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Democracy, change and the public

This book offers unprecedented insight into public views of parties in the UK. Using a mixed-method approach, it explores perceptions of party representation, participation, governance and conduct. Asking what citizens want from parties the book presents new data that shows many people have unrealized desires for parties, and that there are important nuances in how parties are viewed. Introducing the idea of the re-imagined party, the book argues that far from rejecting the idea of party democracy, many people want to see established principles updated to reflect modern ideas. Specifically, people want to see parties that are more open and inclusive, responsive and responsive, and that offer principled leadership. This book offers a vital resource for students and practitioners of party politics. Distilling citizens’ views and considering options for possible response, it outlines the kind of change that many people would like to see and discusses barriers to re-imagining parties in line with citizens’ ideals.

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Katharine Dommett

Chapter 5 turns to consider party conduct. Reviewing existing theories of party conduct it presents evidence that people have specific desires for how they would like parties to behave that cluster around 7 principles. Evident with remarkable uniformity in the data gathered for this book, there is a desire for parties that are transparent, communicative, reliable, principled, inclusive, accessible and that act with integrity. However, when looking at how parties are currently viewed, it appears that these ideals are often not manifest in the way parties are seen to conduct themselves. Once again, therefore, there appear to be significant differences between citizens’ ideals and perceptions of parties.

in The reimagined party
Katharine Dommett

Chapter 2 is the first of three chapters that explore citizens’ perceptions of democratic linkage and begins by interrogating citizens’ views and desires for representation. Exploring three aspects of representation: parties’ style of representation; their representative source; and, their degree of responsiveness, this chapter shows a gulf between citizens’ perceptions and ideals. Rather than indicating a desire for a move away from traditional partisan principles of representation, it instead appears that citizens want parties to represent a more expansive range of ideas and views.

in The reimagined party
Abstract only
Katharine Dommett

The final chapter concludes the book by revisiting the idea of the re-imagined party and exploring what this idea means for parties in the UK and around the world. Extending existing analysis, it considers the insights these findings offer for specific parties, considering how the Conservative Party, Labour Party and UKIP measure up against these ideas. Equipped with these insights the chapter then explores the different ways in which parties may want to respond to this data. Three types of response are identified and discussed, outlining the potential for parties to wish to reform, re-educate or recalibrate citizens’ desires. Reviewing these options, this chapter discusses the implications and limitations of this work.

in The reimagined party
Katharine Dommett

Chapter 6 explores the evidence presented in the previous four chapters. Although these chapters can offer valuable insights when read in isolation, in this chapter it is argued that they also reveal cumulative insights about what citizens want. Reviewing quantitative and qualitative data, the idea that parties are seen in uniformly negative terms is challenged, instead variations in the demand for, and desired form of, change is highlighted. Using this data, it is argued that there are certain areas where there is a greater incentive for parties to respond to citizens’ views. Highlighting these areas patterns within this data are distilled to show the presence of certain recurring principles and ideals. Identify three clusters of ideas that relate to unrealised desires, a wish for parties that are more open and inclusive, more responsive and responsible, and that offer principled leadership is diagnosed. These principles are of interest because, far from challenging the tenets of party democracy, they instead suggest a desire to re-imagine well-established principles. Offering this diagnosis, the chapter closes by reflecting on the challenges that any party seeking to respond to public opinion faces.

in The reimagined party
Katharine Dommett

Chapter 3 turns to examine a second aspect of citizens’ relationship with parties by exploring perceptions of participation. The chapter reviews citizens’ perceptions of participatory opportunities, requirements, rights and medium to argue that whilst there is a desire amongst citizens for more opportunities for participation, there is little desire to personally engage. This suggests that reforms are unlikely to improve public engagement, but that there are still areas in which participatory opportunities are currently seen to be out of kilter with public ideals. Specifically, it is argued that many citizens ideally want engagement opportunities where they can discern clear impact, and are attracted to the idea of ‘multi-speed’ parties where they can get involved with different levels of commitment and using different mediums.

in The reimagined party
Abstract only
Katharine Dommett

The introduction opens by highlighting competing evidence around how political parties are viewed. Noting evidence of decline and ongoing support, the chapter asks how citizens view parties and what it is that people desire from these organisations. Introducing the idea of the re-imagined party, the Introduction reveals citizens’ desire for a wide-ranging change in party politics that calls for open and inclusive parties, that listen to different views, but which also advance principled visions of the national interest. Reviewing the tenets of party democracy and reflecting on the nature of public opinion, this chapter outlines the methods and focus of the book and presents the structure of subsequent chapters.

in The reimagined party
Katharine Dommett

Chapter 4 considers a final aspect of democratic linkage, concentrating on perceptions of parties’ connection to the state. The chapter specifically explores views of governing performance, timeframes and motivations and finds that governing performance is a vital dimension of how political parties are evaluated. Unpicking what citizens’ desire, I argue that there is a wish for parties that are reliable, trustworthy and that deliver their promises, take advice and act to promote the national interest. At present, however, parties are seen to be self-interested, electorally focused, unreliable organisations that focus on short-term demands rather than long-term interests. This suggests, once again, a gap between ideals and current practice. However, it does not indicate a desire for parties to become more technocratic, administrative organisations akin to businesses, but rather suggests a wish for parties to re-balance responsible and responsive governing imperatives.

in The reimagined party
Katharine Dommett

Chapter 1 reviews existing evidence on public attitudes towards parties in the UK and beyond to understand what we know about the public’s views of parties. Presenting data from cross-national and UK based surveys, it demonstrates that, far from being seen as uniformly negative, there are important nuances in people’s views. Seeking to gain greater insight into what citizens want from parties, it is argued that there is a need to look at current perceptions and desires. Outlining this approach, two facets of party organisation are identified for analysis. The first is connected to the idea of democratic linkage, whilst the second focuses on party conduct. Introducing these ideas, this chapter sets out an agenda for the remainder of the book, outlining the value of inquiry that explores citizens’ desires for and perceptions of parties today.

in The reimagined party
Katharine Dommett

Boris Johnson has deftly used a combination of intellect, scandal and wit to boost his own status and normalise his views. In so doing his exhibitionist, outsider persona has greatly advanced the Conservative’s electoral cause, at once attracting a clutch of new supporters and energising the grassroots. In this chapter it is argued that oratory is integral to Boris’ success – but also marks his limitations. The blend of humour (pathos) and logic (logos) deployed often at the expense of his own character has helped to create a unique personal appeal which attracts broad support and disarms opponents. In addition his use of physical theatre and his willingness to attract controversy have rendered him formidable when addressing public and party audiences. However, Johnson’s oratory suffered from key limitations in Parliament, and as Mayor of London his performances in the London Assembly are perceived to be unreliable and lack credibility. Accordingly whilst invaluable for raising the status and appeal of Conservative ideas Boris Johnson holds an ambiguous position within the party – deemed both saviour and liability – a status reinforced by his oratorical style.

in Conservative orators from Baldwin to Cameron