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?

 

Speakers
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

Chair:
Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Recommended readings
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Parliament vote through technical reforms to reconnect with the voting public.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, openDemocracy, 5 March 2010

Into the triangle of hope

Who and where are the voters who will decide the outcome of the general election?

Bagehot, Economist, 18 February 2010

Deliberative democracy gets my vote

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Helena Kennedy, Guardian Comment is free, 9 January 2010

Neuroscience can help tame the elephant

The reason policy makers might be interested in brains and behaviour is that policy has to do (but not only to do) with aggregate level effects of individual actions. So if it can be shown that brains have certain shortcomings or potentialities not previously understood, then this is useful for informing policy direction.

Matt Grist, New Humanist, November 2009

Can Politicians shape our behaviour?

Politicians are looking to social psychology and behavioural economics in order change public behaviour and achieve their policy goals.

Martin Rosenbaum, BBC News, 15 September 2009

Why Politics Matters: Making Democracy Work

Achieving mass democracy was the great triumph of the twentieth century. Learning to live with it will be the greatest achievement of the twenty-first century. A rising tide of discontent is posing a major crisis for systems of mass democracy: the evidence is clear to see in reduced turnout and party membership and in opinion surveys.

Gerry Stoker, Palgrave Macmillan, 7 July 2006

Men vote for Mars, women vote for Venus

ComRes pollster analyses the differences in voting behaviour between men and women.

Andrew Hawkins, Total Politics

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