The Fabian Society, no doubt inspired by some fetching William Morris wallpaper, famously decided to advance the socialist cause by gradualist and reformist methods, rather than revolution.
But one of their key local figures, newbie Victorian MP and dot.com entrepreneur Evan Thornley, has decided that following William Morris is as exciting as watching paint dry.
Only a few short years ago, Thornley was proclaiming how he would revitalise the Fabians. It appears, however, that Fabianism doesn’t work on them. Fabians appear to be resistant to change, gradual or otherwise.
So Thornley has emerged as a key organiser of Per Capita, a left-leaning think tank being launched in Melbourne today.
Per Capita is headed up by Michael Cooney, best known for his time as an ideas man to Iron Mark. He’ll be supported by David Hetherington, a former economic analyst with the UK think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.
It may also be adopting a gradualist approach — or at least learning to walk before it runs. “We’re not about winning elections in a year, we’re about winning debates over a decade,” Cooney says in The Australian today.
And as The Oz correctly observes, “In pitching itself as a direct competitor to the Institute of Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent Studies, Per Capita is, in effect, paying a compliment to the conservative think tanks by conceding they faced no viable challengers from the centre-left over the past decade.”
It seems that Per Capita’s supporters see the Chifley Research Centre as too closely tied to the ALP and the Australia Institute as hippy-dippy. Instead, they will model themselves on the Institute for Public Policy and another British think tank, Demos, that played a key role in crafting the New Labour “project” in the ’90s.
And good luck to them. Mark Latham is now seen as one of those one night stands we began to regret before we’d got the trousers on again, but the bloke had some good social analyses and some good ideas on policy to fit. Here’s hoping Cooney doesn’t make sure they’re tipped in the dumpster with all those unsold copies of Mark Latham’s Dictionary of Quotations.
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And while Per Capita may be of the left, with people like Thornley driving it and Demos as an inspiration, it obviously isn’t hostile to markets. Entrepreneurship in ideas is big business worldwide. Think tanks, globally, are estimated at being a $US500 million industry.
So if Fabianism hasn’t worked on the Fabians, we look forward to seeing Per Capita’s wares out in the marketplace.