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