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What the Civic Future fellowship is about

Former No. 10 advisor Munira Mirza is now heading up Civic Future. Credit: Getty.

February 9, 2023 - 10:47am

There is a lot of cynicism about Westminster politics — and rightly so. The reality is that for too long, too many of our public institutions have been prioritising the wrong things and focusing on the wrong problems. Many of them simply no longer work as they should. They are short-termist, or too risk-averse, or overly bureaucratic. 

But improving the quality of people entering into public life is one thing we can do something about. This isn’t just about individuals but about what, in earlier eras, might have been called political formation: the opportunity to chew over difficult ideas away from the interminable rush of news headlines and email notifications. 

As the political scientist Adam Garfinkle has written, a major characteristic of post-Internet modernity is the loss of deep literacy: the type of learning that can only come from spending hours reading and thinking about ideas and society in depth. What has replaced it is shortened attention spans, quick “learnings”, and superficial understanding. This is the sort of thinking that is now pervasive in many of our institutions. To combat it will require massively expanding the horizons of British politics, in the search for both talent and ideas. But ideas don’t just matter in themselves: they are the foundation for success in practice. The great political leaders of the past weren’t just effective decision-makers and strategists: they were lifelong learners as well.

That is why Civic Future has today opened applications to our Fellowship programme: a year-long immersion designed to go alongside a full time job. The objective is to acquire deep knowledge and understanding in preparation for a contribution to public life. Fellows will learn about history and politics; philosophy as it applies to complex policy choices; science, economics, and practical ‘tradecraft’. It is aimed at those highly talented people who are considering entering into public life but have been unsure how to do so, or may never have been asked.

Over the course of the year (and at no cost to themselves), our Fellows will involve themselves in the most important debates of our time. They’ll hold discussions with thinkers, diplomats, scientists, and those with frontline experience — getting to grips with the governance challenges which will define Britain’s future. 

At the end of the experience participants will have built deep and broad relationships, giving them additional confidence and invaluable insight for the rest of their lives. We’ll support them with mentors and career support, matched to whatever contribution they choose to make. A new talent pipeline for a new kind of leader.

In a few years we hope many highly talented people will have passed through our programme, in the process transforming their appreciation of what it means to enter public life in Britain. 

Jack Hutchison is Programme Director at Civic Future


Jack Hutchison is Programme Director at Civic Future

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Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago

I helped clear, part, of Lord Woolton’s library ( Minister for food, WW 2) several years ago. The depth and breadth of his reading material was astonishing and right across the political spectrum.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

The depth and breadth of his reading material was astonishing and right across the political spectrum
That is an important point. I fear that most people just read what they agree with, and what makes them feel good, understandably, I can sometimes feel my blood-pressure reaching dangerous levels with some of the stuff that I read (many times on this site). If only to be able to counter other people’s arguments, you have to read what they actually said, and not what they are reported to have said. It is also possible to be swayed by a well-reasoned argument, although, I will grant, well-reasoned arguments are thin on the ground these days.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

Linda:

”I can sometimes feel my blood-pressure reaching dangerous levels with some of the stuff that I read (many times on this site)”

I hope you do not include me in that……haha..

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

Linda:

”I can sometimes feel my blood-pressure reaching dangerous levels with some of the stuff that I read (many times on this site)”

I hope you do not include me in that……haha..

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

This – your review of Lord Woolton’s library – might make a very interesting UnHerd article.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter B
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

The depth and breadth of his reading material was astonishing and right across the political spectrum
That is an important point. I fear that most people just read what they agree with, and what makes them feel good, understandably, I can sometimes feel my blood-pressure reaching dangerous levels with some of the stuff that I read (many times on this site). If only to be able to counter other people’s arguments, you have to read what they actually said, and not what they are reported to have said. It is also possible to be swayed by a well-reasoned argument, although, I will grant, well-reasoned arguments are thin on the ground these days.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

This – your review of Lord Woolton’s library – might make a very interesting UnHerd article.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter B
Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago

I helped clear, part, of Lord Woolton’s library ( Minister for food, WW 2) several years ago. The depth and breadth of his reading material was astonishing and right across the political spectrum.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

Sounds like a noble an altruistic endeavor, but I’m a bit skeptical. We don’t need more politicians schooled in the art of managing. We’ve got plenty of that. What we need are builders and problem solvers – entrepreneurs, engineers, farmers, plumbers, electricians, private sector union bosses – with no baggage in the art of governing. We don’t need more people educated in history, politics and philosophy.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

More “managing” of the Civil Civil service might be welcomed
.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

More “managing” of the Civil Civil service might be welcomed
.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

Sounds like a noble an altruistic endeavor, but I’m a bit skeptical. We don’t need more politicians schooled in the art of managing. We’ve got plenty of that. What we need are builders and problem solvers – entrepreneurs, engineers, farmers, plumbers, electricians, private sector union bosses – with no baggage in the art of governing. We don’t need more people educated in history, politics and philosophy.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

Having had a look at the links in the article (the deep literacy link is especially good) i can’t help but think while the proposals might be right the focus is way off the mark.

First of all the course requires attendance in London. Unforgivable in my opinion as someone who has lived outside the M25. What was stopping it being held in a more central location like Nottingham or Derby or (Shock! Horror!) Manchester. No one living up North or in Scotland/Wales will be able/willing to attend if they already have a job. Why could it not be held on weekends (laziness of the speakers) or virtually (as some of the lectures are done that way)? I am London born and bred but was it really 100% necessary to hold it in the capital? It gives the impression that the provinces only serve the one World City. It is exactly the sort of in-box thinking that they claim to be trying to tackle.

Second, given the article on deep literacy I found it amusing that the course is billed as requiring only 20-50 pages of reading between seminars. I’m not a big reader but even I find that paltry. If they are looking for future bright lights there is so much more they could do if they gave it two minute’s thought.

Thirdly, the focus is most certainly on university educated types. It says they want people with PHDs and people who didn’t go to uni but that isn’t a fair scale. Why do we need more PHD doctors going in to public life? Have they not been helped enough through their institutions? If they were really civic minded individuals they have the ability to do it themselves and don’t need this leg up. Much better to have positioned this towards small business owners, tradesmen etc. who may not have had the opportunity of 7 years of formal education (3yr undergrad, 1yr masters, 3yr PHD).

The points about political bias have been made already. It says on the site that board members are made up of a range of different views and states they are from Con/Lib Dem/Lab and no political party. It would have been more informative to know the Brexit/Remain split on the board.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Some excellent points. Got me thinking about this some more.
Which of the great leaders of this country in the past went through a leadership development program ? Or needed to ?
I would suggest that exceptional people and leaders are not formed through conventional routes, however well-intentioned these are. And that we need fewer, rather than more, professional politicians or “leaders”.
I am also a little concerned here:
“The Fellowship is designed primarily for people at an early to mid-stage in their career.”
I would suggest here that a large part of the problems we have with the quality of politicians in the UK (but not uniquely here) is that they lack sufficient practical, real life experience and common sense. Amongst other things, they haven’t met a wide enough range of people or travelled the country enough. Or acquired any real historical perspective.
I’d be quite interested to apply here – but in my late fifties, I appear to be excluded already …

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Good points. There are lots of leaders in this country, just not in politics. There are plenty of areas where the UK is years ahead of other first world countries. We just don’t hear about it because it is normal to us.

On the age of applicants point I think that might be the course trying to get value for money. If someone is at a late stage of their career then they don’t have much time to learn and be effective in a completely new sphere of expertise. I agree though that having people with real world experience (academia or a PHD is the opposite of that) is beneficial but the main parties (and smaller ones as well) are staffed by PPE grads who have probably read the same books and aren’t functionally capable of getting things done – see the rise in comittees (also known as talking shops) with a lot of minutes and time taken up and little done either while they are going on or subsequently.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Good points. There are lots of leaders in this country, just not in politics. There are plenty of areas where the UK is years ahead of other first world countries. We just don’t hear about it because it is normal to us.

On the age of applicants point I think that might be the course trying to get value for money. If someone is at a late stage of their career then they don’t have much time to learn and be effective in a completely new sphere of expertise. I agree though that having people with real world experience (academia or a PHD is the opposite of that) is beneficial but the main parties (and smaller ones as well) are staffed by PPE grads who have probably read the same books and aren’t functionally capable of getting things done – see the rise in comittees (also known as talking shops) with a lot of minutes and time taken up and little done either while they are going on or subsequently.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Some excellent points. Got me thinking about this some more.
Which of the great leaders of this country in the past went through a leadership development program ? Or needed to ?
I would suggest that exceptional people and leaders are not formed through conventional routes, however well-intentioned these are. And that we need fewer, rather than more, professional politicians or “leaders”.
I am also a little concerned here:
“The Fellowship is designed primarily for people at an early to mid-stage in their career.”
I would suggest here that a large part of the problems we have with the quality of politicians in the UK (but not uniquely here) is that they lack sufficient practical, real life experience and common sense. Amongst other things, they haven’t met a wide enough range of people or travelled the country enough. Or acquired any real historical perspective.
I’d be quite interested to apply here – but in my late fifties, I appear to be excluded already …

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

Having had a look at the links in the article (the deep literacy link is especially good) i can’t help but think while the proposals might be right the focus is way off the mark.

First of all the course requires attendance in London. Unforgivable in my opinion as someone who has lived outside the M25. What was stopping it being held in a more central location like Nottingham or Derby or (Shock! Horror!) Manchester. No one living up North or in Scotland/Wales will be able/willing to attend if they already have a job. Why could it not be held on weekends (laziness of the speakers) or virtually (as some of the lectures are done that way)? I am London born and bred but was it really 100% necessary to hold it in the capital? It gives the impression that the provinces only serve the one World City. It is exactly the sort of in-box thinking that they claim to be trying to tackle.

Second, given the article on deep literacy I found it amusing that the course is billed as requiring only 20-50 pages of reading between seminars. I’m not a big reader but even I find that paltry. If they are looking for future bright lights there is so much more they could do if they gave it two minute’s thought.

Thirdly, the focus is most certainly on university educated types. It says they want people with PHDs and people who didn’t go to uni but that isn’t a fair scale. Why do we need more PHD doctors going in to public life? Have they not been helped enough through their institutions? If they were really civic minded individuals they have the ability to do it themselves and don’t need this leg up. Much better to have positioned this towards small business owners, tradesmen etc. who may not have had the opportunity of 7 years of formal education (3yr undergrad, 1yr masters, 3yr PHD).

The points about political bias have been made already. It says on the site that board members are made up of a range of different views and states they are from Con/Lib Dem/Lab and no political party. It would have been more informative to know the Brexit/Remain split on the board.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

Who is Jack Hutchison?

Sounds all very Davos ‘Young Leadership’ esk.

So you want to take all these bright young blank slates and groom them intellectually….hmmmm

I mean that is the job of their parents – and we know that is not happening as the parents are also groomed by their University experience.

And then it is the Job of the Universities – but we know that is not happening as the Post-Modernists have 100% captured the education industry…

Still – I think the Job 1 is to liberate the Universities… only as they are captured that is maybe impossible.

Anyway – if Peter Hitchens was running your civic Fellowship it would be excellent – but if another product of the University system is, then it is just more twisted agenda –

so who is Jack Hutchison?

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

Who is Jack Hutchison?

Sounds all very Davos ‘Young Leadership’ esk.

So you want to take all these bright young blank slates and groom them intellectually….hmmmm

I mean that is the job of their parents – and we know that is not happening as the parents are also groomed by their University experience.

And then it is the Job of the Universities – but we know that is not happening as the Post-Modernists have 100% captured the education industry…

Still – I think the Job 1 is to liberate the Universities… only as they are captured that is maybe impossible.

Anyway – if Peter Hitchens was running your civic Fellowship it would be excellent – but if another product of the University system is, then it is just more twisted agenda –

so who is Jack Hutchison?

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

“As a political scientist Adam Garfinkle has written, a major characteristic of post-internet modernity is the loss of deep literacy.”
This turned me off immediately. I imagine that about 99% of our population would give up here. Literacy does not been using complex sentences, it means saying things clearly. The internet has separated the wheat from the chaff and, hopefully, the chaff will die with my generation.
What is a Political Scientist? Someone who does complicated experiments in a lab with lots of mice pretending to be politicians?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

I may be wrong here, but I don’t think that Adam Garfinkle was referring to using complex sentences when he talked of “deep literacy”. I trhink that he was more concerned with reading deeply and having a deep understanding of what you are reading.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

“What is a Political Scientist?”.
Not a real scientist.
It’s pretty much universally true that anything that sticks a “Science” on the end of its label isn’t science. Science requires that you approach a subject with an open mind, develop a hypothesis, then do real world testing to find out if it’s valid/useful. And then – crucially – don’t see this as the end of the road and remain open to better explanations.
People from these pseudo-science subjects usually come with an existing agenda or prejudices and attempt to find the data/evidence to support those views. In the same way that they borrow phrases like “peer review” when it suits them. Yet they never actually define the terms they use, nor the assumptions they start from – fundamental cornerstones of real science.
I’m from a family of scientists, so clearly prejudiced ! But fairly sure I’m not wrong on this matter.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

This is the danger: that those who prepare and conduct the “year-long immersion” will themselves be selected for certain characteristics which may or may not include political, philosophical or cultural bias (or all three).
We’ve just heard about how the Prevent programme, of all things, has been overtaken by such bias. How will the leadership of Civic Future ensure they provide a sufficient range of ideas that tries to mitigate against this, especially since prospective civic leaders may well have been inducted throughout their educational lives in such bias?
In fact, now i come to think of it, isn’t Civic Future trying to do what was formerly done by those weird institutions known as universities?

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

That was my reaction when I read this article. Will the course organizers select speakers with a political bias? I hope not. Perhaps we’re seeing the first glimmering of an answer to what can be done about our failing universities that, as you note, used to be where young people read deeply and broadly.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

That was my reaction when I read this article. Will the course organizers select speakers with a political bias? I hope not. Perhaps we’re seeing the first glimmering of an answer to what can be done about our failing universities that, as you note, used to be where young people read deeply and broadly.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Quick question: Do you consider Darwin’s evolution theory as proven or, merely an unprovable theory? You may be aware that it is currently under considerable scientific (?) attack.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

But not a quick answer …
Honestly not a question I’d given any thought to (also not a subject I have strong views on). Nor am I any expert in this area (I dropped biology at the earliest opportunity). As a general answer, I regard current science as representing our best understanding and explanation of the world. While accepting that there may be further discoveries which may change current theories. We cannot be certain that Darwin’s theory is complete and final. But we can be fairly certain that his discoveries invalidated the previous theories.
I’m not aware exactly what the proposed advances/alternatives/challenges are to Darwin’s theory of evolution. I’d certainly be interested to read about these. If you’re into this stuff, perhaps ask UnHerd if you could write an article about it. Probably too detailed for the comments section here. I’d like to see more reader-submitted articles on UnHerd.
I’m actually an engineer, so I would also argue that we don’t all need to use the most advanced stuff (relativity, quantum theory) when good, old fashioned Newtonian mechanics do the job perfectly well for 99.9% of everyday cases. The fact that a theory isn’t “perfect” doesn’t mean it is of no use, nor that it’s not “good enough” in many cases.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

No theory is provable, falsfiable but not provable. Basic Karl Popper.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

But not a quick answer …
Honestly not a question I’d given any thought to (also not a subject I have strong views on). Nor am I any expert in this area (I dropped biology at the earliest opportunity). As a general answer, I regard current science as representing our best understanding and explanation of the world. While accepting that there may be further discoveries which may change current theories. We cannot be certain that Darwin’s theory is complete and final. But we can be fairly certain that his discoveries invalidated the previous theories.
I’m not aware exactly what the proposed advances/alternatives/challenges are to Darwin’s theory of evolution. I’d certainly be interested to read about these. If you’re into this stuff, perhaps ask UnHerd if you could write an article about it. Probably too detailed for the comments section here. I’d like to see more reader-submitted articles on UnHerd.
I’m actually an engineer, so I would also argue that we don’t all need to use the most advanced stuff (relativity, quantum theory) when good, old fashioned Newtonian mechanics do the job perfectly well for 99.9% of everyday cases. The fact that a theory isn’t “perfect” doesn’t mean it is of no use, nor that it’s not “good enough” in many cases.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

No theory is provable, falsfiable but not provable. Basic Karl Popper.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

This is the danger: that those who prepare and conduct the “year-long immersion” will themselves be selected for certain characteristics which may or may not include political, philosophical or cultural bias (or all three).
We’ve just heard about how the Prevent programme, of all things, has been overtaken by such bias. How will the leadership of Civic Future ensure they provide a sufficient range of ideas that tries to mitigate against this, especially since prospective civic leaders may well have been inducted throughout their educational lives in such bias?
In fact, now i come to think of it, isn’t Civic Future trying to do what was formerly done by those weird institutions known as universities?

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Quick question: Do you consider Darwin’s evolution theory as proven or, merely an unprovable theory? You may be aware that it is currently under considerable scientific (?) attack.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

He’s talking about deep literacy – ie intelligent (as opposed to kneejerk) literacy.

Your post is a good example of kneejerk literacy.

As things currently stand, you and your generation are the chaff.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Ouch!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Ouch!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

I may be wrong here, but I don’t think that Adam Garfinkle was referring to using complex sentences when he talked of “deep literacy”. I trhink that he was more concerned with reading deeply and having a deep understanding of what you are reading.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

“What is a Political Scientist?”.
Not a real scientist.
It’s pretty much universally true that anything that sticks a “Science” on the end of its label isn’t science. Science requires that you approach a subject with an open mind, develop a hypothesis, then do real world testing to find out if it’s valid/useful. And then – crucially – don’t see this as the end of the road and remain open to better explanations.
People from these pseudo-science subjects usually come with an existing agenda or prejudices and attempt to find the data/evidence to support those views. In the same way that they borrow phrases like “peer review” when it suits them. Yet they never actually define the terms they use, nor the assumptions they start from – fundamental cornerstones of real science.
I’m from a family of scientists, so clearly prejudiced ! But fairly sure I’m not wrong on this matter.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

He’s talking about deep literacy – ie intelligent (as opposed to kneejerk) literacy.

Your post is a good example of kneejerk literacy.

As things currently stand, you and your generation are the chaff.

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

“As a political scientist Adam Garfinkle has written, a major characteristic of post-internet modernity is the loss of deep literacy.”
This turned me off immediately. I imagine that about 99% of our population would give up here. Literacy does not been using complex sentences, it means saying things clearly. The internet has separated the wheat from the chaff and, hopefully, the chaff will die with my generation.
What is a Political Scientist? Someone who does complicated experiments in a lab with lots of mice pretending to be politicians?