Felicity Matthews (University of Sheffield), Co-Editor of Policy & Politics
“Politics in Interesting Times”. Has ever a conference title been so apt, or provided such a unifying theme? This year’s PSA Conference, held at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, was host to a record number of delegates, who had travelled from 75 countries to reflect on the interesting times that we inhabit. Brexit, Scottish independence, forthcoming elections in Italy and France, the election of Trump, the decline of traditional parties, the rise of populism, new forms of representation and participation. All of these issues – and many, many more – were discussed, debated and often contested within the conference’s ten panel sessions.
Such issues were also prominent within the conference’s plenary sessions. On Monday, Sarah Childs (University of Bristol) and Meryl Kenny (University of Edinburgh) were joined by former Labour minister the Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman QC to discuss the challenges facing Parliament in terms of diversity, and the ways in which party recruitment strategies could address this. Later that morning, Anand Menon (KCL) and Michael Keating (University of Aberdeen) spoke alongside Anneliese Dodds MEP to reflect on Brexit: how did it happen, why did it happen, what will happen next? One of the key issues that came out of this debate was the extent to which voters across the political spectrum feel increasingly disenfranchised, even ‘left-behind’. These themes were further developed in Tuesday’s plenary session by Pippa Norris (Harvard and Sydney), who explored the cultural and economic factors that underpin the rise of right-wing populism and presented the (surprising) initial results of her analysis of the 2016 US Presidential Election. Yet, whilst such issues are of critical importance today, it is important to locate them within the wider context of space and time; and this is exactly what Mark Blyth (Brown University) did in the annual PSA Leonard Shapiro Lecture. Asking whether ‘Brexit, Trump and Grexit are noise rather than signal’, Mark showed that the we are in the midst of an unprecedented confluence of circumstances that have limited the opportunities for states to grow their way out of austerity, and as such, the populist turn is anything but surprising.
The quality of all plenaries and papers was extremely high, and it was a real intellectual pleasure to be exposed to so many new ideas, perspectives and arguments. It was also a pleasure to meet so many early career researchers, including current doctoral students, and to learn more about the exciting work that they are doing. Attending a conference such as the PSA, with its breadth of experience and expertise, is a fantastic opportunity to learn and to engage. On the latter note, I also enjoyed speaking to a large number of presenters with my ‘editor’s hat’ on, and hope that some of the fantastic papers that I heard will make an appearance in Policy & Politics. Of course, with so many delegates in attendance, it was impossible to speak to everyone, so if you did present a paper that talks to the issues debated within Policy & Politics, please do consider us when getting ready to submit. The editorial team would also be more than happy to talk through any ideas that you may have. Just get in touch!
Don’t forget: to celebrate the PSA Annual International Conference we’ve made the entire journal Policy & Politics free to access until 24 April. Enjoy!