Politics is a worldly art. It is a profession that is founded on the ability to instill hope, convince doubters and unite the disunited – to find simple and pain free solutions to what are in fact complex and painful social challenges. In recent months a small seam of scholarship has emerged that explores public attitudes to politics and politicians through the lens of Daniel Kahneman’s work on behavioral economics and psychology. ‘Think fast’ and the public’s responses are generally aggressive, negative and hopeless; ‘think slow’ and the public’s responses are far more positive, understanding and hopeful. Such findings resonate with my own personal experience and particularly when I founded a “Be Kind to Politicians Party” as part of a project for the BBC and it was amazing how many people I was able to recruit in a fairly short time.
The aim of telling this tale is not to make the reader feel sorry for politicians, or really to defend them or their profession. The ‘aim’ – if there really is one – is to promote the public understanding of political life and to steer it away from over-simplistic representations of sleaze, scandal and self-interest. (P.J. O’Rourke’s Don’t Vote for the Bastards – It Just Encourages Them! suddenly springs to mind.) Continue reading Fire and ashes: success and failure in politics→
by Matthews Flinders, Co-Editor of Policy & Politics. This was originally posted on the OUP blog and is reposted here with kind permission.
For many commentators the 2015 General Election was the first genuinely ‘anti-political’ election but at the same time it was one in which the existence of a major debate about the nature of British democracy served to politicize huge sections of society. The surge in party membership for the Scottish National Party, for example, with over 100,000 members at the time of the election (i.e. far more members than soldiers in the whole British Army) deserves some explanation in a context dominated by the rhetoric of disenchantment and decline. The subsequent election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party with over a quarter of a million votes (59.5% of those cast) raises further questions about ‘anti-politics being all the rage’.
The simple fact is that ‘anti-politics’ is a myth. It is also a dangerous myth due to the manner in which it seeks to perpetuate cynicism when the evidence is arguably far more positive. The truth is that the results of the 2015 General Election and the Labour leadership contest were actually more anti-establishment than anti-political. Take, for example, the influential writing and public interventions of Owen Jones [The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It, 2014] or Russell Brand’s raw anti-elite, anti-establishment, anti-elections nihilism that was Continue reading Where next? New politics, kinder politics, and the myth of anti-politics→
by Tessa Coombes, PhD Researcher at Bristol University
For the final plenary session of the conference Prof. Andrew Gamble, from Cambridge University, took us back to the issue of democracy and its ability to survive and even thrive. We were reminded that for the first time in the modern state system authoritarian regimes are in retreat and representative democracy, in some form or other, is on the rise.
Representative liberal democracies have been described as the least admirable form of governance not least because of their inability to take difficult decisions and their short term thinking. Despite this, in the 20th century, representative democracy came to be seen as an ideal state. But it now seems we are in a time of transition, where there is a real disengagement and disillusionment with mainstream politics, where the choice is narrowing and where people are indifferent to their right to vote. This crisis of representative politics reflects a crisis of trust in our politics and politicians. Once more, despite this process, representative democracy Continue reading Can democracy survive?→
by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P Conference 2015.
The second plenary session of the Policy and Politics Annual Conference was delivered by Prof. Danny Dorling, who provided a shocking and somewhat scary analysis of the increasing levels of inequality in the UK. The big question for us all to consider is why there is no consistent challenge to this situation and why we appear to accept the disparities that exist. Why is it acceptable and why would anyone think inequalities are a good thing?
One answer to the question is that we don’t actually realise how unequal we are as a society. But a quick look through some of the statistics soon provides the evidence we need. Danny took us through graph after graph that more than adequately demonstrated just how big the problem is and that it is increasing. One example to illustrate the point, in 2010 the best off tenth of the population in the UK were nearly 14 times better off than the worst off tenth. By 2015 this had grown to more than 17 times better off, and if the trend continues on a similar course in less than 20 years the best off will have over 24 times as much disposable income as the worst off. The problem is that the change is gradual, we don’t notice it so much and we get Continue reading Why social inequality persists→
by Matthew Flinders, Co-Editor of Policy & Politics
Wimbledon has been and gone, the barbeques have been dusted off, the sun is shining and all our newly elected MPs have just left Westminster for the summer recess. Domestic politics, to some extent, winds down for July and August but the nation never seems to collapse. Indeed, the summer months offer a quite different focus on, for example, a frenzy of festivals, picnics in the park and generally having fun. But could this more relaxed and self-organising approach to life teach is something about how we ‘do’ politics? Is politics really taking place at festivals and in the parks? Can politics really be fun?
The recent suggestion that the Glastonbury Festival provides a model for policy reform took many academics and commentators by surprise. ‘If you want to know how to achieve those things the politicians promise but never quite deliver — a ‘dynamic economy’, a ‘strong society’, ‘better quality of life’ — stop looking at those worthy think-tank reports about the latest childcare scheme from Denmark or pro-enterprise initiative from Texas’ Steve Hilton, the former Director of Strategy for David Cameron argues in The Spectator (20 June 2015) ‘just head down to Worthy Farm in Somerset… it’s got so much to teach us’. I’ve never personally been ‘a festival person’ (and yes, there is such a type) and the only thing the images of Glastonbury in the past have taught me is never to go there. Continue reading DIY Democracy: Festivals, Parks and Fun→
How can we measure leadership? What makes a leader succeed or fail? Dr Mark Bennister at Canterbury Christ Church University has been gathering scholars together to investigate the idea of ‘leadership capital’ and offer a way to understand why some leaders ‘spend’ their ‘capital’ successfully and others squander or waste it. Dr Bennister is co-convenor of the PSA Political Leadership Specialist Group and is leading a section on political leadership at the 2015 ECPR general Conference in Montreal in August.
2014 was the year of ‘Capital’ thanks to Thomas Piketty. Piketty’s weighty tome breathed new life into economic analysis of economic inequality. Capital, for Piketty is a stock – its wealth comes from what has been accumulated in all prior years combined. So what happens if we take a concept of accumulated capital and apply it to political leadership? This presents us with alternative method of understanding why political leaders succeed or fail, how they remain in office, and how they win elections.
by Matthew Flinders, Co-Editor of Policy & Politics
This blog was originally published on the Oxford University Press blog.
‘London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down; London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady’. ‘Oh no it’s not!’ I hear you all scream with oodles of post-Christmas pantomime cheer but Parliament is apparently falling down. A number of restoration and renewal studies of the Palace of Westminster have provided the evidence with increasingly urgency. The cost of rebuilding the House? A mere two billion pounds! If it was any other building in the world its owners would be advised to demolish and rebuild. Let’s design for democracy – Let’s do it! Let’s rip it up and start again!
The Georgian Parliament Building might be a rather odd place to begin this New Year blog about British politics but the visionary architecture behind the stunning new building in Kutaisi offers important insights for those who care about British politics.
The focus of British politics is notoriously cyclical. As general elections approach certain issues rise up the political agenda and are used by politicians of all colours to demonstrate their reforming credentials. One of these ideas is the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, a phrase used by politicians to criticise their opponents’ waste, bureaucracy and incompetence and demonstrate their own determination to create a more streamlined, efficient and ultimately better state. The term quango captures a range of different bodies that exist at arm’s-length from the state which, amongst other Continue reading Finally recognising the value of quangos? The Coalition Government and a move beyond the ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’→
by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference
Our first session this morning on the second day of the Policy & Politics conference was a fast and furious presentation from Prof Helen Sullivan, University of Melbourne, covering a wide range of issues relating to collaboration. The presentation sought to cover why collaboration can be seen as the new normal, a better framework for understanding collaboration, and the challenges this presents for policy makers and practitioners.
For many collaboration is inevitable to meet policy challenges, whilst others are waiting for the trend to disappear. Whatever the case, collaboration is more accepted as the ‘new normal’. In her presentation, Helen defined collaboration as “a more or less stable configuration of rules, resources and relationships; generated, negotiated, restricted, and reproduced by diverse interdependent actors”. A deliberately vague or open definition, that goes beyond our understanding of partnerships and cooperative relations, that brings with it a set of emotions.
The normalisation of collaboration has developed as a response to the Global Financial Crisis, which led to the view of austerity as a collaborative affair involving non state actors and citizens. Helen then identified a number of trends in collaboration which have seen the primacy of the collective replaced by the primacy of the individual:
New Public Management has evolved beyond marketisation
Globalisation and governance rescaling, creating elasticity of public policy across boundaries
Co-governance, reconnecting citizens to governing institutions
Innovation and the increasing importance of digital and social media
These trends together make collaboration more difficult, with human agency at the centre of collaboration emphasising the need to understand what motivates individuals to act. Helen proposed her own framework for how we might seek to better understand this concept, with the aim of directing attention to the more neglected aspects of collaboration. This framework has three dimensions: political, material and cultural, where the role of ideas, rules and emotions are particularly important.
The challenge for policy makers in all this is to understand collaboration, in terms of mood, practice and instrument where the role of power, interests, structure and agency are central to making sense of policy processes. With collaboration as the new normal, it can also be seen as a disruptive force for intervention, leading to improvements and new ways of doing things. The point was also made that public policy analysis needs to see the whole as well as the parts in order to develop a full understanding.
For me, and others in the audience, this feels like a huge agenda requiring interdisciplinary activity and understanding, but as a framework it enables you to think about those different aspects in an interconnected way.
Tessa Coombes has just completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is an ex-City Councillor and regularly blogs about politics, policy and place.
by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference
In the afternoon plenary session on the first day of the Policy & Politics conference, Prof. Dr. Erik-Hans Klijn, Erasmus University Rotterdam, explored the tension between front stage (world of media and politics) and back stage (world of complex networks) using his own work to take us through the tensions that exist and how public managers can cope with those tensions. He reminded us that – modern governance is more about managing processes than anything else and there are no easy answers to complex governance problems.
Governance networks (back stage) were described as being characterised by complexity; complexity of decision-making and of resource dependency, with many different actors involved in activity where it takes time and dedication to achieve good performance. In this sense, it is managerial effort that makes the difference with modern governance more about management than politics and where hard work is needed because there are no easy solutions. Whilst this may well be true, I think there are many politicians out there who may just disagree with the comment about management!
In the world of politics and media (front stage), complexity comes from interaction and activity, with politicians reacting daily to events and constant media attention which is both short term and immediate. It’s a different world dominated by media logic, where branding and image are increasingly ‘centre-stage’ and used more frequently because people can relate to them.
These different worlds, operating together, generate a number of tensions:
complex multi-faced problems and solutions versus simple communications
connective leadership versus personalised strong profile
long-term oriented dedication versus short-term visibility
trust building versus conflict framing
Public managers therefore face huge challenges to combine ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage, where there is more focus on emotions, more use of branding and more network management. Erik-Hans concluded by emphasising that these tensions will remain and potentially increase, because the tendencies that fuel them will remain in place.
One of the interesting points I’ll take away from the discussion is definitely the one about branding, and how important this become in our society, but with a reminder that perhaps this should relate not just to ‘selling’ but also to identity, value processes and commitment.
Tessa Coombes has recently completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is a former Bristol City Councillor and regularly blogs about policy, politics, and place.