The Smith Institute

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The Smith Institute calls itself an "independent think tank", which was set up in 1997 "to undertake research and education in issues that flow from the changing relationship between social values and economic imperatives."[1] Presumably this means it is independent from government, although this would be very hard to argue, as it promotes political writing and personalities. It is named after the late Labour leader John Smith, though it is thought of as a think tank closely connected to Gordon Brown.[2]

The Institute says its mode of working is to identify:

where the most relevant and recent research is being undertaken on a particular topic, and then to present it in a seminar series attended by ministers, backbenchers, special advisers, civil servants, business and industrial leaders, and specialists.[3]

Charitable status and political activities

The Smith Institute is a registered charity, which would normally preclude it from political work — although this is its mainstay given that it was "founded in memory of the late John Smith QC MP, and its work is focused on the interaction of fairness and enterprise — an area of political economy that was of particular interest to John."[4]

In 2007, an article in The Guardian [5] announced that the Institute "is to be investigated by the Charity Commission for alleged breaches of the rule that bars voluntary organisations from being used for overtly party political purposes":

The charity seems to have got into difficulty over a seminar organised by one of its subsidiaries, SI Events, where Bob Shrum, a veteran of US Democratic presidential campaigns, called David Cameron, the Conservative leader, "an empty opportunist who will do anything to win".

With regard to the Institute's charitable status, the Charity Commission’s inquiry found that it,

is a charity and is capable of operating for the public benefit. The inquiry also found that the Smith Institute is producing work which falls within its charitable purposes, is of educational value and is freely available to the public.

However, the Commission's ruling on the Institute's political activities was less favorable. Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission, said:

Trustees of charitable ‘think tanks’ have a responsibility to ensure the political neutrality of the work they do. When a charity operates close to the political environment, it must safeguard its independence and ensure that any involvement it has with political parties is balanced.
Our inquiry has reconfirmed that the Smith Institute is a charity and has found that it is doing work of educational value. However the trustees did not adequately manage the risks posed to the independence and reputation of the Institute and it was vulnerable to the perception that it was involved in party politics – never acceptable for a charity. We’ve used our powers to require the trustees to take action to put this right and we will be requiring them to report back to us in six months.[6]

The Smith Institute's response to the Charity Commission's ruling casts an interesting light not just on its own activities but on those of other think tanks:

the trustees fundamentally disagree with the requirement that all speakers at Institute events, including politicians, should ensure that their remarks are “politically neutral”. This has profound implications for all UK think tanks, and could mean that the Institute would not be able to operate as it does at present.[7]

Social values – but economic imperatives

The Institute's talk of social "values" as against economic "imperatives" raises the question of why the social is spoken of as having values (beliefs, emotional investment), while the economic is referred to as an imperative (expressive of command, directive, compulsory). The first is presented as malleable, the second as immutable.

Similarly, its focus on fairness and enterprise (in the sense of capitalist enterprise) needs to be examined within the paradigm of New Labour, which Smith formulated in the early 90s and which the Institute seeks to support. It could be argued that British society has not become fairer, given the changes to the law which seek to abolish fundamental tenets of human rights, and the increasing gap between the wealthiest few and the mass of the population.

New Labour-linked think tanks have cast "enterprise" as those elements of policy that are acceptable to the financial markets and neoliberalism.[8] Policy entrepreneurs, operating in think tanks and captive debates (such as Nexus), promote so-called venture philanthropy in an apparent attempt to compensate for the effects of private enterprise and its centralisation and accumulation of wealth.

New Labour has not even devoted itself to the "trickle-down economics" of the Conservative 1980s. The New Labour government does not seek to close the gap between the poor and the rich, preferring the patronage of the super-rich themselves. The poor are as voiceless as before.

What marks the contributors to the Smith Institute in these respects (a selection are examined below) is that they have pioneered a way of enveloping economic factors with social factors, a political system which is often referred to as the "third way" on the grounds that it is neither completely pro-corporate (traditional right wing) or completely pro-society (traditional left-wing), but somewhere in between.

The Smith Institute embraces the neo-liberalism inherent in Smith's "Prawn Cocktail Offensive", the name given by critics to Labour's successful attempt while in opposition in the 1990s to win the backing of the financial sector. The Prawn Cocktail Offensive was carried out by John Smith in his position as Shadow Chancellor, who accompanied his fellow politician Mo Mowlam on a series of private lunches and conferences with City figures. Smith was also responsible for setting up a number of Atlanticist initiatives aimed at aligning Britain more closely with the United States.[9] [10]


Party Conferences

Labour 2014

  • 21st September
Work that pays: Labour and the Living Wage. Speakers: Rachel Reeves MP, Neil Jameson, Frances O’Grady and Paul Hackett. In association with the Living Wage Commission.
  • 22nd September
Will Labour (really) invest in social housing? Speakers: Emma Reynolds MP, David Orr, Cllr Helen Hayes and Neil McInroy. In association with Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES).
Rip-off Britain? How do we get a fair deal for consumers? Speakers: Stella Creasy MP, Lewis Shand Smith, Damon Gibbons, Jonathan Eley and Lord Larry Whitty. In association with Ombudsman Services.
Does Labour have an answer to the personal debt crisis? Speakers: Chris Leslie MP, Lord Wilf Stevenson, Polly Toynbee, Mick McAteer and Paul Hackett. In association with StepChange Debt Charity
Labour’s agenda for making local economies matter. Speakers: Hilary Benn MP, John Healey MP, Lord Andrew Adonis, Catherine West, Cllr Jim McMahon and Neil McInroy. In association with Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES).
  • 23 September
100,000 new council homes by 2020? Speakers: John Healey MP, Aileen Evans, Chris Leslie MP and Paul Hackett. In association with Social Housing Under Threat (SHOUT).
A manifesto for work? Labour’s plans for making work better. Speakers: Jon Cruddas MP, John Hannett, Nicola Smith and Lord John Monks. In association with Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.
Labour’s agenda for professionals at work. Speakers: Ian Murray MP, Sarah Veale CBE, Mike Clancy, Richard Toomer and Dave Penman. In association with Prospect, FDA, BALPA and ATL.[11]


The Smith Institute publishes the texts of the speeches and a record of the subsequent discussion "in the hope that it will inform and educate a wider readership than can attend the seminars themselves."[12] Authors of its publications include: Geoff Mulgan (of Demos), Lord Chris Haskins who was expelled from the Labour party for donating to the Liberals[13], the Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke MP, Rt. Hon. Lord Falconer QC MP, Shami Chakrabarti (who also joined the Ditchley Foundation), Will Hutton, Ed Balls, David Blunkett.

Publication titles include: "Globalisation and Progressive Politics", co-authored by Michael Snyder, the (then) Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, and President Bill Clinton, which is described as:

A transcript of the speeches and discussion at our recent event at the Guildhall, London. The Smith Institute gratefully acknowledges the help and generosity of the Corporation of London in making this event possible, and thanks our partners - Policy Network, Demos, The Fabian Society, IPPR and the Social Market Foundation - for their input into the organisation and running of the event.[14]

This is typical of the Institute's output in that it draws on such organisations, which themselves are greatly influenced or directed or advised by New Labour insiders or those who have developed a vested interest.

Another of the Institute's publications is "Improving Competitiveness" funded by British Gas, the information technology (IT) company EDS, and BAA (British Airports Authority).[15] The publication includes contributions by

EDS is heavily reliant on government contracts and the privatisation process, as it provides IT services to government departments.

The Smith Institute's "Enlightenment Lectures" of 2002 were sponsored by Pfizer, and took place at the University of Edinburgh. They featured Lord Dahrendorf, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (the then Principal at Edinburgh and the Hon President of the David Hume Institute), Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC, Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, Dr Emma Rothschild (of the British Council and the Rothschild banking family) and Dr Irwin Stelzer (again).[16]

The John Smith Memorial Lecture "Can social justice ever be delivered in a disordered world?" was delivered by Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown's lecture to the Carnegie Foundation early in 2003, "Carnegie and Philanthropy: Lessons for Today" focused on Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy while ignoring the controversial elements of his life, such as his treatment of his workers. Senator Edward Kennedy delivered the first John Smith Memorial Lecture, "Social Justice and Equality in an Era of Globalisation", at an event held jointly by Zurich Financial Services and the Smith Institute at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, London.[17]

There was also "Civilised Capitalism" with Lord Tugendhat, Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, Dr Irwin M Stelzer, Sir Howard Davies and Ruth Kelly MP, which stemmed from Brown's speech to the Social Market Foundation in February 2003.[18]

Gordon Brown gave the closing address at a 1999 conference on "Women in the New Economy". Other speakers included Linda Tarr-Whelan and Baroness Margaret Jay. The conference was organised jointly by the US-based Center for Policy Alternatives in association with the Smith Institute and the Cabinet Office.[19]



  • The Lord Haskel of Higher Broughton (Chairman): Founder Member of Labour Finance and Industry Group (LFIG), now Vice-President of the Group which includes Baroness Ramsay below. LFIG pioneered the "Prawn Cocktail Offensive" and the introduction of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI)[20] and helped set up the think tank Demos. Made a Life Peer in October 1993, his main activity is his work at the House of Lords. Previously with the Perrotts Group Plc (an international textile business). In 1994 he became an Opposition Whip in the House of Lords, and then Front Bench spokesman on Trade & Industry and appointed a member of the Select Committee on Science & Technology. In May 1997 he became a member of the new Labour Government as a Spokesman on Trade & Industry, a Government whip. Now the Liaison Peer with the Department of Trade & Industry). Also involved in Parliamentary Groups dealing with Arts & Heritage, Pensions & Financial Services, Manufacturing and IT. Chair of Trustees, Deputy Chair, Institute for Jewish Policy Research. [21]
  • Lord Joel Joffe: a crossbench peer in the House of Lords. Born in South Africa in 1932, he was educated at the University of Witwatersrand (BCom, LLB 1955), and worked as a human rights lawyer 1958-65, including, at the infamous 1963-4 Rivonia Trial, representing Nelson Mandela. Later he moved to the United Kingdom, and worked in the financial services industry, as well as the voluntary sector. He was associated with Oxfam in various roles between 1982 and 2001, including being its Chair 1995-2001. He gave more than £5,000 to the Labour Party in 1997 and £10,000 in march 2001. And somehow managed to serve on the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care and along with David (now also Lord) Lipsey, despite being one of the founders of Allied Dunbar Assurance. (Assurance companies deal in death and illness insurance). The commission: "produced a minority report which enabled the Government to ignore the expensive provision of care recommended by the majority of Commission members." [22]
Joffe is the former Chair of the Allied Dunbar Charitable Trust is a 'venture philanthropy' organisation and was also a Trustee of International Alert (a conflict prevention charity), now the chair of The Giving Campaign.
  • John Milligan: Scottish Labour Party member and donor. Founder of Atlantic Power (which supplied personnel to the oil industry in the early 1980s). Worth £44 million according to the Sunday Times Rich List. [23] Milligan was appointed as Chairman of the Scottish Welfare to Work Advisory Task Force in 2001. Milligan formed Atlantic Power and Gas in 1982 and remained as Chairman of Atlantic Power and Gas until 2000, and until 2002 a non-executive member of the board of Petroleum Geo-Services (NYSE), which merged with Atlantic Power in 1998. Atlantic Power holds contracts with ExxonMobil covering its Beryl field and Texaco's Galley field. [24] He is also a non-executive Director of Aberdeen Development Capital. Previously Chairman of Aberdeen Enterprise Trust and Chairman of Head Start Aberdeen. [25] He now owns Ballathie Estate near Perth and is a Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies (and Chairman of the Board of Governors) at Robert Gordon University.
  • Paul Myners CBE: Following a number of years writing for the Daily Telegraph on financial matters, Myners holds directorships in a wide range of companies: he is Chairman of the Tate Gallery, Marks & Spencers, Aspen Insurance (the largest independent reinsurance company in London), the Guardian Media Group [1] and is a Director of the Bank of England and the Bank of New York. Myners is a leading expert on issues of corporate governance. He was chairman of leading fund managers, Gartmore Investment Management, until his retirement in 2001. He also sits onthe board of Gartmore Global Trust plc.
In March 2000, Gordon Brown commissioned Paul Myners to conduct a review of institutional investment in the UK [26] The Myners Report said holders of pensions were being short-changed by fund managers, whose timidity was cutting into returns, and his review of life insurance and pension funds was adopted by the Government in 2001. He is also on the board of Glyndebourne Arts Trust with a host of upper crust worthies including Lord Dennis Stevenson (also with Myners at the Tate), Sir Michael Perry the Chairman of Centrica plc, Lord Rothermere. Myners is also chair of the Low Pay Commission [27]

Myner's Treasury-funded review of the life assurance industry paid the Smith Institute £11,750 to organise two round table seminars in London to canvass views on reform. The Guardian [28] reported that Myners wrote to the Treasury, saying he had told review staff at the time in 2004 that "I would be happy personally to contribute some or all of the costs of the seminars". Myners told the department's permanent secretary, Nicholas Macpherson: "Having made this very clear I have, as I always intended, therefore now paid for the full cost of the two seminars organised by SI Events." None of the events organised by the review team were discussed with Treasury ministers.

  • Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, an old friend of Elizabeth Smith
  • Baroness Rendell of Babergh: This is Ruth Rendell, the crime novelist. She was awarded the CBE in 1996 and a life peer in 1997. She sits in the House of Lords as a Labour baroness.
  • The Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Rev. Dr John Sentamu; Sentamu was appointed England’s first black archbishop in 2005, when he was made Archbishop of York. Sentamu was a judge in the High Court in Uganda where he incurred the disapproval of Idi Amin, and came to the UK in 1974. He has worked on inquiries into the killings of Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor.


Before joining the Smith Institute, Pilch was a member of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit and worked on a number of reports for the Prime Minister. His main areas of responsibility are editing the Smith Institute’s seminar reports and developing the Smith Institute’s programme of research and education on social and economic policy and on regional economic issues.

The Smith Institute, 3rd Floor, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AW


The Smith Institute joined in partnership with the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited (MSD) in 2002. MSD reports that "MSD has been sponsoring the work of the Smith Institute as a corporate member since 2002". Amongst other things, corporate membership allows MSD to attend and be involved in a range of seminars and other events each year.[29]

The report continues:

During 2004 and 2005, MSD also sponsored two of the Smith Institute's series of four seminars which were taking place under the umbrella theme of 'Science, Technology and the Economy'. Each seminar took the form of a breakfast meeting which brought together a mix of attendees including ministers, backbenchers, special advisers, civil servants, business and industrial leaders, and specialists. There were two speakers at each event followed by an opportunity for questions and answers.

The rationale behind MSD's involvement is described as "to bring to the attention of some of society's key decision makers some of the emerging issues in today's world" and to "provide a forum for constructive dialogue".[30]


The Smith Institute
Somerset House
South Wing
London, WC2R 1LA


External links


  1. "What is the Smith Institute?", Smith Institute website, accessed 21 January 2009
  2. David Henke, "Inquiry into thinktank linked to chancellor", The Guardian, 2-February-2007, accessed 21 January 2009
  3. "What is the Smith Institute?", Smith Institute website, accessed February 2009.
  4. "What is the Smith Institute?", Smith Institute website, accessed 21 January 2009
  5. David Henke, "Inquiry into thinktank linked to chancellor", The Guardian, 2-February-2007, accessed 21 January 2009
  6. "Charity Commission publishes Smith Institute inquiry report", Charity Commission, 18 July 2008, accessed January 2009.
  7. "Smith Institute welcomes publication of Charity Commission report", press release, July 2008, accessed January 2009.
  8. See, for example, Colin Leys, "The end of freedom from fear", Paul Noone Memorial Lecture delivered at the NHS Consultants Association Conference, University College London, 8 October 2005, p. 4.
  9. Robin Ramsay, "Uncle Sam's New Labour", Accessed 21-January-2009
  10. Robin Ramsay, Signs of the times Accessed 21-January-2009
  11. Upcoming events Smith Institute, undated, accessed 6 October 2014
  12. "What is the Smith Institute?", Smith Institute website, accessed February 2009.
  13. David Henke, The Guardian,Labour peer expelled over donation to Lib Dem MP Guardian Unlimited 2-September-2005, Accessed 21-January-2009
  14. "Publications available in print", Smith Institute website, accessed February 2009.
  15. "Improving Competitiveness: A series of three seminars held between December 2003 and March 2004", Smith Institute, 2006, accessed February 2009.
  16. "Enlightenment Lectures 2002: A series of lectures held at the University of Edinburgh between February and April 2002", Smith Institute, 2002, accessed February 2009.
  17. "Publications available in print", Smith Institute website, accessed February 2009.
  18. "Publications available in print", Smith Institute website, accessed February 2009.
  19. "Publications available in print, Smith Institute website, accessed February 2009.
  20. Peter Slowe (2001) A Brief History of the Labour Finance and Industry Group The Labour Finance and Industry Group. Accessed 21-January-2009
  21. The Labour Finance and Industry Group Biographies Accessed 21-January-2009
  22. Red Star Research Home Page Accessed 21-January-2009
  23. The Sunday Times, Rich List John Milligan Accessed 21-January-2009
  24. Gas and PGS to create more jobs through Kerr-McGee contract Accessed 21-January-2009
  25. The Scottish Government Re-appontment to Welfare to Work taskforce Accessed 21-January-2009
  26. HM Treasury Myners Principles: Review of Progress Accessed 21-January-2009
  27. Low Pay Commision, Low Pay Commission, Update Accessed 21-January-2009
  28. David Henke, The Guardian Inquiry into thinktank linked to chancellor 2-February-2007, Accessed 21-January-2009
  29. MSD UK The Smith Institute Accessed 21-January-2009
  30. MSD UK The Smith Institute Accessed 21-January-2009