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Exploring the future of British Party Politics

Professor Tim Bale from Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations has presented a keynote speech at the Wonkhe conference on 16 May 2019, The Rule of Engagement: Building political trust and confidence in universities, where he explored possible outcomes for UK political parties in the future.

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Tim Bale
Tim Bale

British politics is facing a turbulent time and the political system as we know it is changing rapidly. As politics appears to be swinging more towards populism, universities must proactively engage with government to make their case.

The one day conference, organised by Wonkhe, the home of higher education policy, brought together several stakeholders including policymakers and sector leaders to discuss how trust can be built between governments and universities. It aimed to provide a rounded picture of the state of higher education policy and politics in 2019.

Professor Tim Bale discussed what is beginning to look like the implosion of the British party system in the wake of the 2016 Referendum and the government’s failure so far to extract the UK from the EU.

Professor Bale said: “Remain vs Leave, and the values associated with each side of that divide, seems to be becoming as crucial as – if not more crucial than – class as a fundamental driver of British voters’ political preferences.  That spells trouble for both main parties: unless they adapt very quickly they’ll see support bleeding away big-time to their more agile rivals. If that does happen then we have a real problem on our hands, long-term: our first-past-the-post electoral system won’t give those rivals a fair share of the seats in parliament, and that could lead to even more of a disconnect between what voters really want and what they actually get at Westminster.”

Building on previous research

Professor Bale is one of the UK’s leading experts on British political parties. His ESRC-funded Party Members Project, which is a collaboration between Queen Mary University of London and The University of Sussex has consistently shed new light on the state of party politics in the UK. Professor Bale is also Director of Queen Mary’s Mile End Institute, whose polling on London voters, designed with his Queen Mary colleague Professor Philip Cowley, has featured in the media this week – not least because it shows that voters in the capital, like voters in the rest of the country, seem to have fallen badly out of love with both Labour and the Tories.

About Wonkhe

Wonkhe brings the higher education sector together through expert and trusted analysis of policy. As a community of diverse voices, it provides platforms to drive the policy conversation forward and advocates for real change.

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