Institute of Ideas

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 19 09:38:55 MST 2002

London Times, December 17, 2002

A prickly opinion on just about everything
The Andrew Billen interview

If you need someone to stand up for Gary Glitter, globalisation and GM,
look no further than Claire Fox. But how did a revolutionary socialist
end up setting the pace for public debate?

IF YOU GO DOWN TO the British Museum tonight you’ll be sure of a big
surprise. A local hotel is hosting one of London’s most extraordinary
Christmas parties. Among those who have been invited to feast on mulled
wine and “seasonal canapés” are Jonathan Dimbleby, Fiona Shaw, Peter
Tatchell, Chris Woodhead, Alan Sillitoe, Charles Moore, Fay Weldon, and
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting. It is an eclectic mix, even by
Bloomsbury’s standards, and an even odder one if, among the coincidence
of faces, you notice a selection of backroom ideologues from the Left
and Right, people not normally seen dead in one other’s company, still
less drunk in it.

Their hostess is Claire Fox, director of the unlikely sounding Institute
of Ideas. Every contradiction of the guest list is contained in this
woman: a veteran of the Left but the Right’s latest pin-up; a professed
socialist who speaks up for globalisation; the loser of a major libel
action brought by one of Britain’s largest news organisations yet a
media favourite, resident on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and increasingly a
participant on TV shows such as Question Time; a courteous and humorous
social animal yet the possessor of views that cause phone-in hosts as
well as their callers to abuse her on air, as when she set about
defending Gary Glitter’s right to feast on child pornography.

In public debates, and she seems to go to them all, she says the
unsayable. Over the last few years, I have noticed, however, that
audience reaction to her has matured from “who the hell does she think
she is?” to, more simply, “who is she?”

Others ask what on earth is the Institute of Ideas? Its website provides
an anodyne self-definition. Its mission is to “expand boundaries of
public debate by organising conferences, discussions and salons, and
publishing written conversations and exchanges”. Co-sponsors have
included the Royal Society of Arts, the Tate, the Royal Shakespeare
Company and the British Museum. Two festivals ago, I spoke at an IoI
session in Edinburgh on the future of satire. It was lively, fun and

The IoI’s origins lie, however, deep in a Seventies Trotskyite splinter
group called the Revolutionary Communist Party and in its organ, Living
Marxism. When the RCP abolished itself in 1996, Fox relaunched the
magazine as the glossier, trendier LM. It was a minor publishing
phenomenon until March 2000 when ITN forced its closure by winning a
court case against it for an article that claimed it had misrepresented
footage of an emaciated Bosnian Muslim at a Serbian internment camp.
Some then accused Fox or being a pro-Serb “tanky”. The complaint now is
different: that the IoI has mutated in a sinister fashion into a front
organization for the far Right.



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