FOXFIRE! and grant applications as a way of political life

So there’s this:

Specifically, Liam Fox’s ministry is sponsoring the restoration of a Spitfire as part of its export promotion campaign. FOXFIRE!!! This reminded me of something.

If you’re pitching to the Big Lottery Fund or the Arts Council or whatnot, it’s obviously going to help to get the local MP, any other MP with a colourable interest, the responsible minister, and any other pols you can think of on board.

Pitching to grant-making bodies has become a progressively bigger part of British public life over the last few decades, taking a radical leap forward with the creation of the Lottery and the millenium projects and a smaller jump ahead with the Big Society. It’s no surprise that the particular style, tone, and skills of grantsmanship would therefore influence the wider culture.

The vector here, and the link with Fox and the restored Spit, is that lending your name to grant applications, like pursuing people’s complaints against the public administration, chasing immigration cases, and sucking up to the whips, is something backbench MPs do a lot of because they don’t have other things to do. If, like the key Brexiters, you’ve spent a large majority of your political career marinating on the back bench, you’ll have seen an awful lot of grant pitches from your constituents and anyone who shares any of your interests.

In pitching for your grant, it’s necessary to make a case for the public benefits of your project. Therefore, it’s wise to draw the boundaries as wide as possible. Not only will it support the arts in Dullington, it will contribute to education, to preventing youth crime, to attracting tourists, to reducing the NHS’s costs through the benefits of social prescribing, so on and so forth. The Vulcan to the Sky Trust, which brought the Avro Vulcan XH558 back flying up until they dropped one of the last remaining Olympus 598 engines on the workshop floor, was a model of this – not only were they going to preserve a historical artefact of the Cold War and the technologies it embodied through operation, they were also meant to inspire the youth to pursue engineering careers, attract tourists to Doncaster, oh, and hoon about the sky in a Mach 1 delta jet bomber..

I think this has been a shaping influence on Brexit. A hell of a lot of these people have the same tendency to come up with vastly complicated reasons why whatever hobby horse they’re riding will benefit literally every policy area you can think of, and I think they’ve learned it from the relentless round of puffery that grantsmanship brings. Even the unsinkable bumptiousness is characteristic of both. You also see this on the Left, of course; everyone thinks their community garden is the first or the last step on the road to the revolution. The belief is a necessary one.

But I blame George Osborne. This is the micro-manifestation of a macro-phenomenon, and the macro-phenomenon is this.

3 Comments on "FOXFIRE! and grant applications as a way of political life"

    1. There is no “Olympus 598”. There’s an Olympus 301 (which was the Vulcan’s engine) and an Olympus 593 (which was the Concorde’s engine).


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