Matthew Elliot: Unveiling the winners of BrexitCentral’s £25,000 in policy entrepreneurship prizes

22 Dec

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.

Matthew Elliott: Please apply to invest in Britain’s future and win £10,000

19 Oct

Matthew Elliott was Editor-at-Large of BrexitCentral

Coming from the world of think-tanks and campaign groups, I have a strong interest in the policy ecosystem that surrounds political parties.

Ahead of Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, think-tanks such as Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research were established. And in the 2000s,a plethora of think-tanks (Centre for Social Justice/Policy Exchange), campaign groups (Business for Sterling/Countryside Alliance) and websites (ConservativeHome/Guido Fawkes) were launched and play an influential role in political discourse.

As well as playing a role in two successful referendum campaigns (NOtoAV and Vote Leave), I helped set up the TaxPayers’ Alliance (2004), Big Brother Watch (2009), Million Jobs (2012), Business for Britain (2013) and BrexitCentral (2016), so policy entrepreneurship is one of my passions. And even though my focus is now more in the private sector, I still enjoy helping and mentoring new policy entrepreneurs who are setting up the next generation of campaign groups and think-tanks.

At the beginning of my career, I was helped by the entrepreneur and philanthropist Stuart Wheeler, who sadly passed away at the end of July. I was 25 when we launched the TaxPayers’Alliance. I didn’t know any potential financial supporters, so I wrote to the signatories of a Business for Sterling advertisement with my ‘Strategy Plan’.

I thought, if they like BfS, there’s a good chance they’ll like the TPA. Stuart was one of the people who very generously sent a contribution which, along with some other donations, gave us the resources to cover my salary for three months, giving me the confidence to leave my position as a researcher to the Conservative MEP (now Lord) Timothy Kirkhope, and go full-time with the TPA.

Seventeen years later, I now find myself in a different position. My most recent project – the news website BrexitCentral – sent out its 1,085th and final daily email bulletin to the tens of thousands of subscribers we had accrued on February 1, the day after the UK formally left the European Union.

Alongside those essential morning emails put together by the indefatigable Jonathan Isaby and his team, we had published more than 2000 articles by over 500 authors, including the current Prime Minister and many of his Cabinet, not to mention Erin O’Toole, the man who was elected leader of the Canadian Conservative Party over the summer.

We are now in the final stages of winding up the company – a task which has been somewhat delayed by babies and Covid-19 – so, along with Georgiana Bristol, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the show on the road, we are left with the issue of what to do with the last remaining funds.

When we were discussing the matter, I thought about the support that Stuart Wheeler and other donors had given me as we launched the TPA, and we decided that it would be very fitting to use those remaining funds to support the young policy and campaigning entrepreneurs of today – people with the ideas that will tackle the policy challenges of the coming years.

We have two cheques for £10,000, and we would like to hear from people under the age of 35 with an exciting idea or contribution to policy debate. It could be:

  • A campaign group or think-tank you have set up, or are hoping to set up;
  • A book proposal that you want to take a sabbatical from your current job to research and draft;
  • A think-tank report you want to take time off from your current position to write;
  • A website or podcast you want to establish, or a short film you wish to make.

That is not an exhaustive list – we are interested in all ideas, the more innovative and entrepreneurial the better. And because Brexit was supported by people from across the political spectrum, we are open to proposals from all policy positions.

To stress, we are not looking for proposals relating to Brexit or Britain’s future relationship with the European Union – we are looking for submissions on any issue, policy or subject that you feel passionate about.

Entries should be emailed to policyentrepreneurs@brexitcentral.com by midnight on Sunday 8th November 2020 and should cover (on no more than two sides of A4) an outline of your plan an dhow you hope to execute it. All submissions will then be sifted and judged by a panel comprising Jonathan and I, plus Kate Andrews, Peter Cruddas, Helena Morrissey, Jon Moynihan and Mark Wallace. And the two winners will be announced by the end of November.

Since I became active in politics, the barriers to entry for policy entrepreneurship have been massively reduced thanks to the Internet. When I interned at the European Foundation whilst at university, it had an office in Pall Mall, it had copies of its European Journal and European Digest professionally printed, which were then posted to subscribers and the opinion formers in Westminster, Whitehall and Fleet Street that it was trying to influence. It sent press releases out by fax, business was conducted on the telephone or by post, and all these costs were before the general overheads and payroll costs that also needed to be covered.

Fast forward twenty years, and the cost of campaigning has fallen significantly. From setting up a website to using social media, broadcasting ideas and opinions to the world is so much cheaper. But there are still financial barriers, so I hope that this small project will help two policy entrepreneurs of the future, just as Stuart Wheeler helped me with the creation of the TaxPayers’ Alliance all those years ago.

I look forward to reading your entries and announcing the recipients later this year.

This article was originally published on ConservativeHome on Monday October 19, and we are re-publishing it during each weekday this week in order to advertise this project.

Emily Barley: The Government’s Brexit plan puts us at risk of substandard and corrupt justice systems in EU member states

21 Jul

Emily Barley is Director of Due Process, the anti-EAW campaign group, and Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty.

Brexit campaigners hailed a massive victory when, back in February, the Government announced that we will be leaving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Finally, we knew we’d be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), be able to restore our great British tradition of civil liberties, and could protect people living here from the abuses and mistakes of the EAW processes, substandard EU justice systems, and medieval European prisons.

But there was a sting in the tail of the Government’s announcement: sure, the plan was to leave the EAW, but then replace it with something that looks suspiciously like the EAW.

The EU-Iceland-Norway agreement the Government is modelling its proposed extradition agreement on has been described by experts as the “EAW-lite”, and has all the same problems that have raised such widespread objections to the EAW.

Under the Government’s plan we would be technically outside of the ECJ, but our courts would still need to take into account its judgments – in practice continuing the same state of affairs as now and not fulfilling the expectations Boris Johnson raised when he promised to take us out of it.

This new EU-wide agreement would have the same foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” between the UK and EU member states which requires British judges to turn a blind eye to serious abuses and mistakes in the substandard and corrupt justice systems of the likes of Poland, Greece, Hungary and Romania.

This system leaves us all vulnerable. It has led to cases like that of Edmond Arapi, who was convicted of a murder in Italy that happened while he was at work in the UK; Andrew Symeou, who was held in a Greek hell-hole for ten months after an ill-fated holiday where police beat false accusations out of his friends, and Alexander Adamescu, whose case is the most infamous and egregious example of the failings of the EAW going through the UK courts right now.

Adamescu is sought by Romanian authorities to face charges of corruption in a business insolvency case. There is no evidence against Adamescu, but that doesn’t matter under the EAW – because British judges cannot look at the evidence, or lack of it, even if they wanted to.

Human rights campaigners have described the conviction in 2014 of Alexander’s father, Dan Adamescu, on the same charges in the same case as a “show trial” which violated the presumption of innocence – but that doesn’t matter under the EAW, because the foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” means British judges must have blind faith in the justice systems of other countries.

Even when evidence mounts that the case against Adamescu is a politically motivated stitch-up by an unreformed communistic state, British judges must look the other way, required to believe that EU member states always act with integrity and in accordance with the law. It would be laughable if the consequences of the UK continuing with an EAW-lite extradition system weren’t so serious.

The Government says it wants to introduce “further safeguards” into this “new” system, but the ones we really need – like asking judges to look at the evidence against the accused (a prima facie case), and not sending people to countries with corrupt justice systems and medieval prisons – are incompatible with its plan.

We need to do this thing properly, and drop the idea of an EU-wide extradition agreement.

What we need instead is a series of bilateral agreements which acknowledge the varying quality of justice systems in EU member states and introduce a diplomatic check in the process, as is already the case with extraditions to non-EU countries.

I set out exactly how this would work in my report The future of extradition from the UK: Protecting fundamental rights, recently published by Due Process. There’s a lot at stake here. The Romanian state has already killed Dan Adamescu, and has its sights set on his son.

Innocent people going on holiday to EU countries are at risk of having their lives turned upside down, like Symeou’s was. And even those who stay at home, minding their own business and never setting foot in a particular country, are at risk of accusations and convictions under the EAW, like Arapi.

Johnson won the election last year with a commitment to take us out of the clutches of the EU, and unless that includes abandoning the idea of a dangerous EAW-lite system, he will have failed.