From new Labour to blue Labour and everything in between - Channel 4 News investigates where Labour's policy ideas come from and what Labour supporters think is needed for the future.
After an election defeat and tumultuous leadership contest, the Labour Party has been licking its wounds. Responsibility for the entire economic recession was dumped at Labour's feet by the government, and the party's leader has been trying to fight comparisons with his statesman-like older brother, David.
But difficult as it may be, opposition is the time to regroup, build strength and most importantly - to develop ideas: "It's often in opposition that programmes for government come together, as parties can spend more time focusing on ideas," says Duncan O'Leary, director of left-of-centre think tank Demos.
The party is in the middle of a policy review, led by Jon Cruddas MP, who when he was appointed in April this year, got rid of the existing 29 separate policy groups in favour of three, focusing on the economy, society and politics. And despite some rumours from Ed Miliband, the party faithful is waiting with baited breath for the Big Ideas they hope will see them sail through the 2015 election.
The Labour leader is also surrounded by various think tanks whose ideas and research will help inform future policy. He has close friends and previous colleagues within the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Fabian Society, both of which have a long history with the party: IPPR was established after Labour's 1987 election defeat with the aim of revitalising left-wing thinking and drove many of New Labour's policies, while one of the oldest think tanks, the Fabian Society, is allied with the party.
Ed Miliband's most recent buzzword is pre-distribution - the idea that government intervention should start before market forces kick in. Rather than redistributing wealth after it has been created, the government should channel it at source in a more equitable way.
Part of this idea can be traced back to a speech by the Indian economist, Amartya Sen, at Demos two years ago, according to Ruth Porter, communications director at IEA. The Smith Institute also says that the pre-distribution concept goes back to way markets worked in the post-war period.
But the evolution of this idea is just one example of how political concepts develop and the role that think tanks play. "Think tanks can set out these incredibly big ideas, which in some ways seem like they're more suited to a political philosophy department at a university," Ms Porter told Channel 4 News. "Think tanks have the space and independence to very abstract questions like what kind of country do we want to live in?"
In the digital age, the biggest influence that think tanks have is in shaping public opinion, she adds. "They're feeding into and helping educate the public, which I argue is very democratic.
"Often the policies that end up being taken on board and gain traction, are a result of years of hundreds of think tanks' research and ideas. But also in debating these issues, and trying to convince public about them."
The lobbying factor
While they are credited for developing much government policy, think tanks are also criticised for providing a veil that allows vested interests to lobby government, and for more concerned with PR than they are with academic research. Or as the filmmaker and journalist Adam Curtis puts it in a blog from last year: "They are ideologically motivated PR organisations masquerading as the sort of scholarly institute that [Friedrich] Hayek first suggested to Antony Fisher."
Much of this perception comes down to funding. Think tanks can be funded by everything from private donors, corporations or government departments, but not all are completely open about who gives them what. But this does not have to be a problem, says Duncan O'Leary, Demos director, as long as think tanks are transparent about where their funding comes from (something that not all think tanks are willing to do). Mr O'Leary adds that to be credible, think tanks should also aim for a spread of benefactors, so are not reliant on one source.
"The reality is that think tanks are only as influential as their ideas are useful to politicians," Mr O'Leary told Channel 4 News. "There are occasional scare stories about the influence of think tanks, but politicians make their own choices about which ideas and policy recommendations they think are relevant and interesting."
'People don't live their lives in concepts'
However think tanks are also accused of being in bed with the Westminster bubble, and rather than helping shape the public debate, are accused of coming up with concepts far removed from the way people live their lives.
"I think quite often debates in politics can take place in concepts, but people don't live their lives in concepts," says Mark Ferguson, editor of the grassroots website Labour List. "There can be fantastic reports made by think tanks, but workplace and home isn't shaped directly by them," he adds. "By and large, it's only when a think tank says something crazy that you get people on the street talking about it."
The Labour party prides itself on being run democratically, and promotes the idea that all ministers can pitch in. The Labour Policy Portal makes ideas, and the MP who put them forward, publicly available. That wasn't always the case under Gordon Brown, according to some members, but the hope for the future is that Ed Miliband will have a more collegiate approach to policy, and come up with overarching political concepts that also chime with the way people live their lives.
If Labour supporters have anything to do with it, that may come in the form of bread and butter policies, focusing on bricks and mortar, renewables or the living wage. But the spectre of last year's responsible capitalism is also likely to raise its head in the future policy map of the Labour party.
"Think tanks and political parties need to think about how people's lives work," adds Mr Ferguson, "as well as how things work in the treasury or at a political level."
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