Matthew Elliott was Editor-at-Large of BrexitCentral.
When students are given career advice at school or university, I don’t imagine ‘think-tanker’, ‘campaigner’, or ‘policy entrepreneur’ feature very highly on the list of possible career paths. But in terms of changing the world, they can be monumental.
With the final remaining funds in the BrexitCentral kitty, we decided to award two young policy entrepreneurs £10,000 apiece, for a project which would make a meaningful contribution to the battle of ideas. We made no restriction on the policy area, or how the idea would be promoted; we wanted the best ideas from the best people.
When we announced the competition at the end of October on ConservativeHome, we weren’t sure what to expect. Paul Goodman very kindly retweeted the article every day for a week, and featured it in the daily email, but beyond that we didn’t actively promote the competition in any other way. The results, however, were very heartening.
We received 50 eligible, high-quality submissions on a whole range of topics: from widening direct democracy to improving social mobility, from censorship to entrepreneurship, and from the future of the Union to what the UK can learn from Singapore. And the means people wanted to use to spread their ideas included the expected think-tanks and campaign groups to apps, films, podcasts, a children’s book series, and even a venture capital fund.
All the submissions were sifted and judged by a panel comprising Kate Andrews, Georgiana Bristol, Peter Cruddas, Jonathan Isaby, Helena Morrissey, Jon Moynihan, Mark Wallace, and myself. The calibre of the applications really did make it a tough decision, and I very much hope that the applicants who weren’t successful pursue their projects. Good proposals will always find funding if they persevere.
The first of the £10,000 prizes (in surname order) went to Chris Barnard and the leadership of the British Conservation Alliance. Since its launch in September 2019, the BCA has recruited campus coordinators at forty universities in all four nations of the UK, making it the country’s largest environmental campus network and empowering a new generation to promote free enterprise and market-based solutions to today’s environmental challenges. They hosted 25 events during their first year and, despite lockdown, their webinars have attracted over 50,000 views.
The BCA is planning to host a Youth Environment Summit during COP26 in Glasgow, bringing attention to market environmentalist approaches to resolving climate change. The judges were attracted by their proposal because the environment will be one of the major issues of 2021, and the BCA will provide an important contribution to that debate.
The second £10,000 prize was awarded to Dr Richard Johnson, Lecturer in US Politics at Queen Mary University of London. Having written two books on US politics, Richard is now keen to write a book on the history of Labour Euroscepticism – something which the judges felt had been overlooked in books about the 2016 referendum and much media coverage of the European question in recent years. Labour Euroscepticism is often spoken about as a Bennite fad of the Labour far left, ignoring the prominent roles played by the likes of Gisela Stuart and Kate Hoey, the refusal of Clement Attlee to support joining the European Coal and Steel Community, the internationalist Euroscepticism of Barbara Castle, and Peter Shore’s stirring anti-EEC speeches.
We are therefore delighted that this story will finally be told by a long-standing member of the Labour Party, and we hope it provides a useful perspective for the current Labour Party as they seek to reconnect with their former heartlands.
As well as the two winners, the judges also felt that there was a very strong runner-up, so we were delighted when a donor who wishes to remain anonymous provided us with the funding to award an additional prize of £5,000.
Sophie Sandor has produced a number of films, and she is now looking to produce a documentary called No Victim, to examine the victimhood mentality of our age. Sophie grew up in Ayr in Scotland, in extremely tough circumstances, and has personal experience of people being encouraged to think that their futures are pre-determined by virtue of their identity, as opposed to what they do and think. Having seen the quality of her previous films, such as Tianah on the profit motive, the judges felt that Sophie’s documentary would provide a valuable perspective on this important subject.
I am delighted that we have been able to support three excellent projects, and I am even more delighted that there are so many budding policy entrepreneurs with great ideas and the drive to change the world. The political future of the UK depends not only on those who can think great thoughts, but also on those who work away from Parliament helping to put those great policy ideas onto the statute book.
Even though my focus is now away from politics, I still enjoy helping and mentoring new policy entrepreneurs who are setting up the next generation of campaign groups and think-tanks.
Sadly I don’t have any additional funds to give to projects, but I can give my time, so as well as assisting Chris, Richard and Sophie, do let me know if I can help you.