Mark Briggs, Communications & Media Relations Officer


The PSA's annual conference featured over 230 panels over three days in Cardiff. Below is a taste of what was discussed by professors, professionals and early career researchers. 



Across the nations

Westminster elections have slipped to become second order elections in Scotland trailing behind the two recent constitution referenda according to Ailsa Henderson. 

Which party people voted for in 2017 related to the parties’ positions in the Scottish Independence and the Brexit referenda with concerns about British level policy and politics falling in importance. 

The Scottish Parliament election in 2016 was incredibly volatile with people switching allegiances to parties based on how they campaigned in the independence vote. Similarly, the key indicator to which party people voted for in the 2017 election was the party’s stance on Brexit. 

As the most openly vocal anti-independence party, Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives have picked up supporters from the ‘No’ crowd, and despite Davidson’s personal support for Remain, have also picked up Leave voters due to the national party’s stance. The independence referendum has therefore been more beneficial to the Tories in terms of attracting voters than for the Scottish National Party, said Henderson.

In Wales, Labour continued its century long dominance. Not since Lloyd George’s Liberal Party were in charge during the First World War have a party other than Labour gained a parliamentary majority. At the beginning of the campaign, the Welsh Labour Party actively disassociated itself from an unpopular Jeremy Corbyn amid talk of a Conservative surge in the principality. As the campaign wore on, Roger Awan-Scully said, Corbyn’s national popularity increased and surpassed everyone’s expectations meaning he was the most popular politician in Wales come polling day. Labour returned its highest vote share since 1997 and gained three seats. 

Northern Irish politics is still dominated by polarisation, said Jon Tonge. Despite large numbers of non-identifiers, Unionists or Nationalists are twice as likely to vote and there is a near perfect correlation between a constituency’s voting patterns for Nationalists or Unionists and the percentage of the area’s Catholic/Protestant voters. According to the data, said Tonge, there is space for a large non-aligned centre party in Northern Ireland, but it is just not taking off. 

The panel: UK Elections 2017 comprised of Ailsa Henderson, Roger Awan-Scully, Jon Tonge and Richard Wyn Jones and was chaired by Pete Dorey.


Jez is no populist

To call Jeremy Corbyn a populist stretches the use of the term beyond the point at which it retains useful meaning, said Dr Jonathan Dean. 

Although there are aspects of Corbynism that are populist, populism fails to do justice to the specificity and quirkiness of Corbynism. Crucial to an understanding of the success of Corbyn is his link to a “movement” for issues such as inequality. In this way the Labour leader is more Bennite or Marxist than populist, said Dean.  

Professor Luke March and Dr Dan Keith agreed. While Corbyn’s speeches are noticeably more populist than the Labour party’s manifesto his rhetoric still falls short of the standard definition of the term, despite the consensus in the media. 

Corbyn does not use anti-elitist rhetoric, proclaim popular sovereignty, or invoke the idea of a homogenous “people”. 

One area where Corbyn and his team have displayed populist tactics is in its dealings with internal Labour Party politics, according to Dr Jake Watts. The Parliamentary Labour Party, who do not support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, are regularly portrayed by Corbyn’s supporters as acting against the will of grassroots members – who voted for Corbyn to be leader. These grassroots members are seen as the virtuous moral lifeblood of the party and a homogenous, authentic authority. To stand against Corbyn is therefore to stand against not the man himself, but the desires of the membership. 

Their rhetoric is also historically rooted. Corbynism wants to take the Labour party back to the campaigning movement that it used to be in the glorious days of yore and the panacea to all Labour’s internal problems is more democracy to allow it to better respond to the wills of the people/membership. 

“The populism of Corbyn is local rather than global” said Watts. 

The panel “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!: Left wing populism in contemporary Britain?” was chaired by Andy Knott and contained additional contributions from Tim Bale, Bice Maiguashca, Marina Prentoulis and Lasse Thomassen. 


Green policies as common, but less intense

The economic crisis has not resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of EU environmental policies, but they have become less ambitious, said Paul Tobin. 

Measuring the output of environmental legislation, Tobin found there were 36 pieces from the EU in the five years prior to the economic crisis and there have been 32 in the five years since the crisis. Although there was a slight drop in the density of policies this was largely accountable to the standard legislative cycles of the EU which fluctuate as new commissioners come in and then go. 

What has changed is the intensity or ambition of those pieces of legislation. Using a measurement designed by the authors there had been a marked reduction in the intensity of policies since the economic crisis.

Speaking to Tobin, Brussels based policy makers said they had seen a plateauing, but not a dismantling, of environmental policy making. But, Tobin said, given the reality of climate change a plateauing of policy represents a real threat to the sustainability of the planet.  

The Public & Political Reponses to Environmentalism panel also featured: Anna Weinhues, Charlotte Burns, Peter Eckersley, Jan-Justus Andreas, Mitya Pearson and Rhys Andrews. 


Trust the revolution?

To understand revolutions in the 21stcentaury we need to move beyond considerations of power to a closer examination of trust, said Francesca Granelli. 

Revolutions require chance and uncertainty and, as a result, inherent risk. As the cornerstone of communication, trust plays a pivotal role in the concept of a revolution, getting buy in from the local population and, ultimately, in the revolution’s success or failure. 

Trust is a dynamic and ever-changing process that is specific to the culture in which it is practiced. Granelli tracked the changes in trust and how this mirrored change in the concept of revolution, at least in Europe. 

In antiquity relationships of trust were personal and networks interconnected and mutually reinforcing. As such, revolutions were based in people’s daily lives and not ventures into the future. 

In renaissance Italy, another channel of trust developed: commercial. Revolutions occurred to restore equilibrium in unbalanced states, often with a commercial element. In Tudor England, trust was placed in God and the monarch to steer the country and so revolutions centred on changes of religion, or monarch. 

It was not until the French Revolution, Granelli argued, that revolutions took on their modern meaning of a progressive rupture with the past. Trust was a vital component to bring together the people and the new leaders. But their failure was one of betrayal with associated consequences. 

Despite the low levels of trust people have in their Western democracies, Granelli said states are protected by the web of services and functions they now serve. People may not trust the government, but they do trust the local school, and the National Health Service. Trust in the structure as a whole outweighs betrayal of one particular element. 

The panel, Frontiers in Political Theory, was chaired by Peri Roberts and included presentations from Yunlong Guo and I-fu Chao.