Think tanks come in allshapes and sizes. British tank Demos was influential in forming New Labour's political philosophy - but it has often been derided for its more outlandish ideas. Guardian John Harris asks: Blue sky thinking - or just plain barmy? Personally, I think he's too kind.
Demos, the thinktank that is paid to come up with policies, ideas and wheezes, and has long been in the habit of chucking forth headline-grabbing proposals. Indeed, surveying the more entertaining aspects of Demos's 13-year history, you can make out the framework of some sort of romantic modern utopia where - to take a few of its more out-there suggestions - the government makes a point of encouraging alfresco eating, there is an annual "physical activity week" in Manchester, and every airport has a library.
Just lately, this vision of the future has been augmented by Demos's claim that hairdressers - "the most authentic voice on the high street", apparently - might be a useful sounding-board for local councils, and that more of our politicians should step outside the Westminster grind by writing poetry. To those who only hear about Demos via the occasional headline, it all might raise the question: are they a little bit barmy?
"We don't sit down and say, 'Right - what's going to really get everyone going this month?'" says Demos's 32-year-old director, Tom Bentley (born and raised in Bethnal Green, comprehensive-educated and an Oxford graduate). "But we do look for the kind of ideas that create talking points. To give you a pompous version of it, we're in favour of public deliberation, and media reaction is a precondition of that."
And does it matter if some of the ideas teeter on the edge of absurdity? "I don't care about being thought of as absurd," he says. "I don't mind people dismissing what we say, as long as they're talking about it, and there's some substance underlying the talking point."
Sounds a bit like the typical blogger - nothing if not provocative. And yes, Demos do have a weblog: Demos Greenhouse. That's an example other think tanks should emulate.