Don’t trust our politicians? Oxford alumna Megan Sclater can help you build your own ideal frontbench.

Playing a game of thrones with the Cabinet

By Lindsey Harrad

When she was approached by a friend with an idea to develop a website to make political information more accessible to the public, Megan Sclater (Kellogg, 2011) knew the project would be a perfect fit for her skills and interests. She had read sociology and politics as Newcastle University as an undergraduate and material anthropology as a post-grad at Kellogg.

‘We now have a team of eight volunteers working on Fantasy Frontbench, and it all stemmed from the idea of attracting young people and those not normally interested in politics to get more engaged with political information, which is often very dry and difficult to access.’

Playing a game of thrones with the CabinetTo make such information more appealing, the team modelled it on the popular concept of fantasy football, applying it to political parties instead. ‘In the football version you can see statistics about each player, such as how many goals they have scored, when building your dream team,’ she explains. ‘In Fantasy Frontbench you can find out how politicians have voted in Parliament in the past on particular issues. When putting together your political dream-team, the site reveals where they stood previously on issues such as tuition fees or gay marriage, allowing you to research policy issues that are important to you.’

Working closely with sites such as They Work For You and Public Whip, Fantasy Frontbench has created a resource to present information that is already in the public sphere in a more engaging way – and encourages people to have a little fun with politics too.

‘It’s very absorbing as you can experiment with putting together an all-female Cabinet, for example,’ she says. ‘Looking at past voting patterns to indicate what might happen in the future is very interesting,’ she says. ‘Politicians do have a habit of changing their minds on key issues – Nick Clegg on university tuition fees is one high-profile example.’

In a shifting political climate, never has it been more important for people to be engaged with politics, and after attracting around 35,000 visitors to the site around the time of the last election, and another 5,000 a week during the Labour leadership contest, the Fantasy Frontbench team has plenty of ideas to introduce before the next election.

‘There was a lot of pressure to launch it before the last election, especially when we all work full-time in busy careers,’ says Sclater, who says she ‘absolutely loves’ her day job as press officer for Zaha Hadid Architects. ‘But next time round we’ve got ideas for new educational tools aimed at schools, then there’s the Scottish and Welsh elections, plus the possibility of rolling it out to other countries by changing the format for future American elections. We have lots of ideas for future developments.’

Sclater hopes that Fantasy Frontbench, aided by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, will build further on their visitor numbers. The online tool has already attracted positive reactions from the national press, including the Times Educational Supplement, as well as the attention of notable public figures, such as ITN news presenter Alastair Stewart and political blogger Guido Fawkes, and it’s been nominated for an Open Data Award.

‘The whole idea sprang from the fact that people are being intimidated by or turned off politics because of the way issues are presented in the media, so we hope that people will enjoy using the tool for personal education – and hopefully spark plenty more debate on social media.’

Portrait by Clare Willan. Cabinet Office sign photo by Benjamin Nolan via Flickr, under Creative Commons licence.jpg