Policy Exchange is a British centre-right think tank, created in 2002 and based in London. The Daily Telegraph has described it as "the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right".
Policy Exchange has been addressed by members of the Labour Governments of Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-2010), such as John Hutton, Peter Mandelson and Andrew Adonis, and by members of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government of David Cameron (2010-), such as Chris Skidmore, Charlotte Leslie and Jesse Norman, as well as by many non party-political figures. The New Statesman named it as David Cameron's "favourite think tank", a view shared by the Political Editor of the Evening Standard Joe Murphy, who referred to it as "the intellectual boot camp of the Tory modernisers’". Its alumni include Anthony Browne, one of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s policy directors, and a number of the Conservative 2010 intake of MPs, including Nick Boles, Jesse Norman, Chris Skidmore and Charlotte Leslie.
It describes itself as seeking localist, volunteer and free market solutions to public policy problems, with research programmes covering health, education, energy and environment, crime and justice, welfare, housing policy, family policy and security. It works with academics and policy advisors across the political spectrum, and members of its advisory councils include Lord Trimble, Peter Clarke, former Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, James Cameron, Executive Director of Climate Change Capital, and Simon Stevens, former health advisor to Tony Blair. Policy Exchange hosts regular events and debates with key individuals including academics, journalists, MPs and Ministers. The Annual Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture, has been delivered by speakers such as Sir Ian Blair, Charles Farr and General David Petraeus.
Policy Exchange authors have included former government advisor Professor Dieter Helm, economist Robert Shiller, author and broadcaster Bill Bryson, historian and journalist Anna Reid, and former Financial Times journalist John Willman.
Policy Exchange is a registered charity.
Policy Exchange was set up in 2002 by a group including Nicholas Boles (director), Michael Gove (chairman) and Francis Maude. Maude went on to become Minister for the Cabinet Office, and names being one of the co-founders as his proudest political achievement. Gove went on to become Secretary of State for Education.
Gove was succeeded as chairman by Charles Moore, former editor of the Spectator and the Daily Telegraph. In June 2011, Moore stepped down to focus on his newspaper columns and his biography of Margaret Thatcher, and was succeeded by Daniel Finkelstein, associate editor of The Times.
In May 2007, Boles was succeeded as director by Anthony Browne, a journalist and political correspondent for The Times. In September 2008, Browne stepped down to work for Boris Johnson, and was succeeded by Neil O'Brien, formerly director of Open Europe. In November 2012, O'Brien was appointed as a special adviser to George Osborne, and in 2013 he was succeeded by Dean Godson, formerly head of Policy Exchange's security unit.
The Hijacking of British Islam
In October 2007, Policy Exchange published a report, written by Denis MacEoin, on the Muslim community in the UK, uncovering the extent of extremism within mainstream mosques and Muslim institutions. The report entitled The Hijacking of British Islam: How extremist literature is subverting mosques in the UK was described as "a year long investigation carried out by Policy Exchange into the character of the literature currently available in mainstream sites of Islamic religious instruction in the UK."  According to the report, four Muslim research teams visited nearly 100 Islamic sites in the UK "to determine the extent to which literature inculcating Muslim separatism and hatred of nonbelievers was accessible in those institutions — both in terms of being openly available and also being obtainable 'under the counter'." The researchers claimed to have found offensive material at around a quarter of the sites visited and this became the report's most publicised claim in the media.
- Newsnight investigation
On 12 December 2007, two months after the publication of The Hijacking of British Islam, BBC's Newsnight presented material which the programme suggested showed that some of the receipts purporting to prove the sale of extremist material had been forged, and that some of the literature had come from bookshops purportedly unconnected to the mosques named in the report. Newsnight’s claims were as follows:
- Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, West London — forensic analysis showed there was a possibility that the receipt had been written by the same person as one purporting to be from Masjid as-Tawhid in Leyton, ten miles away.
- Masjid as-Tawhid, Leyton — two different receipts were linked to the mosque, one for one set of extremist material purchased from a bookshop close to the mosque but, it is claimed, independent of it, and a second completely different receipt printed on an inkjet printer, but in the name of the mosque.
- Euston Mosque - books were said to have been purchased from "Euston Mosque 202 North Gower Street", however this is actually the address of UK Islamic Mission (which is not a mosque). Euston Mosque is 204A North Gower Street, and says it has never sold any books of any kind.
- Finsbury Park Mosque - the mosque disputed that it sold the books at all. Analysis showed that the receipt, as with all the other disputed receipts, had been printed on an inkjet printer.
- Al-Muntada Mosque — although the books listed are sold by the mosque on its website, the mosque said that the receipt supplied was fake. Forensic analysis showed the receipt had been printed on a home inkjet printer, and that the receipt from High Wycombe Muslim Education Centre could have been written out resting on top of it.
- High Wycombe Muslim Education Centre - it was "concluded with absolute certainty that this receipt was written out while resting on the receipt from Al Muntada mosque, which is 40 miles away in West London".
Policy Exchange responded to the individual cases cited by the BBC, arguing that there was still evidence to link each of the institutions to extremist literature. They have said 'The receipts are not ... mentioned in the report and the report’s findings do not rely upon their existence'. The BBC have suggested this is a tacit admission that some of the receipts were forged, and that it draws into question the whole testimony in the report.
The chairman of Policy Exchange, Charles Moore, responded in the Daily Telegraph saying that Jeremy Paxman "accused Policy Exchange itself, which the Newsnight report had not done, of fabricating receipts" and claimed that the forensic expert concluded that "the relatively limited amount of writing available for comparison has prevented me from expressing any definite opinion". Newsnight's editor, Peter Barron, disputed this subsequently in a letter to the Daily Telegraph stating, "Charles Moore's attack on Newsnight's investigation into a report by Policy Exchange is a distortion of the truth and does him no credit".
The BBC's Richard Watson also stated that "There is the worrying fact, not addressed by Policy Exchange, that the hand-writing on this receipt is very similar – to my eye it looks identical - to the hand-writing on another receipt, said to have been obtained from a mosque in Leyton, 10 miles away. A registered forensic document examiner concluded that there was “strong evidence” that the two receipts were written by the same person."
Similar allegations were made by The Guardian's Seumas Milne. Milne's report stated that "BBC's Newsnight programme . . . revealed that a forensic examination of five receipts provided by Policy Exchange for the material had found them to be either faked, written by the same person, and/or were not issued by the mosques in question. A sixth receipt was also regarded as unreliable."
Since the investigation, The Times, which had featured the Policy Exchange report on its front page, retracted part of the story, stating that "We would like to make clear that the bookshop situated near the East London Mosque (“Lessons in hate found at leading mosques” and “Studies in Hate”, 30 Oct) is a commercial tenant of the Mosque and is situated on different premises. The Chairman of the Mosque, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari has no responsibility for or control over the material that is being sold there. We apologise to Dr Bari for any distress caused." This mosque was not featured in the Newsnight report, though it was a central plank of the Policy Exchange's report because of the fact that Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari was also the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. Seumas Milne in The Guardian newspaper added two more mosques to the list, stating that Rochdale mosque said it had never sold any books, and that material said to have been found in Edinburgh had merely been dumped there.
These new allegations were disputed in a letter to The Guardian by Policy Exchange's Director Anthony Browne, stating that it had not claimed that Rochdale was selling the material, that it had in fact been made available for free. He also added that "East London Mosque does not dispute that extremist literature is sold at the East London Mosque bookshop, which is based on ELM premises and provides till receipts bearing the name "ELM Book Centre". The mosque chairman, Muhammad Abdul Bari, who is also secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, merely makes the surprising claim that he has no responsibility for what is sold in the bookshop'.
On Friday 15 August 2008, The Independent reported that two mosques mentioned in the Report, the Al-Manar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and the North London Central Mosque, were preparing to take legal action against the Policy Exchange, and also against the author of the report Denis MacEoin.
In February 2009 Al-Manar withdrew its legal action when a clarification appeared on Policy Exchange's website, in which the think tank reaffirmed that it had never asserted that the Al-Manar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre had knowingly promulgated extremist literature.
The September 2009 issue of the magazine The Middle East in London, published by the London Middle East Institute at SOAS, contained an erratum statement in which the magazine withdrew comments by Arun Kundani in the previous issue. Kundani had written that Policy Exchange had 'apologised' for The Hijacking of British Islam and removed it from its website. The London Middle East Institute stated it "was wrong to make these claims", and that "Policy Exchange has never apologised to anyone for the publication of its Report, and has no intention of doing so in the future." It also stated that the removal of the Report from Policy Exchange's website was part of the routine refreshing of the site's content.
On 26 November 2009, Justice Eady struck out the claim brought against Policy Exchange by the North London Central Mosque. The six mosque trustees who had advanced the claim were ordered to pay Policy Exchange's costs of defending the action. The High Court made a further Order that £75,000 of those costs be paid by the North London Central Mosque within 28 days.
In February 2010 the trustees of the mosque abandoned their individual claims in libel against Policy Exchange in respect of the same report and paid a substantial contribution to Policy Exchange’s legal costs.
In October 2010 NLCM discontinued its appeal and paid a substantial contribution to Policy Exchange’s legal costs. Following that agreement the appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 5 October 2010.
More Homes: Fewer Empty Buildings
In March 2011, Policy Exchange published a report that argued government should reform the Use Classes Order to make it much easier to move buildings and land from Use Classes A (retail) and B (employment) to C3 (dwelling houses). The report postulated that such a move would result in a more collaborative and flexible development model that delivers both more and better development. In April 2011, the Government produced a consultation document on reducing planning controls relating to the conversion of commercial properties to residential use. The results of the public consultation were published in July 2012. The summary document showed that just 12% of respondents supported the proposed reform of the use class order in relation to commercial to residential conversion. In January 2013 various news sources reported that the Planning Minister Nick Boles was planning on pushing ahead with the reform of the use class order, in line with the Policy Exchange proposals of 2011. Boles was the founder of Policy Exchange in 2002.
- Danny Finkelstein, Chairman
- Dean Godson, Director
- Mark MacGregor, Deputy Director
- Nick Faith, Director of Communications
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