Is politics doomed? Can and should it be defended?


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

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

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 Political Quarterly, The Department of Politics at Birkbeck and the Birkbeck Centre for the Study of Politics and Public Life.