Whether we are talking about freedom or oppression, democracy or dictatorship, free enterprise or communism, ideas have the power to shape nations and profoundly impact on the daily lives of citizens. As the famous nineteenth century French writer Victor Hugo stated, “There is one thing stronger than all of the armies of the world and that’s an idea whose time has come”.
A good idea that has gained traction over the last thirty years and can now be found in over a thousand communities in twenty three different countries around the world is “Crimestoppers”. The Crimestoppers concept was originated in 1976 in Albuquerque, New Mexico by Police Detective Greg MacAleese. Detective MacAleese had reached a dead-end when dealing with the senseless and brutal shooting of a young college student during an armed robbery at a petrol station. With no witnesses and no leads – because Albuquerque had one of the highest crime rates in the US and people were afraid of helping the police – a different approach was clearly needed. 
Detective MacAleese’s strategy involved the production of a video re-enactment of the homicide in order to inflame community outrage about the murder, a guarantee of anonymity for anyone willing to come forward with information, and a reward (provided from his own pocket) for any lead that would help identify those responsible for the killing. The plan worked, and within 72 hours two men were arrested and charged with the murder. Not only that, but from the information received, the police were able to solve other unrelated crimes.
Following the success of the programme, Detective MacAleese convinced the Albuquerque Police Department to allow a group of concerned citizens to set up the first “Crimestoppers” programme and as a result, crime in the city dropped significantly.
During riots in London in 1985, Police Constable Keith Blakelock was murdered, and the lack of cooperation by a fearful public prompted businessman Michael Ashcroft (now Lord Ashcroft) to provide a reward to encourage informants to come forward. This led to discussions with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and in 1988 the UK Crimestoppers charity was born with Lord Ashcroft as the Chairman. 
Lord Michael Ashcroft is this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator. In his article Crimestoppers, Lord Ashcroft – who holds the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses – explains that he first became aware that New Zealand had a serious crime problem when 96 war medals (including 9 Victoria Crosses) were stolen from the Waiouru Army Museum in December 2007. He explains, “Knowing what they mean to the military, the families and the nation, I decided that I had to do what I could to help recover them.”
As we know, Lord Ashcroft offered a $200,000 reward for the safe return of the medals with a further $200,000 for information leading to the arrest of the thieves. The strategy worked – the medals were returned and two men were arrested.
Lord Ashcroft explains that what Crimestoppers does is simple: “We provide the capability for people to call us with information about crimes and criminals. We then pass the important information on to the police guaranteeing the anonymity of the caller. This means that people who are very close to the criminal, and people who for various reasons do not want to engage with the police directly can pass information to the police in complete safety. In the UK, in 20 years, we have never broken that promise of anonymity. The mechanism that secures this promise is that we are a charity and thus not subject to freedom of information laws, police procedures and, ultimately should the police put us under pressure to reveal the identity of a caller, we can say no. Nobody is our master.
“Other advantages of being a charity are that we represent the people, not the state. In the UK we have over 400 volunteers who work at the local level with their local police identifying what is important to the local community. They run local campaigns, projects and initiatives to encourage members of the public to ring in with information about those local crimes, while at the same time, larger national campaigns focus on serious crime. The result is that every month some 600 criminals are arrested and charged as a result of this information and, for example, in London alone over the past year 20% of the murders have been solved as a result of our work.” Cimestoppers is currently being considered in New Zealand.
While ideas are the instigators of change, they need champions if they are to become a reality. Such champions will often include politicians, academics, businesses, lobbyists, activists, clerics, teachers, unions, charities, commentators, media, and, of course, think tanks.
When it comes to the public policy arena, the battle of ideas can be of gargantuan proportions. Take socialism – as Rupert Murdoch said in 1997, “If socialism is dead, why won’t it lie down?” The answer, as we all know, is that socialism never dies – it is presently alive and well and flourishing in the United States under President Obama, in Australia under Kevin Rudd, and in the UK under Gordon Brown.
Here in New Zealand the socialist torch was carried for nine years by Helen Clark and her Labour Government. While some believe that the election of a National Government has killed off socialism, complacency is a misplaced luxury. Socialism remains active in the country’s regulatory agencies, in the education system, in government advisory bodies and, of course, within our legislative framework.
One only needs to look at the newly emerging threat to future tax cuts to see socialism in action. From a Party that fundamentally believes in the economic benefits of lower taxes and less regulation across the board, National is now – unbelievably – starting to warn that they may sacrifice tax cuts in order to keep government spending high. The point is that with 45 percent of all spending in our economy done by the government – compared to 35 percent in Australia or 20 percent in Singapore and Hong Kong – far too much of the country’s wealth is being consumed by an unproductive and downright wasteful bureaucracy.
According to the State Services Commission there are over 200 organisations in the state sector – to see the list click here . These organisations could be pruned, scrapped, or merged in order to cut waste and save money for National’s promised three-year tax cut programme. The tax cut programme is an election promise that should not be broken, and the New Zealand Centre for Political Research will work tirelessly to promote the benefits of lower, flatter taxes and limited but effective government as the best way forward for New Zealand.
Think Tanks, like the NZCPR, inform the public and policy-makers through research, publication and open public debate. A case in point is the concerns that have been raised over the socialist influence in our education system. Most parents would be horrified if they realised the propaganda that is embedded in the school curriculum. What’s worse is that no-one has the responsibility for identifying it or removing it. Individual teachers who take a stand put their careers at risk and parents are treated as a nuisance.
The NZCPR launched a petition to Parliament about this issue, following revelations that global warming propaganda was being taught in schools. The petition asked that safeguards, similar to those found in Britain, be inserted into the New Zealand Education Act – namely that political propaganda cannot be taught in schools and that if political matters are raised, children must be offered opposing views as well.
The safeguards in the British education system were inserted by Baroness Carolyn Cox, a Member of the House of Lords, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week. Baroness Cox had long campaigned against communism in the education system and her changes to the British Education Act in the eighties went some way towards protecting children. At the time she also made changes to the teaching of sex education in schools, introducing the requirement that parents must agree to what is being taught in the classroom.
The NZCPR petition to Parliament will be presented by Sir Roger Douglas and I am hoping that it will become a catalyst for a thorough review of the education curriculum to ensure that New Zealand children are not being subjected to political indoctrination from an early age.
The primary role of think tanks is to help shape public opinion on policy issues. Now that we have a government that is listening, it makes the role of think tanks even more important. That is why I would like to ask for your help.
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