Past events

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.

Speakers:

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.

You can sign up for your free place here.



















'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.


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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?


You can reserve your free place here


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).

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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.


Spin Alley: Debating the Leader’s Speech

The Political Quarterly are pleased to be sponsoring the Fabian Society event, Spin Alley: Debating the Leader’s Speech, on Tuesday 24 September at 19:15 – 20:30, Mercure Brighton Seafront Hotel.

Jessica Asato (PPC, Norwich North – Chair), Jackie Ashley (Columnist, The Guardian), John Denham MP, Michael Jacobs (Political Quarterly), Marcus Roberts (Deputy General Secretary, Fabian Society) will be discussing the main issue of the day.

We will be handing out free copies of the One Nation collection appearing in our next issue due out soon, with articles from Stewart Wood, Mark Wickham-Jones, John Gaffney and Amarjit Lahel and Tim Bale.




The Political Quarterly Annual Lecture

The Future of Capitalism

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.



One Nation Labour Conference: 

Queen Mary, University of London, 

Thursday 18 April 10.15 am to 5.30 pm

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


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The social market and its discontents – analysing capitalism and public policy 

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
Launch
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