Polly Mackenzie Joins Demos

Demos is twenty five years old but has never been more needed than it is now.

Nations need a ‘demos’: a collective identity and a shared understanding of how citizens come together. But everywhere we look, we see disconnection. Communities riven by intolerance. Citizens bombarded with more information than ever before, but less willing to trust any of it. Demand for better public services, but deep reluctance to fund them.

I believe Demos can and must take a leadership role in pulling our fragmenting society back together. Demos has a proud history of bringing insight, ideas and innovation to the public policy landscape. From democratic renewal to the empowerment of citizens through the personalisation of public services; from understanding the depth of change wrought by social media to laying the foundations for a surge in social entrepreneurship; Demos has been the home of leading thinkers, great debates and deep insights for a generation. So often it has led the way in identifying the challenges of the future. It’s a great honour to pick up the reins and lead such a brilliant team.

I’ve spent the last two years running a mental health charity. We’ve listened to thousands of people with mental health problems, working to amplify their voices and deliver policy change that will improve lives. While I’m proud of the work I – and others – did in government on mental health, I’ve learnt far more from direct engagement with citizens than I ever did looking down at services from above.

Money and Mental Health acts as a megaphone for the marginalised voices of people with mental health problems, bringing their stories to the attention of regulators and government. Demos can do the same – for all our citizens – because it has that rare knack of actually listening to people in the process of research and policy design.

There will always be a vital role for spreadsheets, data and models – and Demos researchers are more than capable of building and interpreting them. But if citizen voices are not heard alongside the input from experts, our democracy falters. Sometimes those voices may make us uncomfortable, but they cannot be ignored; if the Brexit referendum taught us anything, it must be that.

Since I started in politics, I have argued that the redistribution of power is core to improving our economy and our public services. What has changed is the urgency.

A fragile democracy has become a nation in crisis. If we are to have a hope of restoring trust between citizens and the institutions which should serve them, and so renew our democracy’s defences against populism, we need to return a sense of agency to the people of Britain.

I look forward to the challenge ahead, to working with a brilliant team at Demos, and to engaging with our partners in business, politics, civil society and beyond.