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Way In

The very idea!

'Ideas matter, and it's time to get serious' insisted the handbook for the Battle of Ideas, a two-day festival of feisty debate on subjects such as reproductive technology, the global economy, energy, work, freedom and privacy, and therapy culture. It was 'incredibly stimulating,' said one punter, 'like having sex with Richard Dawkins and the Pope at the same time'.

The 'names' among the 200-plus speakers included David Aaronovitch, Martin Bell, Vince Cable, Suzanne Moore, Lord Skidelsky and Ed Vaizey; but many of the lesser-known combatants seemed to belong to either the hosts, the Institute of Ideas, or one of its sister organisations. The IoI, whose director, Claire Fox, Third Way interviewed in 2007, might more accurately be called 'the Institute of Certain Ideas', and greenery is not one of them. Over the weekend, environmentalism was routinely equated with 'miserablism' and 'barbarism', and when Ms Fox announced that one speaker had flown in from Germany and thus boosted her carbon footprint, there was a general cheer.

Possibly the Institute was preaching largely to the choir - certainly most of the contributors from the floor seemed to be singing from its hymn sheet. One of the founders of Caf├ędirect was fairly thoroughly mugged, and when Brendan O'Neill, the editor of the IoI-friendly Spiked, identified the values of 'the good society' as liberty and prosperity but absolutely not sustainability, there was not even a murmur of dissent from the audience.
Was this 'an open-ended exploration of new ideas', as the Institute claimed? If anything, it was more reminiscent of one of those Christian 'discussions' where the faithful all know the right answers and hope they can carry the day by sheer weight of numbers. Third Way readers may prefer the example of St Paul, who had enough confidence in his big new idea to go up to a hostile Areopagus and argue his case alone.