Political Moderation, UK Style

Anthropologist Kate Fox gives a master class on British behaviour in her funny and smart book “Watching the English“. Among her many astute observations is that most Britons are sceptical of radicalism, preferring instead incrementalist politics. She parodies the prototypical English protest rally call-and-response as follows:

Q: What do we want?!!


Q: When do we want it?!!


Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

14 thoughts on “Political Moderation, UK Style”

    1. My bad, link is now updated (It used to be so much easier before we started hating Amazon)

  1. Interesting theory but with an obvious counterexample. Unless, of course, in 1979 the vast majority of Britons were somehow briefly replaced by replicants like in some episode of the Avengers where Steed and Emma discover that everyone in some little village was replaced by lookalike Russian spies?

    (I probably won’t read the book so if anybody knows how this is handled, please feel free to speak up)

    1. I take it your argument is that Thatcher’s radicalism was popular, and this disagrees with the hypothesis? It was certainly effective, but my (American, too young to have followed it as it happened) impression was that she was extremely unpopular until after the Falklands.

      1. Yes, the Falklands victory contributed to her reelection as did the catastrophic errors of the useless Labour party leadership. But she was reasonably popular right up until she put in the poll tax in 1990, which is basically what finished her off. Bottom line, though, she was a nasty piece of work from the day she moved into No. 10 so if the Brits really don’t like radical change it’s difficult to understand how enough British voters supported her so that was was reelected twice, for a total of nearly a dozen years as PM, which is a very long time for a British PM.

        1. I think it says a lot about just how dysfunctional Britain was in the late 1970s, and just where Labour had got to. While they may have gotten there incrementally, they were pretty radical themselves at that point.

          1. IIRC, she never gained a majority of the vote in the UK, and may have never broke 40%. The electoral system helped.

      2. In 1983 the Conservatives took about 42% of the votes cast, which was slightly lower than in 1979 when they came to power. However, the main opposition vote was split between Labour (~27%) and the Liberal/SDP “Alliance” (~25%), so that the Tories gained 37 seats net, in spite of their popularity falling. There was no moderate opinion with regard to Thatcher, she was loved or hated. The emergence of the Liberal Democrats – the formally merged Liberals and SDP – as a significant force in Parliament was largely due to people outside the South East of England voting for the candidate most likely to unseat the Tory, whoever they were; this can be seen from the fact that now they’re in coalition with the Conservatives, they’re polling in single figures nationally.

        In Scotland the Tories got less than 30% of the vote in 1983, and by the end of the decade they were basically wiped out.

  2. “Kate Fox gives a master class on British behaviour…”
    The book is explicitly limited to the English. There used to be a lot of leeway on this, but with resurgence of the “Celtic” identities, Brits and visitors have to be more careful now. For the NHS and health policy in general, you have to say “England” unless you really mean to include Wales and Scotland.

    1. James — I was probably being too droll/obscure…she covers this very rule in the book, so I violated it on purpose. Indeed, my whole post may have been too obscure; sitting jet-lagged at Heathrow, I just thought this was a funny quote so I passed it along, didn’t realize it would generate such thoughtful analysis as above.

  3. In the old Iron Curtain wasn’t there a group named The Party for the Most Radical Reform Possible Strictly Within the Limits of the Law?

Comments are closed.