The controversy over the Policy Exchange Cities Unlimited report pretty much passed me by until reading today’s postings from James Graham and Jonathan Calder highlighting the role of Lib Dem academic Tim Leunig as co-author of the report.
James described at length the media circus associated with this and wonders whether Policy Exchange has engineered this.
My problem with the whole episode is different and concerns the media (Guardian in this case) attempt to link the report with the Conservative leadership through phrases like ‘Tories’ favourite think tank’ and a claim that David Cameron had been ‘forced to distance himself from the report’.
I don’t pretend to know exactly how close Policy Exchange is to the Tory leadership. I have only come across it concerning Simon Jenkins’s pamphlet on localism and Martin Bright’s (Labour-supporting political editor of the New Statesman) work on the government’s engagement with Islamists.
It seems to me that the quality of political discourse is already reduced by ‘gaffe culture’ whereby if politicians try to express a view out of the mainstream their words are pounced on and quoted out of context by hostile media and political opponents. Now it seems politicians must feel obliged to dissociate themselves from reports published by independent bodies, which they have not commissioned and whose authors may not even belong to their political party.
PS: It is perhaps worth saying that I haven’t read Cities Unlimited, so can’t comment on its contents, but my views are normally very similar to Jonathan Calder’s on such matters and his comments (see link above) seem to me on the right lines.