The highlight of the week was on Wednesday. First, fantastic French Vietnamese lunch with parent and wife Juliet, baby Rosa, sarcastic artist Paul Murphy and noted author Yolanda Zappaterra (they don’t have a high-chair but Bam-Bou was probably the most baby-friendly restaurant we’ve ever been to), then to Carlton House Terrace to help Demos launch their latest genuinely cool report on space (which you can download in full here). Think Tanks are pretty dry places and they’re less influential than they think. ‘Evidence-based’ policy-making turns out to be third-way mumbo-jumbo – most public policy is inevitably still cobbled together in the corridors and smoke-filled rooms – usually in the hours before a really tight vote.
Politicians (especially jaded, second-term politicians) care less about the coherence and long-term value of their policies than about the next electoral test. When outsiders do exercise influence the legislative outcomes are usually so compromised and hedged as to barely resemble the original, crystaline thought (hence the messy, slightly desperate programme of ‘government by wheeze’ we’ve seen lately – lots of panicky, irrelevant, second-priority laws making it to the statute book because tougher, more realistic legislation would produce more unsupportable rebellion).
Your average Think Tank thrashes around in its own public policy thicket – housing, science, health. Not Demos. I’m trying to imagine the original meeting: “let’s do space”. “What, you mean like public parks and stuff”. “No. I mean space. Outer space. Beam me up, Scotty. Hubble. Beagle 2” “Bloody hell. Good idea. Bags the jet pack” “All right. But I’m wearing the Spock ears.”
Of course, the best part of the evening was chatting with completely undaunted Colin Pillinger, the man behind Beagle 2, and clever Alex from Blur. Pillinger was mobbed by his fans – mostly male, difident and forty-something. Some were actually asking for autographs. Alex was more-or-less ignored but hung around until he could politely leave. Space was top dog at least for this evening.