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Mark Garnett and Virgile Lorenzoni

This chapter examines the contribution of British think tanks to the debate about membership of the European Union, both before and after the 2016 ‘Brexit’ referendum. It provides a brief history of leading think tanks in the UK, arguing that such bodies have been ‘hollowed out’ by the need to attract donors and the corresponding tendency to present their findings in a ‘media friendly’ form. The 2016 referendum campaign should have been an opportunity for think tanks to inform public debate and influence political actors. However, their published output at the time largely reflected divisions within and between political parties. Even bodies like the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which offered economic forecasts based on rigorous research, was vulnerable to the allegation that the ‘Remain’ campaign was misleading voters. However, ‘Brexit’ suggests that a return to the research-led approach is the only way in which think tanks can hope to influence a political agenda vitiated by cheap rhetoric and ‘fake news’.

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Kieron O’Hara and Mark Garnett

Political issues pertaining to data-driven agency and the use of ‘big data’ to make decisions about people’s lives are usually seen through the lens of liberalism. A conservative examination of data-driven agency requires a different lens. This chapter adopts the perspective of evolving modernity. It considers the philosophy of three major conservative thinkers, Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Michael Oakeshott, in the context of the problematisation of big data contained in Mireille Hildebrandt’s Smart Technologies and the End(s) of Law. Present-day conservatives need to rethink their traditional antipathy to the state, reverting to a Burkean understanding of the public-private distinction, and also to revise views of individual agency in the face of the facilitation of collective agency by networked digital technology.