Immigration: what is the future of free movement?

February 24, 2017

Immigration was a key issue during Britain’s EU referendum. The success of the Leave campaign owed much to the belief that the UK has lost control over its borders. Many British citizens are resentful that their communities have undergone dramatic changes as a result of immigration policies about which they were not consulted. At the same time, there are humane, economic and political arguments for welcoming migrants. So why do we have borders at all? If the EU can manage with porous internal borders, why can’t the whole world? Do open borders really threaten the integrity of a democratic nation state?

executive director, Menzies Research Centre, Australia; columnist, The Australian

barrister; writer on legal issues; regular contributor to spiked

writer and broadcaster; author, The Quest for a Moral Compass: a global history of ethics and From Fatwa to Jihad

director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive


Does Britain need an industrial strategy?

February 15, 2017

Rob Lyons talks to Patrick Hayes, director of the British Educational Suppliers Association, about the UK government's recent consultation document on industrial strategy, why Brexit has focused the minds of politicians on economic growth and why we need to be far more ambitious about supporting research, innovation and wider development.


Podcast of Ideas: 10 February 2017

February 10, 2017

Rob Lyons is joined by Claire Fox and Alastair Donald to discuss the UK government's housing strategy, John Bercow's refusal to invite President Trump to address parliament and the protests against invited speakers on US campuses. The team also discuss a new Institute of Ideas initiative, Living Freedom.


The UK economy after Brexit: sink or swim?

January 27, 2017

This week, the latest GDP figures revealed that the UK economy continues to grow faster than expected, despite the vote to leave the European Union. In fact, in 2016, the UK economy grew faster than any of the other G7 industrialised countries.

But will these good times last? Earlier this month, the prime minister, Theresa May, announced that she intended to leave both the EU's single market and customs union. It was just such a scenario that led to some of the bleakest economic forecasts before the referendum vote. However, economists who argued for a vote to leave the EU are generally sanguine about the future, believing the EU had become a barrier to further economic growth. What should the UK look for in negotiations with the remaining member states of the EU?

In any event, are things really so rosy? At a time when all the major economies are struggling, are the latest growth figures a sign of a robust economy or do they simply leave the UK as, temporarily at least, the strongest of an increasingly feeble bunch? Are there more fundamental questions to be asked about the possibilities for creating wealth for everyone in the future, like questioning the poor productivity of the UK economy? Are questions about our relationship with Europe really just a sideshow to more deep-rooted problems?


Daniel Moylan
former deputy chairman of Transport for London; Conservative Councillor; co-chairman, Urban Design London

Phil Mullan
economist and business manager; author, <em>Creative Destruction: How to start an economic renaissance</em> (forthcoming)

Merryn Somerset Webb
Editor in Chief, <em>MoneyWeek</em>

Andreas Wesemann
partner, Ashcombe Advisers LLP; author, The Abolition of Deposit Insurance


Podcast of Ideas: 20 January 2017

January 20, 2017

Rob Lyons is joined by Claire Fox and Geoff Kidder to discuss Donald Trump's inauguration, the attitude of liberals and the media to Trump's supporters and offer their thoughts on Theresa May's Brexit speech.


Is utopian thinking dead?

January 6, 2017

As a new year begins, thoughts turn to the future. But how do we see the year - or the decade - ahead? Do we think that things will get better, that our lives will improve, or will we be stuck in a gloomy mind-set that suggests that the world is going to hell in a handcart? Can we imagine a truly prosperous world where everyone lives in peace - a true utopia?

Does the concept of utopia represent an unattainable ideal – or the kind of idealistic ambition that can promote change in the real world? Debates about technological progress seem to vacillate wildly between utopianism and dystopianism. At a time when innovation is universally celebrated and culturally validated, it also appears to be in a constant state of crisis. Utopian optimism seems destined to remain divorced from practical applications, useful only in terms of blue-sky thinking. But are the constraints on innovation a matter largely of investment and official focus, or are there cultural and intellectual issues too?

This Battle of Ideas debate offered a chance to explore our attitudes to the future.


Dr Yaron Brook
executive director, Ayn Rand Institute; co-author, Equal is Unfair: America’s misguided fight against income inequality

Dr Eliane Glaser
writer, lecturer and radio producer

Dr Norman Lewis
director (innovation), PwC; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture

Kirsty Styles
talent and skills programme lead, Tech North


The new populism

January 6, 2017

Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the election of Donald Trump and the high opinion poll ratings of Marine Le Pen’s Front National have led to anxious debate about the rise of populism, inspired by what many regard as a rogues’ gallery of demagogic leaders of rising anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic movements throughout Europe and the US. The declining appeal of traditional parties of both left and right has been apparent for a generation, and now seems to have reached a head, to the consternation of those who see the new populism as a rejection of common sense. At the height of the referendum campaign, the Guardian’s Martin Kettle articulated the exasperation of the political establishment at the evident disaffection of the masses when he described support for Brexit as ‘part bloody-mindedness, part frivolity, part panic, part bad temper, part prejudice’.

Almost invariably, the concept of populism is used in a pejorative way. It is often preceded by the implicitly disparaging adjective ‘right-wing’ and directly linked to notions such as racism, ‘xenophobia’ or ‘Islamophobia’. Yet in the past, populist movements have as commonly had a left-wing as a right-wing character. They have often expressed an inchoate animosity towards a corrupt elite. Such movements are inherently unstable and tend to evolve, according to circumstances, in either a radical or reactionary direction. Recent political phenomena such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and the successes of Bernie Sanders in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, show the complexity of the popular movements that have emerged to fill the vacuum left by the decay of the old politics.

Mainstream politicians and commentators fear the polarisation resulting from the rise of populist movements, but seem unable to engage the public through open debate. Others argue that the upsurge of popular discontent with the stagnant political order points the way towards the revival of democratic politics, and is worth celebrating even if it unleashes uncomfortable sentiments. Are populist movements merely ‘morbid symptoms’ of a decadent political order, or harbingers of a democratic renewal?


Nick Cater
executive director, Menzies Research Centre, Australia; columnist, The Australian

Ian Dunt
editor,; political editor, Erotic Review

Ivan Krastev
chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia; permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna

Jill Rutter
programme director, Institute for Government

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No


What’s the truth about ‘post-truth’ politics?

December 16, 2016

Listen to the debate from the Battle of Ideas 2016.

In November, Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ its Word of the Year. For some commentators, both the US presidential campaign and the EU referendum in the UK have revealed the emergence of ‘post-truth’ politics. Donald Trump has dismissed fact-checking as an ‘out-of-touch, elitist media-type thing’. Former Tory minister and Brexit leader Michael Gove notoriously claimed that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’.

Have experts been over-reaching themselves and intruding into matters that require political judgement rather than statistics? On the other hand, if people scorn evidence, will society sink into the mire of prejudice and superstition? Have the majority of voters really given up on assessing the evidence?


Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What’s Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, and Authority: a sociological history

Josh Lowe
European politics reporter, Newsweek

Neena Modi
professor of neonatal medicine, Imperial College London; consultant in neonatal medicine, Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust; president, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Dr Adam Rutherford
geneticist, science writer and broadcaster, BBC; author, Creation and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.


The rise of the Busybody State

December 9, 2016

From parking wardens generating record profits for councils through to bans on smoking and busking, the authorities are making more and more previously normal activities illegal or subject to onerous regulation. Yet it is not clear who benefits from this micromanagement of our lives.

Here, Josie Appleton talks about her new book, 'Officious: The rise of the Busybody State', which examines the causes and consequences of this trend.


Zaha Hadid: her life and legacy

December 8, 2016

A recording of the discussion at the Battle of Ideas 2016.

The architect Zaha Hadid, who died in March, was described in a CNN interview in 2013 as ‘one of the most celebrated – and divisive – designers on the planet’. In life, she was respected or reviled, but seldom ignored. She was a powerful woman in a man’s world, and an Arab at the top of the Western design industry. She was a designer of curves in a world of boxes and a leader in an age of consensus. What will be Zaha Hadid’s legacy? Is there still a place for risk-taking and experimentation? Is there anyone out there who can fill her shoes?

associate professor in architecture, XJTLU University, Suzhou, China; director, Future Cities Project; convenor, Bookshop Barnies; founding member of New Narratives


principal, Zaha Hadid Architects; author, The Autopoiesis of Architecture