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Golden age, apathy, or stealth? Democratic engagement in Britain, 1945-1950

Golden age, apathy, or stealth? Democratic engagement in Britain, 1945-1950
Golden age, apathy, or stealth? Democratic engagement in Britain, 1945-1950
This article revisits democratic engagement in post-war Britain in a context of debates about political disaffection in the current period. The study systematically re-analysed volunteer writing in the Mass Observation Archive and represents a significant methodological advance on previous studies. Little evidence was found to support common existing interpretations: whether ‘golden age’ narratives of deference to authority, partisan alignment, and high voter turnout; or revisionist accounts of apathy. Instead, evidence was found of something akin to what Hibbing and Theiss-Morse call ‘stealth democracy’. Citizens thought democracy to be important and felt a duty to vote, but wished for government by experts in the national interest. This ‘stealth’ interpretation builds on existing studies of duty, populism, and expertise in twentieth-century Britain. It helps to move discussion of democratic engagement after the Second World War beyond the binaries of self/collective and private/public, and to explain the paradox of high voter turnout in a context of hostility to party politics. It also promises to inform debates about declining political support in the current period.
britain, post-war, democracy, politics, mass observation
441-462
Moss, J.
e5478a0e-3666-4d70-84ed-dc4bba11784d
Clarke, N.
4ed65752-5210-4f9e-aeff-9188520510e8
Jennings, W.
2ab3f11c-eb7f-44c6-9ef2-3180c1a954f7
Stoker, G.
209ba619-6a65-4bc1-9235-cba0d826bfd9
Moss, J.
e5478a0e-3666-4d70-84ed-dc4bba11784d
Clarke, N.
4ed65752-5210-4f9e-aeff-9188520510e8
Jennings, W.
2ab3f11c-eb7f-44c6-9ef2-3180c1a954f7
Stoker, G.
209ba619-6a65-4bc1-9235-cba0d826bfd9

Moss, J., Clarke, N., Jennings, W. and Stoker, G. (2016) Golden age, apathy, or stealth? Democratic engagement in Britain, 1945-1950. Contemporary British History, 30 (4), 441-462. (doi:10.1080/13619462.2016.1180982).

Record type: Article

Abstract

This article revisits democratic engagement in post-war Britain in a context of debates about political disaffection in the current period. The study systematically re-analysed volunteer writing in the Mass Observation Archive and represents a significant methodological advance on previous studies. Little evidence was found to support common existing interpretations: whether ‘golden age’ narratives of deference to authority, partisan alignment, and high voter turnout; or revisionist accounts of apathy. Instead, evidence was found of something akin to what Hibbing and Theiss-Morse call ‘stealth democracy’. Citizens thought democracy to be important and felt a duty to vote, but wished for government by experts in the national interest. This ‘stealth’ interpretation builds on existing studies of duty, populism, and expertise in twentieth-century Britain. It helps to move discussion of democratic engagement after the Second World War beyond the binaries of self/collective and private/public, and to explain the paradox of high voter turnout in a context of hostility to party politics. It also promises to inform debates about declining political support in the current period.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 27 March 2016
e-pub ahead of print date: 13 June 2016
Published date: December 2016
Keywords: britain, post-war, democracy, politics, mass observation
Organisations: Politics & International Relations, Geography & Environment

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 390554
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/390554
PURE UUID: b49e09d8-1435-45c1-be16-d101890f90e5
ORCID for N. Clarke: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-9148-9849
ORCID for W. Jennings: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-9007-8896

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 04 Apr 2016 13:28
Last modified: 03 Dec 2019 06:46

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