Free event: After the Party? The future of and beyond the mass party

In collaboration with OurKingdom, the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life at Birkbeck are hosting a free debate on April 24 about the future of mass party politics - is radical reform needed, or will we move beyond parties completely?

OurKingdom Ourkingdom
15 April 2014


April 24 2014, 18:15 - 20:00

Room 101, 30 Russell Square

To book, see bottom


Liam Barrington Bush (More Like People)

Nick Anstead (LSE)

Barbara Zollner (Birkbeck)

Jason Edwards (Birkbeck)

Neal Lawson (Compass)


James Dennis (Royal Holloway and Bedford)


It can be argued that widespread disillusionment with party politics across the world clouds the fact that the political party as it has developed over the last two hundred years – as a mass membership association with professional political leadership and an administrative hierarchy separated in organization and activity from ordinary party members and publics more broadly – remains the only vehicle for the expression of democratic voice in the conduct of political, social, and economic governance. In other words, we have no extant alternatives to the party as the main agency of political socialization and representation in contemporary democracies. Thus the enterprise of thinking what may replace the party in a democratic political order is hampered by any obvious examples of successful experiments in non-party democratic politics.

In more recent years, however, various political movements have appeared that have mobilized mass support and have, in some instances, been highly successful in prompting political change or at least in altering political consciousness. These movements – such as Democracia Real YA! in Spain, SYRIZA in Greece, the Five Star movement in Italy, and Kefaya in Egypt – are diverse in character but share some common characteristics. They are distinct from the traditional political party in the sense of being more networked and less hierarchical, with a vertical organization able to respond to changing political circumstances with rapidity. Central to the character of these movements has been the use of new communication technologies and social media.

But what also characterizes these movements is their largely transitory character. While they have been able to articulate popular distress and mobilize large numbers in protest and, in the case of Egypt, revolution, their liquidity and diversity has made it difficult for them to govern radical change.

It is also noticeable that elsewhere such movements have proved at best marginal. This includes the UK, much of northern Europe and the USA. There, dissatisfaction with existing politics has been expressed in terms of growing support for populist political parties, particularly of the right, such as UKIP, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party in Austria, and the Tea Party in the USA.

Against and with reference to this conjunctural background, this seminar will explore some of the central questions for a consideration of the future of mass political organization. Does the problem of political party organization reflect more fundamental changes in the contemporary world, where pluralisation and social disintegration have rendered traditional political parties incapable of effectively representing various kind of social groups, including classes? Can established political parties adapt to take on the more ‘networked’ character of movements of resistance and protest, or does this undermine their ability to bring about political change? Can such movements offer a model for an alternative form of political organization? Can they adapt to be successful as agents of government, or does their very fluidity make it impossible for them to govern? What does the growth of populism tell us about the prospects for a popular politics, in which citizens engage in and direct political movements?

Free and open to all, but booking is required: RSVP to [email protected]

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This article is one of a series entitled After the party? produced as a collaboration between the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life, Birkbeck, and OurKingdom, openDemocracy.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

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