Title: Party leadership in Western Europe: Strictly Personal?
Convenors: Duncan McDonnell (Turin) and James Newell (Salford)
The Italian Politics Specialist Group and the French Politics and Policy Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association envisage sponsoring a workshop on the above topic at the Association’s annual conference to be held in Edinburgh in March/April 2010.
For several years there has in most western European democracies been a growing ‘personalization’ of political leadership as a result of well-known processes of change having to do with
- the role of the mass media in rendering the lives of the individuals who walk on the public stage ‘much more visible than they ever were in the past’ (Thompson, 2000: 6) and allowing politicians to present themselves not just as leaders, but as ‘one of us’;
- the switch from ‘party-’ to ‘candidate-centred’ campaigning – declining ideological conflict having shifted attention from position to valence issues and thus to candidates’ competence; television and other electronic media, by allowing candidates to appeal directly to voters, having diminished the requirement for good party organisation and thus the attention to party itself in campaigns;
- the role of declining ideological conflict in shifting the political battleground to the terrain of morality – with parties increasingly attempting to compete by fomenting scandal – and thus a growing focus on matters of personal integrity.
- the rise of ‘personal parties’ (Calise, 2000), founded (or re-launched) and led by individuals, with political communication strategies being almost entirely focussed on these leaders.
But while the causes and concomitants of personal leadership have been much explored, much less attention has been paid to its possible effects in terms of the significance of individual leaders. Consequently, fundamental questions remain unanswered – not least the question of whether the heightened focus – in political competition – on leaders and their personal qualities has been accompanied by any growth in their actual power. This raises a range of closely related questions, such as: If their power has increased, to what extent, in seeking to understand political processes and processes of political change, must we now pay greater attention than we once did to matters of political agency as compared to matters of structure? What are the factors that account for the emergence and growth of unusually powerful party leaders? That is, what are the factors that obstruct and enhance their efforts to act as significant agents of change?
We invite papers exploring, from a single-country or a cross-national perspective, any of these themes. We are especially interested in studies of personal party leadership which could shed light on the Italian experience and the extent to which the role of an unusually powerful leader like Silvio Berlusconi represents a uniquely Italian phenomenon as opposed to being merely a rather extreme example of a more widespread, cross-national phenomenon. However, papers that explore the foregoing themes by drawing on alternative comparisons in Western Europe are equally welcome.
For more information, please visit the conference website at: http://www.psa.ac.uk/2010/
Title: Morality, political scandals and the detachment of citizens from the political process
Convenors: Daniele Albertazzi (Birmingham), James Newell (Salford) and Umut Korkut (University College, Dublin)
Since the early 1990s in many democracies there have been growing levels of public concer n – fuelled partly by high-profile scandals – about the standards of conduct of public office-holders. This is no better exemplified than by the scandal surrounding MPs’ expenses in the UK, the recent allegations concerning the conduct of Silvio Berlusconi in the area of personal morality in Italy or the mayhem in Budapest in 2006 after the leaking of a secret speech by Gyurcsány delivered to his party delegates. Of course, these affairs are very different in many respects and timing. What they have in common is that they have ultimately been driven by the perception that the alleged wrong-doing has cheapened the democratic process, resulting in more or less significant losses of authority for the political actors involved. Against this background, important for an understanding of contemporary democratic processes and their quality is knowledge of the role of political scandals and public concerns about probity in the growth of anti-political sentiments, declining turnouts and other manifestations of citizens’ detachment from the political process. Comparisons in particular between Eastern and Western Europe would seem to have much to offer: while they have shown the aforementioned signs of citizens’ detachment, scandals and public concerns seem to play different roles in each case: for example, though the issues at stake in the British MPs’ expenses row and Berlusconi scandals have had much in common, their consequences in terms of voting behaviour and parties’ electoral fortunes have so far been rather different. And in Hungary, a leaked speech can even raise doubts about the legitimacy of an elected government.
We invite offers of papers that draw on East and West European cases or both to explore any aspect of the relationship between citizens’ political engagement on the one hand, and scandals and concerns about probity, on the other – bearing in mind that the relationship between the two almost certainly goes in both directions and is very likely to be reciprocal. Papers might have a very specific focus, such as this or that election outcome, or they might be much broader, ‘think pieces’. What is important is that they should point to at least some conclusions generally relevant for our main variables of concern.