The Tory leadership contest has exposed the dearth of ideas at large in politics today.
Those who hoped that as the field narrowed the discussion might widen have been left disappointed. There is, of course, another six weeks to go.
Surely they will have to set out a policy programme to tackle climate change and the cost of living, rather than fill that entire time bickering over tax?
But, the absence of bright ideas doesn’t feel entirely unsurprising. Look around and it’s not obvious who is doing big thinking.
Universities and colleges might appear a good place to start. But, talk about academia these days, particularly in Westminster, and the conversation will quickly turn to freedom of speech and cancel culture, rather than considering how the country can get the most from our best minds.
It’s hard not to point the finger at Michael Gove on this one. His Brexit referendum quip that “the people of this country have had enough of experts” still echoes through the years.
It’s too soon to tell, but, more than Boris Johnson’s ascendancy to the premiership or Love Island earning an ITV reboot, history may yet judge that Gove quote as the moment Britain fell off a cliff. It was the gateway to grim episodes that have followed, such as supermodel Caprice fancying herself a Covid expert and Kate Bush endorsing Theresa May’s leadership skills.
Celebrity obsession is insulting to audiences
Media is failing on this front, too. As I type this, I have another tab open in my word processing programme with the name of an A-list actor in its title. Because, one of my side projects is a radio or podcast series, taking an innovative approach to interrogating masculinity and, particularly, male friendship. (Yes, that line is ripped straight from the pitch.)
Every production house agrees it’s a great idea, but none will take it on without a big name attached.
Where, previously, experts like historian AJP Taylor and physicist Stephen Hawking became famous as a result of their expertise, now producers insist Idris Elba is best placed to explain anything and everything
This isn’t just sour grapes. (OK, it’s not exclusively sour grapes.) It’s depressing and concerning that an idea is not enough to carry a project – it’s the name that counts.
Where, previously, experts like historian AJP Taylor and physicist Stephen Hawking became famous as a result of their expertise, now producers insist Idris Elba is best placed to explain anything and everything. It’s insulting to audiences to presume they are only interested in a subject if someone they know is presenting it.
The UK is not a country that has run out of ideas. But it is, increasingly, a country that does not value, nurture and celebrate them. Celebrity trumps the cerebral.
Whoever becomes PM, it would be welcome to hear them conjure big concepts, and bring thinkers into government.
James Millar is a political commentator, author and a former Westminster correspondent for The Sunday Post