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Professor Anthony H Birch 1924 - 2014
The Political Studies Association has learned with regret of the death of Professor A H Birch who died on 13 December 2014. He was chair of the Association from 1972 to 1975. Friends and former colleagues of Professor Birch were quick to comment on his life and on his contribution to political studies:
"Tony Birch was one of the most productive and innovative British political scientists over the past sixty years. Although widely read and respected, he never quite received the recognition he merited. Invariably his publications were pioneering; he was a true lateral thinker" - Lord Trevor Smith.
“Tony Birch's Representative and Responsible Government along with Samuel H. Beer's Modern British Politics were perhaps the most influential commentaries on British politics published in the 1960's. They challenged the more quantitative and behavioural approaches that were beginning to dominate political science. Instead both situated their analyses in the relationships between ideas and institutions and were accepted as the standard works.” – Professor Robert Benewick
“Tony Birch was one of the pioneering figures in the establishment of an academic discipline of politics in Britain. In 1959 Birch published Small Town Politics, a study of Glossop. At a time when there was little empirical data about how politics actually worked on the ground, community studies of this kind made an important contribution. His most important work was, however, Representative and Responsible Government, published in 1964. This has come to be regarded as a classic study of the British constitution. For Birch, responsibility implied not only responsiveness and accountability but also ‘prudence and consistency on the part of those taking decisions.’ As Birch goes on to emphasize, this latter meaning evokes notions of duty and of moral responsibility. Here, too, it is contrasted with reckless or inconsistent decision-making.” –Professor Wyn Grant
“Tony Birch's scholarship was most impressive and carried lightly. His Representative and Responsible Government pioneered a way of looking at democracy, combining both abstract theory and political rhetoric. He was also a good colleague and head of department. I remember with gratitude the way he welcomed me to his department and gradually inducted me into its ethos. His kindness extended to all new colleagues and built up a fairly harmonious environment.” – Professor Bhikhu Parekh
Our colleagues at the IPSA have published this appreciation of Professor Birch:
"We regret to announce the death, on 13 December, of Anthony (Tony) Birch, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Victoria, BC, Canada. He was a Vice-President of the IPSA in 1973-6. He served on the Council of the IPSA from 1970 onwards, and on the executive committee for six years from 1973. The late Graeme Moodie (founding professor of politics at York University) and Birch worked in turn as chairman of the British Political Studies Association and at raising funds to stage the world congress of the IPSA at Edinburgh in 1976.
The IPSA meetings, both the triennial congresses and the annual conferences or round tables, were intellectually stimulating The opportunity of travelling in all continents, for IPSA gatherings, other conferences, or in teaching posts, contributed to his publications (five books and many articles). For example, his paper on political integration in Britain for a round table in Jerusalem (1974) was extended to include both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic for his book "Political Integration and Disintegration in the British Isles". Among his other books were "The British System of Government" which became a standard work for students and went into ten editions; and "Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy".
Birch began his career with a brief spell as a member of the United Kingdom civil service but soon turned to his metier in academic life. He became an assistant lecturer in government at the University of Manchester's economics department in 1947; their first professor of government, W J M Mackenzie, took up that post in 1949. In 1951 Birch won a Commonwealth Fund Scholarship to the United States, a rewarding visit not only professionally; there he met his wife Dorothy whose death sadly preceded Tony's. In 1961, he faced the challenge of building a new university department at Hull, as their first professor of government. He moved to Exeter in 1970 and, finally, to the University of Victoria, BC, in 1977; at both places he and Dorothy were able to indulge their passion for sailing.
Tony and Dorothy lost a son, Peter, but he is survived by a daughter, Tanya; two grandsons, Andrew and James; and two great-grandchildren.
- Bernard Wainewright