Skip to main content

I really don’t know where the time has gone but, after eight and half years, I’m today announcing that I’m stepping down as Chief Executive of Bright Blue. I will step up to become Executive Chair of the think tank later in 2023.

When I graduated, I had no idea what a think tank was. Little did I know then that, seven years later, I’d be starting one from scratch. 

It was David Willetts, who gave me – a whippersnapper from North Nottinghamshire, without any parental contacts – my first job in politics, as an intern. He introduced me to the world of public policy and gave me the skills and encouragement to apply to work in wonkery. So, by 2010, I was working at the Social Market Foundation as a researcher. It was an apprenticeship in running a small business really; under the leadership of Ian Mulheirn, I learnt loads – how to conduct different research techniques, write rigorously, raise money for reports and events. 

After a few years, I spotted a gap in the think tank market: an organisation that could be an engine of detailed analysis and policies, rooted in the interaction of liberal and conservative thinking that was in ascendancy under the Coalition Government. Modernising conservatives were accused of prioritising style over substance. I wanted to prove and ensure this wasn’t the case. So Bright Blue the think tank was born.

My mum fretted that I was leaving a decent job without any security of income. It was a big risk. But it was the best decision of my life, after proposing to my wife, dare I forget. I absolutely loved public policy and politics. And I found the freedom that came from being my own boss immensely fulfilling; I have not fully abandoned my childhood libertarianism, you see. 

The start-up period – working in Dalston cafes, my living room, the Royal Society of Arts – first by myself, but then slowly more team members – was, in truth, the most thrilling part of my career. There was just so much potential. The media and money came. We were taking off.

We kept getting bigger and better because of the talent we were attracting. Bright Blue really has been built by so many brains. One of the best things about running a successful company is the opportunity to work with exceptionally gifted people, usually much smarter than me. 

Sam Hall, Ben Caldecott, Patrick Hall, Eamonn Ives, Helen Jackson and Wilf Lytton have driven our pioneering policy work on energy and the environment. David Kirkby, James Dobson, Anvar Sarygulov, Sam Robinson and Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield have led our rigorous and respected work on social, educational and employment policy. Laura Round, Joseph Silke and now Max Anderson have put us in the spotlight. And Weronika Patyk in particular kept us all in order, especially me. There are many more people that I could mention. I am delighted that so many have gone on to do amazing things in their career. 

Together, we have built a small superpower. We’ve published over 100 publications. Raised over £5 million for our work. Employed around 60 people. Hosted nearly 800 events. And, most importantly, seen the adoption of over 50 original Bright Blue policies by the UK Government.

We make the weather on environment policy in the UK. We were the first centre-right think tank to call for the Government to adopt a net zero emissions target into law. We have led the way in proposing original and credible policies to decarbonise different sectors of the economy, including the date for the phase-out of coal and the introduction of a new low-carbon gas obligation. The conservation and restoration of nature has become more fundamental to official policymaking thanks to our efforts, especially in international development. We uncovered the changing concern and consensus in public attitudes around the environment in recent years. Back in 2017, the BBC stated: “Ministers have been under political pressure to do more for the environment after it was identified by the think tank Bright Blue as the key issue for young voters.”

We have been especially successful in persuading Government to make specific reforms to the immigration system since Brexit, based on principles of control, contribution, cohesion and compassion. This country’s immigration system, especially for work and study, has become both more effective and popular as a result. 

Reflective of the breadth of our work, we have ensured that those on modest incomes have benefited from increased opportunities and security – before, during and after the pandemic. All our policies prioritise support for those who need and deserve it most. We have been particularly successfully in generating and campaigning for ideas to strengthen social security, improve childcare, reform our tax system, and widen access to quality education at every stage of life. 

It’s been quite the journey. It’s not always been plain sailing. I’ve faced some very difficult decisions and situations. Made mistakes too. But I’ve been supported by some wise and thoughtful chairs – Matthew d’Ancona and Sarah Sands. And, in particular, a board that have been there pretty much from the beginning, through thick and thin. They – Diane Banks, Alexandra Jezeph, Phil Clarke and Richard Mabey – have been a constant source of support and challenge. I will be forever grateful to them.

Bright Blue is one of the UK’s leading think tanks today because of the generosity and passion of so many people. Not just our staff and fellows, but also our members, donors, supporters and funders. Thank you for helping make Bright Blue what it is today. 

It is now time to pass on this powerful and privileged CEO platform I’ve had for eight and half years to someone new. I’ve decided that the organisation needs fresh leadership, vision and energy. It will be an amazing opportunity for my successor. They will have an unrivalled and unique chance to transform public policy and public attitudes at a time when British politics is at a critical crossroads.

I’ve had a wonderful time. But it’s now time for a new chapter for me and for Bright Blue.

If you are interested in becoming Bright Blue’s next Chief Executive, you can find more information here. [Image: Chris Gallagher]