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The University of Southampton
Southampton Ethics Centre

C2G2 - Popular understandings of politics in Britain, 1937-2015 Event

12:00 - 14:00
5 January 2016
University of Southampton, Room 58/4121

For more information regarding this event, please email John Boswell at .

Event details

Speakers: Nick Clarke, Will Jennings, Jonathan Moss and Gerry Stoker.

This paper reports emerging findings from an ESRC-funded project on popular understandings of politics. The context for the project is current discussion of disaffected democracies and hatred of politics. The project describes changing patterns of anti-politics in Britain, taking the long view by drawing on survey and other data going back to 1937. It seeks to explain these changing patterns by listening to citizens’ voices found in volunteer writing for Mass Observation. We argue that, while there never was a golden age for democratic engagement in Britain, things have got worse over time – as more citizens have expressed negativity about a wider range of grievances and in stronger terms. We offer two interconnected explanations for this rise of anti-politics. First, citizens’ images of the good politician have changed. In the immediate post-war period, they judged politicians against a relatively coherent set of virtues that were at least possible for politicians to achieve. In the current period, this set of virtues has become characterised by internal tensions and contradictions, making it difficult for politicians to achieve under any circumstances. Second, the circumstances in which citizens and politicians encounter and interact with each other have changed. In the earlier period, encounters were structured by long radio speeches and rowdy political meetings. Politicians were able to perform virtues. Citizens were able to judge and distinguish politicians. In the current period, encounters are mediated and allow for less in the way of impressive performances by politicians and well-calibrated judgements by citizens.

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