They know what we're thinking?
Changing attitudes to the electorate

Saturday 20 March, 1.45pm until 3.00pm, The Great Hall

Gordon Brown’s bid for re-election has included the launch of a ‘new politics’, embracing: an Alternative Vote system; new e-petitions to allow the public to suggest topics for MPs to debate and devolving control of public services to local people.  This is part of a package aimed at restoring public trust in Westminster. Indeed all mainstream parties support initiatives to connect with our concerns and win our votes. While flattering us as active political subjects, though, they increasingly view us as more like objects: cross-party enthusiasm for behavioural science means our brains and psychology are studied with anthropological zeal. George Osborne enthuses about new scientific disciplines that allow politicians to ‘to develop a new approach to policymaking, based on empirical evidence about how people really behave’. But should the public be flattered by such close scrutiny of our behaviour?  Is there a danger of viewing the ‘public’ as lab rats in need of nudging to entice us to make the right choices, incentivised to engage more pro-socially and vote for the right parties?  Isn’t this view of the public patronising or manipulative? Or is such scepticism old-fashioned? Do we need to refresh our views of how to engage the majority in decision-making beyond ideological choices?  How can we best restore the electorate to their rightful place as subjects and masters of their democratically elected representatives?  Whither the demos?


Gerry Stoker
professor, Politics and Governance, University of Southampton; director, Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance; author, Why Politics Matters: making democracy work

Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays

Richard Wilson
founder and director, Izwe; founder, leading public engagement think-tank, Involve

Matt Grist
director, RSA's Social Brain project; author, Changing the Subject - how new ways of thinking about human behaviour might change politics, policy and practice

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
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