Amongst the retribution and personal attacks of the recent Dominic Cummings select committee testimony, there were a number of worthwhile points that have not got the attention they deserve.

One key theme, made via several examples, was the idea that political parties, the civil service and the executive administration of the country did not represent the best of what the country could offer.

 “It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there (Number 10), just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.”

Dominic Cummings to the joint inquiry of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee, 26th May 2021

Having spent the entirety of my career in and around politics, it’s hard to disagree.

Political parties reward loyalty rather than talent, the civil service still feels like a closed shop and still offers a ‘job for life’ for many, despite numerous attempts at reform. Whilst the professionalisation of political classes means the talent pool from which people are recruited hasn’t changed much in decades.

And I am no exception.

As a privately-educated white male who went to a Russell Group university and was lucky enough to grow up in London, I could afford to work for free for 6 months in my first job in an MP’s office in parliament – experience that gave me a foot in the door.

I recognise the privileged position I was and still am in, to most people that path is simply not possible.

We, as a country, must do more to attract more diverse talent into politics, and into public affairs and policymaking, not just because it is the right thing to do but because diversity leads to better outcomes.

In business the data is clear – companies with more diverse teams consistently perform better than less diverse peers across the board – research shows that diverse companies are more productive, more profitable and grow faster.

The same is true where ideas, rather than sales, are the currency.

Diversity of thought leads to better policymaking – the more voices that are heard, the more considered and inclusive the outcome should be.

It is on this principle that the decision making structures of modern legislatures such as the European Union, or the Devolved Governments, have been designed around; founded on the ideas of discussion, debate and compromise, rather than groupthink.

Whilst changing ‘Politics’ will be hard, changing public affairs should (in theory) be less so.

There are already fantastic organisations like Taylor Bennett Foundation working to encourage more BAME people to consider a career in communications, and many of the big network agencies run commendable diversity programmes.

But we can, and must, do more.

Having recently set up an agency it is something that I and my partners have discussed at length. As we grow, we want to be a force for change in the industry, recognising talent rather than status and bringing diversity of thought to the service of our clients.

Too often public affairs teams are drawn from homogeneous backgrounds, education or skills sets. To progress our industry, and better serve our clients or our causes we need to broaden our horizons.

We need to embrace the idea that public affairs is a professional service, akin to the legal profession, accountancy or management consultancy. Whilst professional attainment in those industries may still at times be dictated by who you know, an individual’s ability would rarely be defined in those terms. Yet too often a public affairs practitioner’s ability is defined by their ‘black book’, the relationships they profess to hold based on their past experience. Whilst public affairs is driven by relationships (as are most professions in fairness) equating someone’s value to the relationships they bring belittles the skills needed to be truly successful, and sells the entire industry short. It also propagates the notion that only a small group with exclusive experience can be successful, which severely limits the talent pool that some people are hiring from. It is a dated and reductive vision of what political communications could and should be about, and employees and clients should beware of those that promote it.

Time for change

Some of the agencies launched over the past year give hope that change is indeed coming, in their positioning and offer. Agencies incorporating things like data, marketing and social impact into their approach all show an innovative vision of what’s possible.

It is telling, however, that very few of these are traditional public affairs firms.

This is something we were conscious of when deciding to set up Inflect, building a suite of different but complementary set of skills through our three partners. Whilst Emily Wallace has 25 years of traditional public affairs consultancy experience, Carli Harper-Penmanbrings the experience of working in-house, alongside operations and business transformation skills and I have spent a large part of my career working in sales and marketing, as well as developing consulting offers around things like ESG (environmental, social and governance).

We feel this blend of skills enables us to challenge each other, to keep learning and improving and, most importantly, to deliver more for our clients.

As we grow and look to hire (hopefully later this year!) we will have the opportunity to expand our horizons even further – bringing in new backgrounds, experiences and skills to challenge us, create learning opportunities and push us forward.

It is that journey, for me personally, for Inflect as a business and our industry as a whole, that I am most looking forward to.

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