts of you and your colleagues in seeking to draw attention to this. My own view is that most PR activities are benign, but there are occasions when the PR industry acts against the wider public interest, for example when it lobbies on behalf of particular industries to undermine the science of climate change or to promote GM crops. (Ironically, your essay was first drawn to my attention by GM Watch, with whom I have collaborated in the past in drawing attention to precisely such activities from groups like Sense About Science.) A number of Demos associates, such as John Lloyd, have written extensively about the need to address issues of accountability within the media and PR, and this is a view that many of us at Demos would share.
You ask me for some specific examples of where statements in your essay are misleading or untrue. Let me offer you five for starters:
1. ‘Shell, a major Demos funder’ (p.229)
Shell is not and never has been a ‘major funder’ of Demos. As I said in my last email, since 2000, they have funded two seminars. I have since checked back through the accounts and found that they were also part of a consortium of partners for the ‘Business of Resilience’ project. This brings their total contribution to Demos in the past seven years to 20K — slightly under 0.2% of our income. I don’t know what your definition of ‘major’ is, but 0.2% doesn’t sound major to me.
2. ‘It appears that all these organizations worked in concert’ (p.229)
As someone who worked on the Mezzanine for 3 years, this just isn’t true. Yes, we shared an office space and some kitchen facilities. But the idea that we were all sitting there hatching collective plans to bring down the left is complete nonsense. In fact relations between organizations on the Mezzanine were often quite fractious — one of the reasons so many of the organizations based there went their separate ways in 2004 (another fact you conveniently neglect to mention).
3. ‘Demos…reached new lows of propaganda with Philip Bobbit..’ (p.231)
We ran one unfunded seminar in 2002 jointly with the ICA to discuss Bobbit’s new book ‘The Shield of Achilles’. Every week, we run 2-3 such events on a host of topics with speakers and authors from across the political spectrum. I fail to see how this constitutes some kind of ‘propaganda’ campaign, at a time when Bobbit was also on ‘Start the Week’, ‘Today’ and had his book reviewed by the Guardian, Independent and most other broadsheets. Running seminars is one of the things that think tanks do — we’re rather like a university in that respect. Do you endorse or support the views of every guest speaker who visits Strathclyde?
4. ‘In 1993 the Demos advisory board included…Arthur Seldon’ (p.232). This is before my time at Demos, but to the best of my knowledge it is untrue. I have in front of me the list of advisory board members in 1993 and it includes the following names: John Ashworth, Clive Brooke, Janet Cohen, Douglas Hague, Stuart Hall, Chris Ham, Charles Handy, Ian Hargreaves, Christopher Haskins, Gerald Holtham, Martin Jacques, Richard Layard, David Marquand, Julia Middleton, Yve Newbold, Sue Richards, Anita Roddick, Dennis Stevenson, Martin Taylor and Bob Tyrrell. The broader point here, however, is the one I make above — that you systematically misrepresent the influence and control that informal structures such as an advisory board have on the way that Demos actually operates. We were no more driven by Douglas Hague’s political preferences that we were by Anita Roddick’s enthusiasm for ethical shampoo. One of the purposes of such advisory boards is to allow us to hear from a diverse set of views, and then as the Demos staff to make our own decisions about what we work on. You may dislike or disagree with the results, but at least place responsibility and agency where it actually lies, rather than hyping the significance of these marginal figures and ignoring in your account nearly all those (bar Geoff Mulgan) who’ve ever worked at Demos.
5. ‘Although invisible to the mainstream press, Demos’ location and context, The Mezzanine…’ (p.236)
It was hardly invisible to the mainstream press. There was a clear section about the Mezzanine on the Demos website — as an innovative office-share, it was something we were proud of. And we had journalists in the office every days of the week — attending seminars, covering pamphlets, contributing ideas. Again, this is what think tanks do for a living — it’s not a secret and it’s not being hidden.
More than any of these specific instances, what I really object to is the snide tone of your piece, and the way you draw connections and inferences — always assuming some kind of malicious intent — without any hard evidence to support your case.
Your website says that you have made the study of the Mezzanine the central focus of your research. Indeed, you seem to see yourself as some kind of John Pilger/Mark Thomas figure, drawing attention to a neglected political conspiracy. So I’m sorry to have to break it to you and ruin your life’s work, but as someone with direct experience and knowledge of these organizations, your case just doesn’t stack up.
Let me end by asking you a few questions.
Do you accept that there is any legitimate role for think tanks as a site for public policy research outside of government and universities? Can you allow that there might be substantive differences between individual think tanks — for example New Economics Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, or Policy Exchange and Compass? If not, what’s your proposed solution? Would you regulate them out of existence? And where do you draw the line? What about NGOs like Greenpeace or other organisations with a strong policy agenda?
Why have you chosen to focus your attack on Demos? How do you account for the more open and plural account I have given you of what it’s actually like to work here? Am I lying? Is this all ‘spin’ that I’m being told to feed you by my CIA handler? Or perhaps I’m the naïve victim of some kind of false consciousness that only you — the omniscient student from Strathclyde — can see through?
What methods have you employed in your research? I see no evidence that you’ve used anything other than the publicly-available information on our and other websites. Have you interviewed — or even attempted to interview — anyone who is involved with Demos? Given that you’re supposed to be researching this subject for a Master’s degree, how do you justify such a lazy, prejudiced and superficial approach to your subject?
I’m copying this again to your colleagues David Miller and William Dinan — whom I presume are supervising this research and seem happy to lend their credibility to it by publishing it. I’d be interested in their views on any of these points. In addition to my role at Demos, I also teach and research at Lancaster University, and if one of my postgrads came to me with your essay, I’d advise them to rip it up and start again on methodological grounds alone.
Ultimately, I’m disappointed that you’ve chosen to paint such a false and one-dimensional picture of Demos, when there’s a far more complex and subtle debate to be had about the changing role of think tanks in our democracy, and the ways in which their agendas are shaped and pursued.
As I said in my earlier email, I don’t deny there are tensions, conflicts and real issues to be debated here. But none of it is as black and white as the account you offer in your essay. If you want to make a genuinely useful contribution to these debates, which I agree are worthy of serious analysis, why not channel some of your energies towards providing that more nuanced account?
And if you really want to research Demos for a living, at least make the effort to talk to us, rather than sitting in Glasgow constructing myths about who we are and what we do. Let me end with an invitation: I would happily arrange for you and your colleagues to interview some of the key players here, or indeed host a seminar to debate your arguments. I’m sure my colleagues will be intrigued to learn that they are working for the CIA and big business, so I can guarantee a good turnout and a lively debate.
To: James Wilsdon
I would argue that it is wrong to enjoy abusing others. Even if I was entirely wrong — and you have by no means shown that — why would you take enjoyment from humiliating those you perceive as lesser than you or misled in some way? Would you really make a student rip up their work in front of you — some would regard that as bullying.
As to your assertion that I have a ‘rigid hierarchical view’ of the role of the advisors, I would direct you towards an essay by Tim Pendry (written in response to an earlier article I wrote on Demos). He brought the initial Demos advisory board together and explains it purpose thus:
“The solution was simple: to reposition the think-tank towards the people with the spare money and the motivation to invest as ‘insurance’ for the future. I might easily lay claim to the invention of ‘public/private partnership’ ideology to achieve this; but, in fact, it was a logical outgrowth of the ‘New Times’ model. I, therefore, advised the creation of an Advisory Board (as ideological cover) with 50% private and 50% public sector participants and the targets were then found to meet the revised ideological need. These targets were to be reassured by the company they kept and by modern design and management methods and then asked to support a ‘non-political’ ideas programme for the modernisation of the Left.”
He outlined the early Demos as engaging in ‘ideological cover’ for the purposes of obtaining corporate money and this offered the opportunity for some of the sworn enemies of the left (such as Seldon) to join in with aspects of a semi-covert ‘modernisation’ project. That this process (and indeed pretence) seemed to require the aid of the IEA should be brought to the attention of anyone who believes that Demos is in any way left-wing. And what are we to make of the offer of ‘insurance’? Pendry also made this next statement in relation to my work in uncovering the exchanges of personnel and funding together with the ‘Atlanticist’ connections and the involvement of the secret state, he had this to say:
“So, while William Clark is right to draw attention to the organisation and its associates, he is really fighting a battle of long ago and far away. The current battle is with those who once used these organisations for their own and possibly much more sinister political ends — the democratic centralist national security state.”
He also made this reference to the character and the attitudes inherent in Demos at the time of his involvement:
“I had retained a residual belief until around 1993/4 that Demos and other modernising groups were designed to ‘modernise’ the Labour Movement in order to produce better democratic socialists and not to displace or manage the Movement from outside. In this, I was wrong and there was one particular conversation in which I found the careerism of the young participants to be expressed far too blatantly for my liking. By all means, be cynical — but not in front of the troops. It was this that really resulted in my simply deciding to drift away.”
Cynical careerism lays one open to being used, particularly if one aims to barter ideology and toe the corporate line. Pendry’s article is insightful on Demos’ relation to neo-liberalism and it is much more damning than my own work. Pendry was hired by the Labour Finance and Industry Group (LFIG) to assist Demos in its make-over to attract corporate interest — and notice Pendry’s word choice here “as insurance.” This suggests a transaction to me, how would you explain this?
He also makes some remarks on the Foreign Policy Centre’s ‘neo-imperialism’. The FPC seemed to me (particularly with the work of Mark Leonard and Geoff Mulgan) to be close partners with Demos and they are of course overseen by Baroness Ramsay who oversees the Secret Intelligence Services and was herself a member of MI6. Perhaps any mention of SIS is enough to make a piece of writing a conspiracy theory in your view.
Demos sat across the corridor from an organisation with intimate connections to SIS. That is a fact not a conspiracy. Indeed the FPC run the government’s Public Diplomacy work, formerly the role of the Information Research Department (IRD) in the 70s. The other side of the IRD’s work was counter subversion along with the Economic League and MI5 — and also the work on covertly promoting the UK’s entry to Europe. Two important previously classified documents have recently been released on this. The IRD’s Geoffery Tucker was a key operative here, and it is the same Mr Tucker who set up the Community Action Network (CAN). I think I set this out in the essay you have read although it may be elsewhere. I wrote that article well over a year ago and I have since amassed a further evidence base. Take Demos’ 2006 The Business of Resilience: Corporate security for the 21st century by Rachel Briggs and Charlie Edwards this “was kindly supported by a consortium of companies: BP, British Airways, Control Risks, E.On, Group 4 Securicor Global Risks Ltd., HSBC, Kroll Security International, Prudential, QinetiQ and Shell.”
You say “my colleagues will be intrigued to learn that they are working for the CIA and big business”, well we are not a million miles away from MI5, the SAS and the CIA with these companies: QinetiQ’s directors include George Tenet the former CIA director who would appear to be rather ‘kind’ to Demos.
Now to your assertions on my ‘lies’. You asked five questions here. The first one contested my term that Shell was a ‘major’ funder of Demos. The list of your ‘Core Funders’ on your web site, back in 1998 were:
* the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust
* the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
* the Tedworth Charitable Trust
* Cable and Wireless
* Northern Foods
* Scottish and Newcastle
* British Gas
* Shell International
* BDO Stoy Hayward
* National Westminster Bank
* the RAC
* the PTC
* the Lord Ashdown Charitable Settlement
You seemed to be arguing that I had over emphasised the relationship between Demos and Shell in relation to funding. It seems I underestimated it. If you wish to underplay funding from Shell then you should not describe their funding as ‘Core,’ this suggests that its funding is integral, ongoing and at the heart of the organisation, not just a relatively big part as ‘major’ could be argued to convey. In future I will use ‘core’ and mention that it was Demos’ own terminology. First you argued that the relationship between Demos and Shell was not as ‘major’ as I thought. Then you reassessed your figures by 100%, but you did qualify this with the admission that you were talking about an area you do not know that much about. I would suggest you revise it according to the statements of your own website in the past, which presumably relates to a concrete reality. This is linked to another point you make — you see this is the problem with interviews: you cannot take what people say on face value. If I had interviewed you, on Shell’s funding for instance, think of how misleading your statements would have been. One needs other sources of verification.
So on point one: was Shell a major funder of Demos? — yes it was a “Core” funder. Who says so: Demos do on their website in 1998 and Shell also fund contemporary work alongside private sector security companies (all busy in Iraq) staffed by ex-intelligence officers.
There is nothing much to answer in point 2. Organisations within the Mezzanine have outlined the confluence of organisations — such as the quote from ERA which is in the book as far as I remember, but here it is again:
“…an open plan trading floor or market place… where new relationships are negotiated and new ideas turned into practical opportunities.” It sees itself as “…putting in place the foundation stones of a new entrepreneurial culture that cuts across the traditional compartments within which we have all lived and worked. The organisations meeting on the Mezzanine are committed to replicating this ‘cultural space’ in towns, cities and rural areas across the UK.”
Of course your own end of year accounts state that the residents of the Mezzanine are actually one company as such and we could also discuss the overlap in personnel between several of the Mezzanine organisations and the shared ideology of ‘social entrepreneurs’ ‘venture philanthropy’ and the funding of each other (particularly with UnLtd and CAN) but you dismiss this).
We could also make reference to the Mezzanine 2, whereby the inter-relations of the groups are still put forward as you may well know.
On point 3 — Bobbit (a senior director of the US NSC) was on a tour to promote his book on the war, which ran the propaganda line that it was ‘inevitable’. Demos supported him — at the same time John Lloyd was putting out his pro-war propaganda — there is not much to argue here. You will have to learn to live with comment on your selection of speakers. There was no shortage of US imports touted by Demos. What anti-war views did you promote? For balance Demos preferred to hire John Lloyd to represent the view that any form of protest was terrorism. I will analyse your output more thoroughly in the forthcoming years. I am nothing to do with who arranges speakers for Strathclyde. Do you really think this a meaningful comparison?
Point 4: do you not think the remark about the late Anita Roddick is in poor taste? Here you go on at length, stating that it was ‘untrue’ that the late Arthur Seldon worked in an advisory capacity for Demos. You also say that the politics of the board has no influence whatsoever. I could refer back to Pendry’s essay but take this from Sunday Times February 2, 1992:
“The inaugural outing of a new left-of-centre think-tank called Demos takes place next Thursday, when it participates in a seminar with the Goethe Institute and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (an outcrop of the German SPD) on The Future of Europe: an Anglo-German View. Demos is the brainchild of various members of the ”soft left”, including the sociologist Stuart Hall, former MP David Marquand and Martin Jacques, ex-editor of Marxism Today. They are currently trying to raise capital from interested parties including Anita Roddick, the Body Shop millionairess. Later this month Demos will join forces with the right-wing think-tankers of the venerable Institute of Economic Affairs in a joint seminar on the social market. Last year its director, Graham Mather, was criticised for being too close to the government. This time the criticism is, in the words of an IEA watcher, that ”there is a danger that Graham, having lost his political virginity, will become promiscuous and be seen with virtually anybody”. Arthur Seldon, a founder of the IEA and a former critic of Mather, takes a more relaxed view. ”I’m pleased to see the left moving from demos (demonstrations) to Demos (the classical Greek word for ‘the people’).”
Note that his involvement is related to the movement of the left, this “‘non-political’ ideas programme for the modernisation of the Left,” which of course is a contradiction in terms. Actual confirmation of his eventual ‘advisory’ role can be found in Geraldine Bedell, 1993, ‘Geoff and Martin’s big idea,’ The Independent, January 24. And I think I can see why he is not on your records — and this is somewhat intriguing. Here’s the reference in context:
“What you do, in fact, is found your own think-tank: get some friends and advisers together and organise yourselves to influence public debate. In a few weeks’ time, a new think-tank, Demos, will be launched (Demos is Greek for people; the name came courtesy of adman Barry Delaney, after months of agonising by Jacques and friends). Jacques will be its chairman; his old friend Geoff Mulgan, who until recently worked on policy formulation for Gordon Brown, its director; and another old Marxism Today friend, Stuart Hall, a professor at the Open University, will be on the advisory council. Its ambition is to cut across old party allegiances — thus council members also include Sir Douglas Hague, a former economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher and a member of her Downing Street Policy Unit; Anita Roddick of The Body Shop; Martin Taylor, chief executive of Courtaulds Textiles; and Gerald Holtham, senior international economist with Lehman Brothers. Arthur Seldon, founder president of the oldest and grandest free-market think-tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, is an informal adviser.”
“Demos is bound to be misunderstood. ”Friends of mine think Martin Jacques is still a Communist,” grumbles Arthur Seldon, ”but then, no doubt, some of his friends see me as an extremist libertarian.””
Yes confusing isn’t it. Of course the IEA offshoot Civitas was also based in the Mezzanine. You may well want to carry on splitting hairs over this, but the substance to my point was that there were three advisors to Demos with connections to the IEA — I should have said two and one who was kept as an informal advisor. But what difference does that make because they are all, as you have argued, informal. Why was he there with everyone else at the launch talking to the press? What did he advise on?
Point 5, you have misconstrued accidentally or deliberately. Send me a copy of what the journalists wrote on how the Mezzanine groups functioned together, or the overlap in personnel and ideology and the inter-funding relationships. You are arguing that no contact existed between the organizations— I think this is unsupportable but don’t know of any writing on this. One would think journalists would have taken an interest in Peter Mandelson’s think tank’s anti-left plans (or the role of Roger Liddle after ‘Lobbygate’).
You complain about my tone. Think of your own here. Look at this:
“Let me resist the temptation to be rude to you — much as I’d enjoy that […] we have better things to do than sit around crafting collective rebuttals to conspiracy theorists. […] Nor am I about to get knee-capped by the burly henchmen […] you seem to see yourself as some kind of John Pilger/Mark Thomas figure, drawing attention to a neglected political conspiracy. So I’m sorry to have to break it to you and ruin your life’s work […] Am I lying? Is this all ‘spin’ that I’m being told to feed you by my CIA handler? Or perhaps I’m the naïve victim of some kind of false consciousness that only you — the omniscient student from Strathclyde — can see through? […] how do you justify such a lazy, prejudiced and superficial approach to your subject? […] if one of my postgrads came to me with your essay, I’d advise them to rip it up and start again on methodological grounds alone. […] rather than sitting in Glasgow constructing myths about who we are and what we do.”
You may also wish to draw your students’ attention to the term ‘ad hominem’. This is a reply to an argument by attacking or appealing to an irrelevant characteristic about the person making the argument, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. This is regarded as a fallacy and involves an attack against the character of person making the claim, their circumstances, or their actions is made then this attack is taken to be evidence against the argument the person in question is making. ‘Conspiracy Theory’ is a common variant. As to methodology — I am surprised that you cannot understand the simple process of going to an organisation’s web site and quoting what it says about itself.
There is nothing in what you say which challenges any central thesis of the article. The five points you offered are not particularly related to this. What do you know of BAP for instance? Lord Stevenson’s role in this was central. The organization was part of US Public Diplomacy efforts which have a history dating back to the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the promotion of the ‘end-of-ideology.’
But as to whether vested interest influences research I will give you the last word on this:
“In attacking one form of fundamentalism, Taverne supplants it with his own: a naive and outdated scientism. His is a world in which science can do no wrong; in which research is untainted by vested interests, and companies such as Monsanto exist purely to feed the hungry.
Two weeks this time — this has obviously taken a lot of work! I hope they give you some credits for it on your course…
It’s a shame you’ve failed again to engage with the substance of what I’ve said. But we’re now talking at cross purposes — I’m telling you what Demos is like now (and has been for the 6+ years I’ve worked there), and you persist in telling me what you believe Demos was like in 1993. You’ve not responded to any of the points I’ve made about how we work, how we’re governed and how we’re funded. And you’ve not answered any of the questions I posed at the end of my last message. Were they too difficult for you?
So let’s end it there. I don’t see any point in continuing the dialogue. You’ve shown yourself through your emails to be a paranoid, petty and humourless individual. And for someone whose ostensible aim is to uncover that which is is hidden, you have an oddly literal approach to the written word. It’s perhaps one of the reasons your own prose is so leaden. (Incidentally, I am fascinated by the proposition that talking to us would leave you open to misleading lies, whereas reading what’s on our website is a source of unadulterated truth. Who do you think writes the website? Is it burned onto the internet by God?)
I’ve forwarded your various messages to the rest of the Demos staff, so thanks for making us laugh and brightening what would otherwise have been a dull afternoon.
Must go now — I have to prepare for a meeting with George Tenet in the morning.
We can have regard to Patricia Hewitt’s (2010) testimony (Dispatches, ‘Politicians for Hire’, Channel 4, March 22), to find some inside information of what Demos offers business and whether it does act as a lobbyist, as I and many others have inferred:
“Now the think tank and the seminar route I think is a very good one and will remain a good one and so identifying the right think-tank. Policy Exchange is a good one at the moment, Demos is another good one. And saying ok, does that think tank already have a relationship with Minister X? Can we invite Minister X to give a seminar on this subject? Your client would then sponsor the seminar and you do it via the think-tank. And that’s very useful, because what you get for your sponsorship is basically you sit next to the Minister.”
On whether Demos’ Advisors and Trustees do not have any influence on what the organisation does, as irate James suggests, one could look at:
wherein Demos state:
“Madeleine Bunting has decided to resign as Director of Demos. Since it has emerged that her vision for Demos is incompatible with that of the trustees…”
As to ‘cash-strapped organizations’ — UnLtd, which gathers a few of the key players together (and Ian Hargreaves has gone on to become the spin doctor for the Foreign Office, in charge of Public Diplomacy) has One Hundred Million Pounds at its disposal, others such as Carnegie are in the business of giving money away, and so on. The Foreign Policy Centre’s remoteness from the intelligence agencies was stated as relating to Baroness Meta Ramsay and its members open connections to Rachel Briggs an Advisory Council member of Wilton Park, and of course there is Lord Stevenson’s connections to The British American Project and so on.
This is the 5th annual Demos security lecture. Previous speakers include: Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller (DG, Security Service); Sir Richard Dearlove (Master Pembroke College); Chris Donnelly (Senior Fellow, UK Defence Academy); Sir David Veness (Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, UN)
Might they have some connection?
As for conspiracies — its interesting to note Ramsay’s involvement in the Rendition cover-up , which the government has done a 180 on —I happened to write down Jack Straw’s 2005 testimony to the Select Committee on this:
Now unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark force in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.
Straw was sitting behind David Milliband when the lies were revealed in the Commons.
What is remarkable about Wilsdon is statements such as “I have on several occasions turned down offers of money from the biotech industry, the nuclear industry and others because I disagreed with the line they wanted us to promote.” This concedes that Demos discuss promoting lines for big business which Wilsdon is happy to criticise in others, but he can’t or won’t see it: he actually offers this up as evidence to the contrary. There is a similar type of squirming in his general argument that: because the organisation is funded by a range of Businesses it is therefore not beholding to any particular one. Obviously this contradicts the previous admission, but it is also like a prostitute arguing that because he or she had not fallen in love with a particular client they were not a prostitute or a drug addict arguing that because they will take a range of drugs they will never become addicted. But policy entrepreneurs are just that: traders. Note his complete avoidance of what Tim Pendry had to say.
Wilsdon also refuses to acknowledge any points which I make which have contradicted his own assertions: such as Seldon or Shell’s funding and yet argues that I have not responded to his points — despite working through all five of them: what can one say here? This projection onto me is also echoed in his hectoring, bullying tone — the strangely impotent violent fantasies.
My focus on Demos was on its time in the Mezzanine (a longer version of the essay is on this site), I have very little interest in what the organisation is up to now — what is also peculiar is that Wilsdon mentions organisation such as Policy Exchange as some sort of good example.