Contending the crisis: What role for extra-parliamentary British politics?

Abstract

This article argues that the existing literature focusing on the effects of the global economic crisis on, and the subsequent change in, British politics have thus far failed to adequately consider the role of extra-parliamentary political activity. The present article partly responds to this absence by presenting the results of event data analysis covering a period from December 1978 to December 2012. The key trends observed are a cycle of contention that occurred between the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the end of 2011, in addition to a general rise in the numbers of extra-parliamentary events; a shift towards a new form of materialist politics; an initial rise in the confrontational nature of extra-parliamentary activity, followed by a move towards a more informational form; and the emergence of two new key actors within British extra-parliamentary politics – anti-cuts campaigners and radical activists. Although these trends do not appear yet to be producing corresponding policy outcomes, the article suggests that we might be witnessing signs of cultural change resulting from the rise of extra-parliamentary British political activity.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For the early 2000s, 4 months were selected for each of the following years: 2000, 2002 and 2004. For the 1990s, 3 months were selected for each of the following years: 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1998. For the 1980s, 3 months were selected for each of the following years: 1985, 1987 and 1989. For the winter of discontent, the following 2 months were selected: December 1978 and February 1979.

  2. 2.

    Although the targets were recorded for each event, these are not reported in the present article.

  3. 3.

    Nexis records only cover the period from 1985 onwards for both papers. As a result, the 1980s sample was taken from years 1985 onward. For the winter of discontent, all newspaper articles for 2 months were read, without electronic selection.

  4. 4.

    Indeed, this choice is further supported in the empirical findings, wherein we see that two of the major incidences of industrial action – the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute of 2009 and the multi-union industrial action, which took place on 30 June 2011 – were focused either directly on government decisions taken in its role as an employer, or indirectly on political statements that had been made by Gordon Brown in reference to the importance of avoiding low levels of unemployment among UK nationals.

  5. 5.

    Throughout the 1978–1979 winter of discontent the Times was not produced due to an industrial dispute. Many library archives have therefore replaced the Daily Telegraph for the Times for this period, a decision replicated in the present study.

  6. 6.

    In studying the proportion of events or actors, the problem of overcrowding of the data clearly does not apply in the same way when considering the 1978–1979 winter of discontent period, as the focus is shifted away from absolute numbers.

  7. 7.

    These were: 2008Q4–2009Q3, 2009Q1–2009Q4, 2010Q3–2011Q2, 2010Q4–2011Q3 and 2011Q1–2011Q4.

  8. 8.

    In each comparison, the final quarter of mobilisation was assumed to be 2011Q4.

  9. 9.

    Materialist actors are considered those mobilising around issues clearly related to resource allocation or who are defined in terms of their occupation. These are counted as: anti-cuts campaigners, anti-poverty campaigners, consumers, farmers, pensioners, professionals, shareholders, squatters and workers. Postmaterialist actors are considered those mobilising around lifestyle, civil liberties, ecological/environmental and other issues outside of the direct economic interest of the actors involved. These are counted as: animal rights campaigners, anti-fascists, anti-monarchists, civil liberties campaigners, countryside campaigners, cyclists, drug legalisation campaigners, environmentalists, ethnic minorities, feminists, gay rights protesters, minority nationalists, peace protesters, ramblers, revellers and voters.

  10. 10.

    I am grateful to both referees for highlighting this point.

  11. 11.

    In many instances the worker type is not reported, and thus Table 2 discusses only those cases where it is reported.

  12. 12.

    Informational actions are considered to be the following: action short of strike, banner drop, camp, censure, counter-demonstration, demonstration, drive noisily, e-campaign (informational – for example, online petitions), leafleting, open letter, peace camp, petition, stunt, vigils.

  13. 13.

    Confrontational actions are considered to be the following: blockade, damage to property, disruption, e-campaign (disruptive – for example, hacking Website), hunger strike, illegal protest, non-harmful attack, occupation, protest and escape, protest hunt, riots, violent protest, wildcat solidarity strike, wildcat strike.

  14. 14.

    Although admittedly it is something of a leap to claim that this is the result of extra-parliamentary political activity, nevertheless the considerable press reporting of such activities and arguments being made might reasonably be considered to have had some impact upon public opinion.

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Acknowledgements

Earlier drafts were presented at the ECPR SGIR Conference, Stockholm, 2010, and the ECPR General Conference, Reykjavik, 2011. The author acknowledges comments by Saori Shibata, Owen Worth, Ian Bruff, Liam Stanley, David Chandler, the anonymous reviewers, and the editorial guidance of Peter Kerr.

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Bailey, D. Contending the crisis: What role for extra-parliamentary British politics?. Br Polit 9, 68–92 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/bp.2013.26

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Keywords

  • British politics
  • extra-parliamentary politics
  • social movements
  • political participation
  • global economic crisis