Boris Johnson’s brother is coming to King’s

Jo Johnson will judge Policy Idol 2020 Finals next week

Jo Johnson, Boris Johnson's brother, is coming to King's next Tuesday 25 February to judge the Policy Idol 2020 Finals.

Jo served as government minister, including as Minister of State for Universities, under three consecutive prime ministers.

Johnson stood down from his post last year. Last September, he explained that he was "torn between family loyalty and the national interest", indicating he could no longer reconcile the long-standing political differences between himself and Boris over Brexit.

An Oxford graduate, Johnson is an award-winning journalist who spent many years working at the Financial Times. Johnson also co-authored the book The Man who Tried to Buy the World.

The Policy Idol 2020 Finals are taking place next Tuesday night. Here's what you need to know.

The competition

Now in its sixth year, thousands of King's students have already presented their ideas as part of the annual Policy Idol competition, run by the Policy Institute at King's.

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Policy Idol 2019 Finals. Photo credit: David Tett.

Mark Easton, BBC News Home Editor and host of Policy Idol, said:
“Who imagined that policy proposal and assessment could be turned into a fun night out? Policy Idol brilliantly showcases the talent and ideas of a new generation of policymakers."

In 2017, one attendee summed up the whole night: "We got wine, nibbles and a vote. Is there a better way to consider policy challenges?"

George Murkin, a Policy Institute spokesperson, said: "The competition is a great way for the institute to engage with the brilliant students at King’s and help foster the next generation of policy professionals.

"That’s why our engagement with the contestants doesn’t end at the grand final – we use our convening power to link finalists up with specialists in their field, from charities, policymakers and business leaders, to see how far their ideas can go with our ongoing support."

The competition asks King's staff and students if they can "change the world in 3 minutes", and creates an excited buzz, as well as serious debate, over which ideas are the best.

Murkin commented: "From tackling antimicrobial resistance to labelling clothing according to its environmental impact, the policy ideas developed by students have suggested solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges."

After 10 days of heats, in which "standout pitches" from each heat go forward to the final, finalists are selected by a panel of senior judges, including figures from the worlds of business, academia and politics.

Last week, finalists received bespoke presentation skills and communication training, plus mentorship and advice from a policy expert, to help them improve their pitch ready for finals.


This year the audience will hear eight pitches over the course of the evening, as the 12 finalists compete for the coveted Policy Idol trophy.

The prizes at stake aren't to be sniffed at, with the overall winner taking away a cheque for £1,000, two further prizes (one for best delivery, one for best analysis) of £500, and an audience prize of £250.

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Cristina Zheng Ji, 2019 Policy Idol winner. Photo credit: David Tett.

Contestants rate the competition highly. The winner of Policy Idol 2018, Louise Phelps, who went on to work in the Civil Service, said: “The skills and experiences I’ve taken away from Policy Idol are already proving their worth beyond the competition.

“My experience of the competition was undoubtedly the highlight of my time at King’s and something I could not recommend more highly to any King’s student, past or present.”

The Judges

A panel of senior judges from the worlds of business, academia and politics will hear every pitch, before engaging in a Q&A session which will see finalists answer questions on their policy ideas in front of a live audience.

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Judges talk with finalists at the 2019 Policy Idol Finals. Photo credit: David Tett.

The judges will award the three biggest prizes on the night, with votes from the audience deciding who will take home the audience prize.

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Judging panel at the 2019 Policy Idol finals. Photo credit: David Tett.

Chair: Professor Bobby Duffy

Director of the Policy Institute and Professor of Public Policy, with 25 years experience in policy research and evaluation.

He was formerly Managing Director of Public Affairs for Ipsos MORI, and Global Director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute. Duffy has worked for the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit and the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics.

Specialist subjects: Polling, intergenerational inequality, public perception

Rt Hon Jo Johnson

Jo Johnson, Chairman of the Times Educational Group, recently joined King's as President's Professorial Fellow. He is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, of Harvard University, which aims to "improve public policy and leadership".

Johnson previously worked directly for then-Prime Minister David Cameron as the head of the No. 10 Downing Street Policy Unit. He also held a number of senior ministerial roles, including Minister for State (attending Cabinet), under three consecutive Prime Ministers. He was MP for Orpington between 2010 and 2019.

Specialist subjects: Higher education, finance

Dame Louise Casey

Dame Louise Casey, former Director General of the Department for Communities and Local Government, is Visiting Faculty at the Policy Institute.

Casey's former roles include the Head of the Rough Sleepers' Unit, Director of the national Anti-Social Behaviour Unit, head of the Respect Task Force, and Director General of the government's Troubled Families programme, "helping troubled families turn their lives around".

She was also appointed the UK's first Victims' Commissioner, and investigated "community cohesion and extremism" at the request of then-Prime Minister David Cameron.

Specialist subjects: Crime, troubled families, homelessness

Professor Rosie Campbell

Professor of Politics and Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King's College London. Before joining King's in 2018, she worked at Birkbeck and UCL.

Campbell's research interests include "voting behaviour, public opinion, the politics of diversity and political recruitment". Her recent work includes the "barriers to participation in politics, gendered patterns of support for the populist radical right and what voters want from their elected representatives."

Specialist subjects: Women’s rights, feminism, politics

The finalists

Students can enter Policy Idol individually or as a team. This year, 120 entries were whittled down to just 12 finalists, representing eight policy pitches.

With just one week to go, everyone is hard at work preparing for the final, but a few of the finalists still found time to talk with us.

Zewditu Gebreyohanes

Zewditu is a third-year student of Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at King's.

She will pitch a programme giving the elderly "the chance to volunteer in local primary schools" and argues this "could hold the potential to overcome some of the challenges associated with Britain’s ageing population."

Zewditu explains the volunteers would "become engaged members of their communities, boosting their wellbeing and helping to reduce the onset of age-related illnesses such as dementia and depression."

Other benefits include giving young people "a sense of duty to society" and "respect and compassion for older citizens, which is of paramount importance in ensuring the long-term security of the elderly."

Ash Ryan

Ash is a third-year War Studies BA student in the Department of War Studies, King's. While at King's, she founded the student-run defence and security blog, Shield.

For Policy Idol, Ash will be putting forward a policy to "re-design the patient feedback system on mental health wards in a hospital setting", particularly on Acute and Psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PIQU) wards.

Ash explains that "the power dynamics at play on mental health wards often leave patients too scared to complain". She will propose a series of measures designed to ensure patients "know their rights, and are empowered to speak up".

Ash commented her policy "will also save the NHS money, as these measures can pay for themselves 6 times over within 12 months."

Michelle Sebele and Emily Yam

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Michelle is studying towards a Medicine MBBS, currently undertaking IBSc Infectious Diseases & Immunobiology, in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine at King's. Emily is studying for her Law LLB at the Dickinson Poon School of Law, King's.

For Policy Idol, Michelle and Emily are proposing that the Equality Act 2010 be amended "to include care-experienced individuals and care-leavers as the 10th protected characteristic."

They explain this would "ensure legal protection from discrimination for care-experienced individuals", as well as help to "bring awareness and change public perception of what it means to be care-experienced."

Hester Velthuis

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Hester is a third-year PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry (IoPPN), King's, where she is researching the functioning of the brains of adults with and without autism spectrum condition, in particular the role of the inhibiting neurotransmitter GABA in autistic symptoms and behaviours.

At the finals, Hester will pitch a "policy change that will embed inclusion of employees with hidden disabilities that are a result of a 'differently wired brain', for example people with dyslexia or autism."

She hopes this will make "inclusive practices the standard", and promote "diversity across the workforce."

Hester said: "I am very excited to be in Policy Idol which gives me the stage to share with everyone how I think we can improve everyone's well-being at work."

Matt Waugh

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Matt used sport to recover from depression and alcohol misuse. Now a postgraduate health science student at King's, he was part of the King's20 Accelerator programme, and is currently on the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme.

Matt trained as a mental health nurse and personal trainer. He founded Live More, a venture that supports mental health patients in hospital to engage in sport.

Live More has supported over 100 patients over the last 18 months, won grant funding and is collaborating with American artist Rebecca Byrne to bring museum-quality art into hospital gyms. Matt explains that sport provides patients with "community, purpose, structure and self-esteem."

For Policy Idol, Matt wants to take his ideas to the next level. He will propose that "peer support roles be created within the NHS, using sport to improve mental health."