Time to burst the Westminster bubble

We need new voices to shape post-Brexit Britain.

Joanna Williams
Topics Brexit Politics UK

As Remainers replay the greatest hits of Project Fear, Boris obsesses over the Northern Irish backstop and Brussels refuses to budge, it seems as if Brexit and even politics itself are stuck. For over three years now, we’ve put up with parliament dishing out lies, threats and alarmism. MPs have turned up ever-more obscure constitutional get-out clauses and the media have interminably rehashed the same arguments. It is little wonder many people have grown bored with Brexit and feel ground down by the constant panic and uncertainty. But this doesn’t mean voters have changed their minds: most people who voted Leave in the referendum would do so again today.

It didn’t have to be so tedious. Back in June 2016, when stunned and inarticulate politicians were dragged in front of television cameras, the shock of Brexit was plain to see. The vote to leave the EU struck at the heart of a complacent political class that had grown used to running the country without interference from people living in provincial towns who hadn’t even been to university. The beauty of democracy meant that, overnight, power shifted. The views of people who had been ignored for decades suddenly needed to be taken into account.

So much changed on 23 June 2016, and yet, three years later, so much is still the same. Most voters backed leaving the EU but then had to turn to politicians and civil servants – who overwhelmingly backed Remain – to make it happen. The same Remainer writers and academics now wrote about Britain leaving the EU; the same journalists reported on it; the same think tanks and lobbyists came up with policy initiatives; the same artists and musicians have provided the cultural backdrop. Politics has changed but the people who make up the political, social and cultural elites that run society have remained the same. What’s more, they have grown even more intractable as they have felt their position to be under threat.

The response to Brexit has shown that the major political dividing lines today transcend traditional parties, expose current notions of left and right as irrelevant, and even go beyond whether people voted to leave or remain in the EU. Today’s divide is between people who want to have more of a say in the running of their lives and the life of the nation and those who think the type of people who voted in the referendum for the first time need to be put back in their box and taught not to question the self-appointed experts.

People want their voices to be heard but are stuck with a political class – politicians, civil servants, special advisors, academics, lobbyists and journalists – that is out of touch with the rest of the population and stands for little other than furthering its own interests. A recent YouGov poll showed that 80 per cent of MPs think they are elected to act according to their own judgement, even when that goes against the wishes of their constituents, while only seven per cent of the general public feel the same way.

One reason for the gap between the attitudes of politicians and voters is that the political class only rarely encounters people who are not like them. This was why Brexit came as such a shock. The same small group of people move between working in think tanks, as special advisers to MPs, as leader writers on national newspapers or as speechwriters for cabinet ministers. They know each other from school and university, live alongside each other, holiday in the same destinations, and send their children to the same schools. Other people are there in the background, of course: to serve coffee, clean their homes and look after their children. But these people are not taken seriously when it comes to running the country. This means that the same narrow set of ideas gets recycled among people who are already predisposed to agree with each other. Even with a change of government, the same stifling consensus dominates the media, parliament, academia and the civil service.

For the democratic potential of Brexit to be fully realised, new people and new ideas need to be heard right at the heart of Westminster. This doesn’t mean patronising social-inclusion initiatives where people are engaged within rigidly enforced parameters that are carefully predetermined by others. Nor does it mean making up policies off the back of the latest opinion poll. Instead, we need to shake up research and policy analysis and introduce big, brave, bold thinking, just as spiked has been shaking up politics through journalism. We need new voices to shape post-Brexit Britain and we need to hear different views on the future of education, health, transport, immigration and housing policy.

That’s why, working with others, I am planning to launch a new think tank. It’s called Cieo (pronounced Kee-oh!), which means to excite, rouse, stir up and set in motion. And that’s exactly what we propose to do – to stir up the cosy consensus that exists between politicians and policymakers and set new ideas in motion. It won’t be embedded within the Westminster bubble and it won’t be in hock to the demands of funders. Cieo is a new think tank for a new political era. To get off the ground we need to raise some money to fund a website and initial research projects. If you would like to support Cieo right from the very start, then please donate today.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. Her new book, Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, is out now.

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Puddy Cat

30th August 2019 at 9:27 am

Again, Labour are especially culpable as they spent over a hundred years giving the working man a voice only to ignore him when he said something that they did not agree with, that looked as though it might encourage independence, from them. The BBC have gone into overdrive seeking out those who voted to leave but who are unguarded and unused to having a microphone shoved in front of them just to prove what? To show how the metropolitan class can have contempt for people that have feelings, are not loquacious and are not up to speed on the latest in words and group think.

Christopher Tyson

27th August 2019 at 10:15 pm

I’d like to join Joanna’s think tank, but I wonder. Think tanks aren’t really think tanks they are write tanks or policy tanks, they have to churn out eye catching reports and lot of words. Prospect magazine recently named it’s top 20 or 50 thinkers in the world today. Maybe they should have been honest and called it a ‘people we like’ list. Even that 12 year old Greta whatsit was on the list, a real slap in the face for those of us who take thinking seriously. I’m more into thinking than writing, I was going to write an article parodying Orwell’s ‘why I write’ it was going to be called ‘why I don’t write’ but once I have the idea, the writing is just boring, even an article called ‘why I don’t write’. Call me lazy by all means, the truth is more complicated, Socratic or lazy, you decide.
My mother says when I was a child and not sleeping, in my cot, she said to me ‘why aren’t you sleeping?’ I replied ‘I’m thinking’. For me an essay is an introduction of a couple of lines and a paragraph in conclusion, with a whole load of padding in the middle, I’d love to join Joanna’s think tank though, find someone who can turn my sketches into essays.

Willie Penwright

26th August 2019 at 11:14 pm

It’s called Cieo (pronounced Kee-oh!), which means to excite, rouse, stir up and set in motion.

What language is this? Why have a word that is unpronouncable? Better to stick with Change. UK.


26th August 2019 at 9:11 pm

Why not start by removing the monarchy and House of Lords and replacing them with an elected head of state and democratically elected upper chamber? Why not break the monopoly of the fee-paying schools by removing their charitable status? Why not introduce properly devolved federal government in the UK with regional autonomy based on a bill of rights and written constitution? Why not move the capital from London to Stoke on Trent? Why don’t you Brits stop scapegoating the EU and create a truly modern liberal democracy?

Ven Oods

26th August 2019 at 11:34 pm

All good ideas, but why can’t we do both? (If, by ‘scapegoating’ you mean criticising.)

Jim Lawrie

27th August 2019 at 1:26 am

Remove all charitable status as it transfers public money to unaccountable private entities who wield enormous influence and control over people’s lives. Like for instance, the run by women, for women, Maggie’s Centres.

Ven Oods

26th August 2019 at 7:42 pm

“It’s called Cieo (pronounced Kee-oh!), which means to excite, rouse, stir up and set in motion.”

Not sure about choosing a name whose pronunciation requires to be phonetic-ed.
If you want get noticed, just stick with ‘Arousal’. You might initially attract a few unwanted visitors to your website, but it’d settle down after a while.

David Eyles

26th August 2019 at 5:25 pm

It sounds interesting.

You have a name, a worthy cause to address and a sketchy agenda. So far, so good.

But what do you hope to achieve? How do you intend to do it? And, importantly, who are you going to enlist in order to come up with these new ideas?

The ‘who’ matters, because if you are going to enlist a number of tired old Lefties (for example) your ‘new’ think tank will simply trot out the same tired old tropes. You mention education, health, transport, immigration and housing policy. Whilst these are important, they are still peripheral to the fundamental question of how, and who, runs our country. Furthermore it is a list of ‘wants’ similar to any similar list in the policy aspirations of all the main parties. It is a typical top-down expression of aims which amount to little more than a “What do the electorate want; and how do we give them these desires, whilst keeping us (the elites) in power?”

There is now a yawning gap in the electoral franchise, where politics has walked away from the working classes and many of the rest of us who live outside London. That gap is itself a symptom of the way in which over half the country is totally and utterly fed up with the contempt that has been directed against us by an arrogant, privileged and entitled clerisy.

If you really want to change things for the better, then you need to go right back to the basics of what makes us a nation – and then work forward from there.

I await your developments with interest.


26th August 2019 at 9:12 pm

This word ‘Lefties’ is itself a tired old trope. You Righties should know that by now…

Jim Lawrie

26th August 2019 at 2:32 pm

Who is going to be paid to do the thinking?
What will they be paid to think about?

Will they do a test of their IQ?

This article is so untypical of Ms Williams.

Amin Readh

26th August 2019 at 6:13 am

Lol! A safe little “think tank” that stirs up enough fear about Brexit and Immigration and Muslims to keep a nice little income coming. With choice few media appearances here and there to keep a few donations rolling in – high net worth ones of course. New voices? Not a chance. A couple of low profile suits and a few known names. Right-wing policies. A nice little earner for Jo.

The thing with a “think tank” is that unlike a Political Party it doesn’t eat money. And if you have the connections, then it is a good earner. You’re a complete bore.

Margaret Potter

26th August 2019 at 9:33 am

So are you with your ring fencing of immigration and Muslims ideology that uses victim hood as a silencer of critical voices. LOL

Amin Readh

26th August 2019 at 4:24 pm

Victimhood? You mean blow you up, Potter?

Anthony Dennison

26th August 2019 at 5:00 pm

It took a lot of mental gymnastics to get from this article to Islamophobia and all muh white people are evil. So congrats on that, you bedwetting simpleton.

Amin Readh

27th August 2019 at 12:04 am

@ Anthony Dennison

Gosh! Rather than wasting time here, you might have got an education. Then, rather than making things up, you would have the ability to read and interpret what someone has said more accurately. People like you spend time in such far-right bubbles and then spew buzz words and insults at people. Now off you trot you panhandling maggot. Before I jam my size 9s right up your…

John Reic

26th August 2019 at 5:55 pm

Why do you call questioning a religion , (which is a life style choice)if the religion is sexist and homophonic or why do you question trying to stop the democratic brexit result

-as Both being Right wing!

Are you saying it’s now left wing to want a sexist homophobia religion ,and the left are now against democracy??

Amin Readh

27th August 2019 at 12:07 am

@ John Reic

What the f*ck are you on about? My comment states that this will be another right-wing think tank that will say the exact same thing as others. And it is a very nice money-making scheme.

Here: https://www.thedrum.com/news/2017/01/29/british-think-tank-funded-japan-pushing-anti-china-campaign-mainstream-uk-media

It is a very lucrative way to make money. If Jo Williams had decided to start a Political Party it would drain money and chances of success are far less.

Jim Lawrie

26th August 2019 at 6:04 pm

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