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(Re) Assessing Gordon Brown as Prime Minister

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Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown announced his decision to stand down as an MP at the next general election this week.

His time as Prime Minister has been much criticised but Jim Buller and I have recently published an article in Parliamentary Affairs arguing that we should factor context into our assessment of political leaders.  This leads to a different kind of assessment of Brown.

In a blog published on Eastminster (but also the LSE and PSA blog) we outline some of this argument.

Gordon Brown has announced his decision to ‘stand down’ as MP last night.  Brown had largely stepped back from ‘front-line’ politics after leaving office as Prime Minister but entered the Scottish independence debate in its final throws by making the case that it is ‘better together’.  He was quickly described as an ‘unlikely hero’ in many quarters.  Although this over-states his contribution,  his speech on the eve of the referendum, for some, saved the union.

In contrast, his premiership is often thought to have been a failure….

Read in full on Eastminster.

Improving Turnout: The Voter Engagement Inquiry

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voter engagementComing back from paternity leave this week, I was pleased find the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform’s report on Voter Engagement in the UK had been published.

I was honoured to give to be invited to give oral evidence to the committee earlier in the year.  Here are my written submissions of evidence to the committee:

I’ll blog more thoughts about the report in the coming weeks…..

UK electoral governance: a critical overview

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Toby James and A-WEB Director General Kim Jeong Gon
Toby James and A-WEB Director General Kim Jeong Gon

Last month I spoke at the prestigious Korean Civic Institute for Democracy in Seoul as part of their annual International Symposium on Civic Education.  I presented a paper which gave a critical overview of the UK’s increasingly complex system of electoral governance.

Comments on the paper are very welcome!

While in South Korea, I also had the opportunity to meet with officials from the Association of World Electoral Management Boards that was launched last year, but which already organises an impressive range of training schemes for electoral administrators worldwide.  I’m pictured on the right with the A-WEB Director General Kim Jeong Gon.

Electoral management in the Scottish independence referendum: a new blog post

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A_National_Conversation_launch (1)The Scottish independence referendum took place yesterday.  Thankfully, it seems that this was not one poling day which suffered from problems with electoral management.  I’ve written a blog post that explains more on Eastminster and the Democratic Audit.

Scotland has voted no in the referendum. National soul searching, political repercussions and significant constitutional reform may (or may not) follow, and will be the focus of attention in days, weeks, months and years to come.

But consider for a moment the story that did not break on the night of the referendum: problems with the conduct of the poll. This was because there was no story to report: it seems as if the poll was well managed and run.

This sounds unremarkable, after all, our assumption is usually that election officials should be able to conduct and run a poll without any problems. But rewind back to the 2010 general election and recall the scenes of chaos on the night as voters were ‘locked out’ of polling stations and denied their right to vote…..[continue reading on Eastminster and the Democratic Audit]

You might also be interested in Alistair Clark’s post on the Political Studies Association blog.

In defence of postal voting

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Toby James, UEAI was on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show yesterday, briefly speaking about postal voting and voter fraud, in the context of the forthcoming Scottish referendum.

Postal voting has become increasingly popular in the UK in recent years, but there have been some accusations that it allows electoral fraud:

For the next few days, you can watch the clip on the BBC IPlayer (the clip starts at 10:54), or read a blog that I wrote about this on the Democratic Audit blog, earlier in the year.

Trying to find a screen grab in which I did not look drunk or like I was trying to smooch the camera was difficult (I wasn’t trying to do either). 

Explaining why policies and political institutions change: a new article

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Government and OppositionI’ve just published a new article on why policies and political institutions change in the journal Government and Opposition.  It is a theory piece, which will largely interest for academics who teach/research theories of public policy, that proposes something called neo-statecraft theory.

You can download ‘Neo-Statecraft Theory, Historical Institutionalism and Institutional Change’ here (or ask me for a copy).  Here is the abstract:

This article provides a critical examination of the contribution that statecraft theory, which has been subject to recent revision and development, makes to the literature on institutional change. It articulates an emergent neo-statecraft approach that offers an agent-led form of historical institutionalism. This overcomes the common criticism that historical institutionalists underplay the creative role of actors. The article also argues that the approach brings back into focus the imperatives of electoral politics as a source of institutional change and provides a macro theory of change which is also commonly missing from historical institutionalist work. It can therefore identify previously unnoticed sources of stability and change, especially in states with strong executives and top-down political cultures.


New Research on assessing British party leaders during austerity

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David_Cameron_(28_January_2011)How have the British political party leaders performed during austerity? What is a fair way of assessing them? Dr. Jim Buller and I have recently edited a special issue of Parliamentary Affairs, based on a University of East Anglia workshop that addresses these questions.

The special issue includes our own article which further develops an approach for assessing political leaders and applies it to Gordon Brown

You can read more about this in a blog on Eastminster:

The Great Financial Crisis of 2007-8 created a political headache for leaders world-wide. It is considered by many economists to have been the worst since at least the Great Depression. It led to many leaders having to campaign for (re)election and govern with significant public deficits, stagnant growth and public unrest.

The headache was particularly acute for British party leaders. A banking crisis, ‘credit crunch’ and major recession followed. Gordon Brown was faced with the collapse of Northern Rock and a downturn in economic fortunes that could undermine his credentials for economic management, only months after taking office from Tony Blair in 2007. David Cameron and George Osborne, whose Conservative Party came to power in 2010 in Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, inherited a budget that many thought required tax rises, public spending cuts or both. They were also to govern during a continued period of turbulence in the international economic environment, especially within the Eurozone. Ed Miliband, elected as Labour Party Leader in September 2010, was faced with the challenge of forming an opposition to Cameron and Clegg, with his prospects for electoral victory likely to be affected by Labour’s newly tarnished reputation for economic management.

Read more here: