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History & Policy Event

A divided democracy? Everyday politics, citizenship and social change in Britain since 1918

26 June 2018 - 15:00 pm - 18:00 pm

Small Committee Room, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

Britain is widely perceived to face serious problems of political disengagement, a lack of respect for governing institutions, and a gulf between elite and popular understandings of key political issues.

What is new here, and what has deeper roots in the past? Much contemporary commentary is based upon inaccurate or unproven historical assumptions - for example, that in previous decades citizens were more politically engaged, had clearer ideological positions, were more deferential, had greater respect for, and trust in, politicians, and received more reliable political information. 

This roundtable session, led by Professor Adrian Bingham and Dr Tom Dowling of the University of Sheffield, will outline the central findings from an AHRC-funded projected entitled ‘Everyday Politics, Ordinary Lives: Democratic Engagement in Britain, 1918-1992’. It will:

  • challenge the belief that politics is more complex and fluid than in the past
  • argue that ‘identity politics’ is not new – religious, gender, regional and generational identities have long shaped British political culture - and show that the largely class-based, two-party system of the late 1940s and 1950s, was an atypical interlude rather than the natural equilibrium from which British politics subsequently deviated
  • explain how our expectations of politics have been altered by social and cultural changes - and suggest that many current tensions are caused by the failure of political practices and institutions to keep up with these changes
  • show that what is often diagnosed as ‘apathy’ is often frustration at ordinary people’s lack of power in the political system, or a lack of confidence in using the elite, established languages of politics
  • demonstrate that if we broaden our definition of "the political", even apparently disengaged groups display interest when specific events or issues intersect with everyday life
  • question why we are perpetually disappointed with the functioning of our modern democracy – commentators have lamented the poor quality of political debate in every general election since 1918 – and suggest that we need to recalibrate our expectations of what ‘good politics’ looks like

The research draws on unpublished material from the Conservative Party and Labour Party archives, historical polling data, social science surveys, and life writing.

The session will be of interest to anyone seeking independent and historically informed perspective on our contemporary political culture, including politicians, party activists, pollsters, campaign groups and journalists.

For further information, please contact

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History & Policy

Professor Adrian Bingham, Professor of Modern British History, University of Sheffield

Dr Tom Dowling, University of Sheffield


15:00 pm - 18:00 pm

Small Committee Room, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS
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H&P is an expanding Partnership based at King's College London and the University of Cambridge, and additionally supported by the University of Bristol, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, the Open University, and the University of Sheffield.

We are the only project in the UK providing access to an international network of more than 500 historians with a broad range of expertise. H&P offers a range of resources for historians, policy makers and journalists.

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