In recent months, the conservative think-tank Policy Exchange has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that Brexit is not constrained by the Irish border issue. Just this week, it hosted a conference on the Union, accompanied by new, albeit questionable, opinion polling, that downplayed the risk of Irish unity in the event of a hard Brexit.
Oddly, on the same day as this high profile event, many past associates of Policy Exchange were attending the launch of an apparently rival think-tank, Onward.
The Deputy Political Editor of The Times, Sam Coates, reports that 'modernising Tories say they are just not quite as comfortable with the securocrat turn PX has taken.'
But has there really been a turn? A neoconservative approach to security issues, driven by current director Dean Godson, has been a key feature of Policy Exchange since its inception. David Miller, Tom Mills and I examined this aspect of the think-tank's record as far back as 2011 in the Spinwatch report, The Cold War on British Muslims.
Coates suspects that 'the answer lies partly in who funds PX now and what they want from it. Just a hunch.'
Spinwatch noted in 2011 that the majority of Policy Exchange's funding from individuals and corporations was difficult to trace, but that a smaller proportions came from foundations, which can be found in US and UK charitable filings.
Even this is not always possible. In 2013, Policy Exchange credited the Blavatnik Family Foundation with 'generous assistance' to a report entitled The Fog of Law. This pamphlet co-authored by Conservative MP and former Military Assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff Tom Tugendhat, attacked what it saw as legal encroachment on the actions of soldiers in the field. Tugendhat, incidentally, is now a key political backer of Onward.
Blavatnik's donations to US Republicans have already caused PR issues for some of his foundation's beneficiaries. The dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford denied in a letter to the Financial Times last month that Blavatnik was a Trump donor, stating that he 'donated to the Republican National Committee and the bipartisan Presidential Inaugural Committee, not to the Trump campaign'.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that a business associate of Blavatnik's, Viktor Vekselberg had been interviewed by prosecutors working for US special counsel Robert Mueller. The same story noted that Blavatnik had donated £1 million to Trump's inauguration, which Vekselberg also attended.
Ron Kampeas sums up Blavatnik's 'Trump factor' this way:
Gave more than $6 million in the 2016 election cycle, virtually all to Republicans, after a pattern of relatively modest donations to both political parties. Longstanding business ties to Viktor Vekselberg, the oligarch allegedly linked to secret payments to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Blavatnik donated $12,700 last year to a Republican party legal fund that has helped to pay Trump’s lawyers in the Russia inquiry.
In the absence of funding transparency from either Blavatnik or Policy Exchange, it's impossible to know for sure if Policy Exchange's apparent problems are analogous to Oxford's. What is clear is that Mueller's investigations of high-level donors in the US are likely to have implications for the more opaque corners of UK politics.