The Political Quarterly Annual Lecture 2020

After Windrush, can the Home Office be Fixed?

2 November 2020 with 

Amelia Gentleman and David Lammy.

You can see the event here.


Polly Toynbee Annual PQ Lecture: 4 December at 6.15pm, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London

The Lost Decade

In the welter of immediate events, it's easy to forget just how tumultuous the past ten years have been.

The decade has been characterised by ideology and ineptitude, dogma and disarray, austerity, social dislocation, the breakup of the UK, and national loss of confidence.

There have been huge failures of policy design and delivery: in the NHS in England, in the assault on accountability in English schools, the dismantling of criminal justice and the cynical targeting of local government spending.

And then came Brexit, a Tory party psychodrama that became national history.

But austerity, like Brexit, was also willed – or at least approved – by large numbers of citizens. While Labour failed to prevent a series of unfolding disasters, the story of the past decade must also be about people: their apparent rejection of much of what Labour accomplished in the previous decade, their dislike of adequate taxation, their deference to Toryism, their willed ignorance and intolerance of complexity.

There will be free wine and nibbles after the lecture. Please note: this is a free event, which means we have to overbook to allow for no-shows and to avoid empty seats. While we generally do not have to turn people away, this does mean we cannot guarantee everyone a place. Admission is on a first come, first served basis.

You can find tickets here.

Rethinking Democracy: Is our Democracy Fit for Purpose? 14 May 2019

Democratic politics is once again under attack – this time from populist nationalists, authoritarian rulers and new forms of political communication.

It was not meant to be like this. Join us for the launch of Rethinking Democracy, an important new collection of essays edited by Andrew Gamble and Tony Wright, in which leading academics explores the problems of democracy and suggests ways it might now be extended and deepened.

In this event, hosted by the Political Quarterly and the Constitution Unit, Andrew Gamble will discuss his views about what needs to change if British democracy is to continue, Joni Lovenduski will explain how British representative democracy fails women and why it will continue to do so, Tony Wright will explore ways to save democracy, and Albert Weale will explore the nature and significance of different kinds of democratic majorities. Meg Russell (the Constitution Unit) will chair the event.

Copies of the book will be on sale at a special discounted price.

Please note: this is a free event, which means we overbook to allow for no-shows and to avoid empty seats. While we generally do not have to turn people away, this does mean we cannot guarantee everyone a place. Admission is on a first come, first served basis.

The event takes place on 14 May 2019 6.00 pm to 7.30 pm at the Constitution Unit, UCL 29-30 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9QU.

Register here.

The PQ Annual Lecture by David Runciman 5 December 2017

Nobody Knows Anything: Why is Politics so Surprising?

The Political Quarterly Annual Lecture by David Runciman
5 December 2017, with comment from Ed Miliband MP and chaired by Polly Toynbee.

The 2017 General Election was the latest in a series of events that took pollsters, pundits, prediction markets and politicians by surprise. At a point when digital technology is supplying more information than ever before, politics is becoming more unpredictable.

How are these phenomena related? Why have the voters become so hard to read? And is the volatility of electoral politics a sign that democracy is still working or is it an indication of the trouble democracy is in?

We are delighted that David Runciman will be giving the annual Political Quarterly lecture on 5 December 2017. You can register for free here.

“Who Owns A Company?” 
The Political Quarterly Annual Lecture given by Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England will be held Monday 5 December 2016, 6.00 - 8.00 pm at the Institute for Government, 2 Carlton Gardens,London, SW1Y 5AA. You can sign up here.

Who owns a company? This might seem like a simple question with a simple answer. At least for publicly listed companies, its owners are its shareholders. It is they who claim the profits of the company, who exercise control rights over the management of the company and they whose objectives have primacy in the running of the company. Yet despite its durability and success, this corporate model has not gone unquestioned.

In recent years there has been a rising tide of criticism of companies’ behaviour, from excessive executive remuneration, to unethical practices, to monopoly or oligopoly powers, to short-termism. This lecture will explore different governance and incentive structures and discuss the various micro-economic frictions and their macro-economic impact.

Andrew G Haldane is the Chief Economist at the Bank of England. He is also Executive Director, Monetary Analysis, Research and Statistics. He is a member of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee. He also has responsibility for research and statistics across the Bank. Andrew has an Honorary Doctorate from the Open University, is Honorary Professor at University of Nottingham, a Visiting Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, a member of Economic Council of Royal Economic Society, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and Member of Research and Policy Committee at the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA). He is Chairman and co-founder of ‘Pro Bono Economics’, a charity which brokers economists into charitable projects. Andrew has written extensively on domestic and international monetary and financial policy issues and has published over 150 articles and four books. In 2014, TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

'Democracy in Britain: Retrospect and Prospect' by Tony Wright

The Political Quarterly was delighted to host former editor Tony Wright for the Political Quarterly lecture entitled 'Democracy in Britain: Retrospect and Prospect' on Wednesday 12 October, at the Institute for Government. You can see the the video of his discussions with Jean Seaton here.

"RETHINKING CAPITALISM" Mariana Mazzucato and Michael Jacobs in conversation with Will Hutton. EVENT 22 September 2016, The Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD. Book your free place here.

The Political Quarterly is pleased to announce the launch of the new PQ book Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, edited by Michael Jacobs and Mariana Mazzucato. The book brings together leading economists to challenge orthodox ideas about economic theory and policy, and to propose new approaches to achieving a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Read more...

Subscribers to the Political Quarterly will receive a copy as part of their subscription. For others the book is available at a 20% discount from the publishers Wiley Blackwell.

'Called to Account' Weds 22 March, 6.30-8pm, Keynes Library, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square.
You can hear the podcast of Tony Wright in Discussion with Lucy Barnes and Philip Collins here.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances at Westminster, Margaret Hodge was unable to attend.
In Called to Account, Margaret Hodge reviews her experiences as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee until 2015. She has particularly sharp things to say about tax avoidance by multinational corporations, and about the civil servants who are meant to ensure that taxes are paid by the high and mighty as well as the low and ordinary. In this event she will debate her assessments with Philip Collins of the Times and UCL’s Lucy Barnes, with Tony Wright in the chair. Is it possible to get corporations to pay more tax, or are current practices the inevitable result of Britain’s ‘bargain basement’ approach to competition with other countries for investment and jobs? And are Hodge’s criticisms of senior civil servants fair, given that they may not be supported in taking a tougher line by their political masters?
Chair: Tony Wright was an MP from 1992 to 2010, and played a leading role in the ‘Wright reforms’ to Parliamentary select committees. He is currently a visiting professor at UCL and Birkbeck.
Margaret Hodge has been MP for Barking since 1994 and was Chair of the Public Accounts Committee from 2010 to 2015.Lucy Barnes is a lecturer in comparative politics at UCL, specialising in the politics of taxation.Philip Collins is a columnist and chief leader writer for The Times, and chair of the board of trustees at the independent think tank Demos.
This event is jointly organised by the Political Quarterly and the Centre for British Politics and Public Life at Birkbeck.

"Citizens, customers, politicians, professionals and money men" - The Political Quarterly Annual Lecture given by Colin Crouch on 19 January 2016 at the Institute for Government.

Two disturbing stories in late 2015 - the Volkswagen emissions testing scandal and the news that some NHS trusts had been giving general practitioners financial incentives not to send patients to hospitals for tests - seemed to come from quite different parts of the human capacity for wickedness. But both are products of the same neoliberal insistence that financial knowledge should trump all other kinds. When there is a conflict between the dictates of financial data and those produced by their substantive professional responsibilities, what should the technician who works for a profit-maximizing firm, or for a public service organization required to meet targets that are their analogue of profit, do? And how should we the public deal with the flood of data produced in such a context? We usually do not understand the science that lies behind these numbers, but that is not a problem if we can trust the experts who produce the data. But can we, when strong incentives displace their professional judgement?

Making Capitalism Fit for Society
Medical Sciences Building, University College London UCL, Thursday 30 January, 2014, 5.30 pm. You can register here.

The Political Quarterly, in conjunction with the department of Politics at UCL and The Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life at Birkbeck are hosting a public debate about Colin Crouch's new book Making Capitalism Fit for Society on 30 January 2014 at 5.30 pm in Bloomsbury.

In his book, Colin offers ways of challenging neo-liberalism. He argues that accepting capitalism need not mean we have to accept the full neo-liberal agenda of unfettered markets and absent social provision. He offers instead a vision of a more assertive social democracy with a range of policy options. The book builds on the ideas that Colin has been developing and advocating since his Post Democracy (2004). It has attracted considerable attention in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia where its proposals are being debated across the political left. We think that the debate should be brought to the UK.

Panellists are: David Coen (UCL), Helen Thompson (Cambridge), Andrew Gamble (Cambridge), Virginie Guiraudon (Sciences Po) and chair Tony Wright (Birkbeck and UCL).


12 February 2014. You can view the videos of the event here

Recent Italian Politics in Historical Perspective

We were delighted that Paul Ginsborg took the Political Quarterly annual lecture on Tuesday 25 November 2014, 6.00 - 8.00 pm at the Institute for Government. The lecture, entitled 'Recent Italian politics in historical perspective' can be viewed here.

By whatever measuring rod one cares to adopt – economic, political, cultural – the Italian Republic has undoubtedly been in increasing difficulty since the early 1990s. The long dominion of Silvio Berlusconi in Italian politics has been only one, albeit highly significant, expression of a general decline, which has been accelerated by the global crisis from 2008 onwards. Faced with this situation, many distinguished commentators, both internal and external, have expressed doom-laden sentiments about Italy’s destiny. It is difficult to disagree with much of what they say, but I would like to urge caution. The Italian Republic – references to a second or third Republic seem to me to be rather spurious – has shown a remarkable capacity to survive. To explain why this is so, I intend to adopt a predominantly historical perspective, concentrating on three areas of enquiry: Italy’s cultural specificity as a Catholic and Mediterranean country; the perennial role of strong families acting as buffers against crises of varying dimensions; and the long-term European performance of Italy in relation to what Edward Thompson once called ‘the great arch of bourgeois revolution’. The picture that emerges is neither comforting nor cataclysmic.







4 June, 6.30 - 8.00 pm New Theatre, East Building, LSE

The Political Quarterly annual lecture given by John Kay was held on 4 June 2013 at LSE. 

The crisis of 2007-8 was a major setback for supporters of a neoliberal economic philosophy: yet in its aftermath neither the political left nor the political right have been able to offer a coherent account of the strengths and limitations of a market economy.

This lecture filled that gap. If you missed the lecture or would like to hear it again, you can find the podcast here.




A one day conference organised by the PSA Labour Movements group and Labour’s Policy Review, Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Bristol

Ed Miliband's 'One Nation Labour' speech to the party's 2012 annual conference began the process of reframing politics in the UK. Since then, the party has taken up the theme in promoting its policies and projecting its image, as well as in developing its electoral strategy and its narrative about the country.

This one day conference brings together academics, policymakers and senior politicians to debate the ideas and explore the policy content and emerging political orientation behind the concept of One Nation Labour. Among the themes to be addressed are: the implications for Englishness and the Union, the project's relationship to Conservatism and to the Labour Party's past, and the practical implications of a One Nation approach for Labour politics.

Speakers include Jon Cruddas MP, Stewart Wood (House of Lords), Kate Green MP, Maurice Glasman (House of Lords), Philip Blond (ResPublica), Liz Kendall, MP and Duncan O'Leary (Demos). Academic experts include Claire Annesley (Manchester), Mike Kenny (QM), Tim Bale (QM), and Mark Wickham-Jones (Bristol). For more details and how to register, click here.

Conference supported by Labourlist, The Political Quarterly and Demos



Monday 15 April, 6 - 8 pm at the Institute for Government.

In this Political Quarterly debate, Ian Mulheirn and Michael Jacobs will discuss whether or not the social market offers the right framework for addressing the big public policy challenges of the day. 

Social market theorists argue that public policy should promote the use of market mechanisms, as the most effective means of allocating resources both in the private sector and in many public services.  They argue that neither free-market fundamentalism nor statist approaches offer a role for government that will result in either socially acceptable or economically efficient outcomes from the market economy.   

But critics argue that the huge number of problems generated by economies today - from the financial crisis to environmental degradation, from growing inequality to the concentration of corporate power - requires a more systemic government role in shaping and constraining market forces.  Who is right?  

You can read Ian Mulheirn's article here and Michael Jacobs' article here.

Ian Mulheirn is Director of the Social Market Foundation. Michael Jacobs is Visiting Professor in the School of Public Policy at University College London and Co-Editor of The Political Quarterly. Chair Polly Toynbee is columnist for the Guardian.

You can register here.

Why are politicians so hated? What can be done about it? Is politics doomed? Can and should it be defended?

Why are politicians hated panel
These were the questions that we put to politicians, political journalists and academics as we marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Bernard Crick's In Defence of Politics and the 40th Anniversary of the Department of Politics Birkbeck. Crick's book is, as its title suggests, an extended essay about the indispensibility of politics in democratic settings. Fifty years later the argument is as important as ever, perhaps more so as evidence mounts that the public are ever more indifferent or even hostile to politicians and political institutions are increasingly disengaged from political life. Two panels addressed the questions and made the related cases for politics and politicians, followed by audience discussion and debate.

Summarising brutally, the speakers argued that the essential ingredients of representative democracy are able and trustworthy politicians and citizens who are informed and willing to trust and respect them. This central relationship has been under threat from some sections of the press, the political parties, current campaigning practices, focus group policy making, lack of public knowledge about what politicians actually do and can do and, finally, the more general absence of informed discussion of public issues in which politicians and public take part. Trust in politicians might improve if politicians were honest about their beliefs and presented realistic policy options. Yet while recognising the many problems with our politics in the present, the speakers were at one in defending the importance of politics. Moreover, that fact that more people today express a greater interest in politics than at any other time gives grounds for hoping for a positive reconstruction of the relationship between citizens and politicians.

The panellists were:

PANEL 1 –Is Politics doomed?
Chair: Professor Deborah Mabbett (Birkbeck)
Panel:   Dr Jason Edwards (Birkbeck) 
Professor Tony Wright (Birkbeck and UCL) 
Professor Gerry Stoker (University of Southampton) 
Professor Michael Kenny (Queen Mary, University of London)

PANEL 2– Why are politicians so hated and what can be done about it?
Chair: Professor Tony Wright (Birkbeck and UCL)
Panel: Frank Dobson MP (Member of Parliament for Holborn and St. Pancras) 
Helen Goodman MP (Member of Parliament for Bishop Auckland and Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport)
Tulip Siddiq (Councillor, Camden Council)
Ben Wright (BBC).

The event was jointly organised and sponsored by sponsored by Political Quarterly, The Department of Politics at Birkbeck and the Birkbeck Centre for the Study of Politics and Public Life.

Retrieving the Big Society
Tuesday 16 October 6.00 - 8.00 pm

The launch of the latest PQ book edited by Jason Edwards 
Institute for Government 

The ‘Big Society’ has become a central term in British political debate. The idea has provoked bafflement in some quarters and cynicism in others. The contributors to this book are united in thinking that the Big Society is more than bombast or window dressing for the Coalition’s deficit reduction programme. Its prominence at the heart of government marks an important shift in political attitudes in Britain to the relationship between the state and society. Yet the precise substance of the idea and its impact on policy remain unclear. The purpose of this volume is to provide some clarity on these counts and to provide a critical analysis of the significance of and prospects for the Big Society.

The contributors to the book are, for the most part, sceptical about Big Society thinking and its chances of enduring political success. Yet this does not mean that an examination of the idea has no value. Despite widespread cynicism about politics and politicians, discussions of high ideas still have an important role in public affairs.

Only the most churlish critic of the Big Society would claim that is has had no impact in promoting public debate on important issues about how we govern ourselves.

Whatever we might think about the prospects for the Big Society as a political project, it has contributed to an important shift in the language of politics in an age when new political solutions to some old-looking problems are desperately required.

Clearly, the retrieval of a golden-age of local community and civic activism is an unrealisable fantasy. But the retrieval of ideas about how we might best govern ourselves democratically, without subjection to the dictates of either the market or the state, remains an immensely valuable project towards which this book hopes to make a small contribution.

The Future of Social Democracy

Friday 8 June at Birmingham University saw the fourth in the series of PQ-sponsored events with Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson entitled The Future of Social Democracy. Previous panel debates were at the House of Lords, Liverpool University and Hull University. Panellists included John Denham, MP, Helen Goodman, MP (in photo), David Walker, Guardian, Matt Beech, Hull, Simon Lee, Hull, Louise Ellman, MP, Stephen Twigg, MP, Peter Kilfoyle, Liverpool. 
Read Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson's article here 

Feminising Politics

On Friday 4 November 2011 a group of activists, journalists, experts and politicians participated in our Feminising Politics workshop. The purpose of the day was to discuss and analyse the disappointing progress of women into positions of political power in the UK. The event was jointly sponsored by the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life at Birkbeck and by the Political Quarterly and papers from the workshop will appear in issue 83 4 (Autumn 2012)

The discussion was impassioned and lively. Speakers were either politicians or professional observers of political life; all shared a commitment to women’s political representation and a concern that advances that have been made (although far from complete) might be slipping into reverse. The first half of the day was spent setting out the current state of gender inequality in British political life. We heard about the systematic under-representation of women in the key decision-making networks in the coalition government, the barriers to women’s selection as Parliamentary candidates and the structural problems faced by people with any kind of caring responsibilities when trying to combine doing politics and family life. The lack of diversity among the political class was a key concern with financial and time burdens restricting access alongside a party culture which favours younger politicians who have considerable experience working for their party or within Westminster but little experience of other kinds. A consensus was agreed that the ‘merit’ argument so often put forward against equality guarantees was a smokescreen for vested interests. Given that women make up 52% of the population the group agreed that finding 300 or so talented women to make up 50% percent (rather than 22%) of parliamentarians should not be too challenging. In the afternoon the direction of the debate moved to advance constitutional gender quotas - with a sunset clause - that would force parties to tackle head on the injustice of women’s exclusion from critical political decision-making by legally requiring them to ensure that no less than forty percent of their MPs be drawn from either sex. The group also argued in support of a number of other measures that, in combination with quotas above the level of party, may feminise British politics. These were:

  • The establishment of an equalities select committee in the House of Commons
  • A limit on the number of executive directorships individuals can hold
  • A limit on the number of public body appointments an individual can hold
  • Pay for all local councillors
  • Reconstitution of the Women’s National Commission – or equivalent
  • Reconvening the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation convened on 12 November 2008 to consider the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large
  • Legislation to require equality of outcomes in selection/appointment of women, to include effective sanctions
  • Draft legislation or rules of public broadcasting to require media/public broadcasting to gender balance political images etc. during elections and more.
  • House of Lords reforms should include requirement of gender parity
  • Modernisation of sitting hours
  • A debate about the possibility of offering job shares for MPs