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Towns, Cities and the Tilting of Britain's Political Axis

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  • User Will Jennings, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton
  • ClockTuesday 20 February 2018, 12:00-14:00
  • HouseFaculty of English, Room GR-06/07.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lucy Theobald.

A new cleavage is emerging that is fundamentally changing politics in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The divide is between citizens residing in locations strongly connected to global growth and those who are not. In geographical terms, it is between those from big cities – the densely populated urban centres of the emerging knowledge and creative economy – and those who live beyond that world in suburban communities, post-industrial towns, and coastal areas. Populations of the former tend to be young (and getting younger), better educated, more diverse (and increasingly so), more likely to work in professional-creative ‘cosmopolitan’ occupations (such as finance, science, public administration, education, health, arts and recreation), and less likely to own their home. They are also more socially liberal, pluralistic in their identity and relaxed about social change (in particular immigration). In contrast the populations of smaller towns and rural settings are more prone to nostalgia, uneasy about immigration and tend to be more authoritarian and socially conservative in their views. These dynamics impacted on the result of the EU referendum in June 2016, and the 2017 general election as well. Contrary to some claims, there has not been a ‘Brexit realignment’ of British politics, but rather a longer-term tilting of the political axis that is manifested in the geographic polarisation of voting behaviour and which stems from trends in economic development, education, and social values. This talk will explore how trajectories of social and economic decline of different places shaped the result of both the referendum and the general election, and what the implications are for public policy after Brexit.

Will Jennings is Professor of Political Science at Public Policy at the University of Southampton and Co-Founder of the recently launched think tank The Centre for Towns. His research explores questions relating to public policy and political behaviour, specifically in relation to agenda-setting, public opinion, elections, democratic innovations, political geography, policy disasters, and anti-politics. He was a member of the independent inquiry instigated by the British Polling Council and Market Research Society to investigate the performance of the pre-election polls at the 2015 general election. He is co-author of Policy Agendas in British Politics (Palgrave, 2013), The Politics of Competence: Parties, Public Opinion and Voters (Cambridge University Press, 2017) and The Good Politician: Folk Theories, Political Interaction and the Rise of Anti-Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

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