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date: 26 January 2021

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

The study of British politics has been reinvigorated in recent years as a generation of new scholars seeks to build upon a distinct disciplinary heritage while also exploring new empirical territory. It is very much in this context that the Oxford Handbook of British Politics has been designed and published. However the central ambition of this collection is not just to illustrate both the breadth and depth of scholarship that is to be found within the field. It is also concerned with promoting the study of British politics. It seeks to do so by demonstrating the vibrancy and critical self‐ reflection that has cultivated a much sharper and engaging—notably less insular— approach to the terrain it seeks to explore and understand. In this emphasis on critical engagement, disciplinary evolution, and a commitment to shaping rather than restating the discipline, the Oxford Handbook of British Politics is consciously distinctive. It is not intended as a standard text on British politics, nor a set of review articles, and it certainly does not replicate the various encyclopaedic survey‐like collections on British politics that are now available. In showcasing the diversity now to be found in the analysis of British politics, the Oxford Handbook of British Politics is built upon three foundations.

The first principle that underpins this collection is a broad understanding of ‘the political’. It is exactly this inclusive approach that has allowed us to embrace a much broader range of topics, themes, and issues than would commonly be found within a text on British politics. As a result, topics that would generally be viewed as core elements of British politics—for example Parliament, the core executive, political parties, and economic management—are set alongside those which might at first glance appear outliers when viewed through a traditional lens, like generational change, risk analysis, political marketing. But what is immediately obvious on reading such chapters is how readily they complement and build upon more established themes within the discipline, and how they aid our understanding in teasing apart the challenges and complexity of modern governance.

This emphasis on an inclusive approach also characterizes the second principle that has shaped this collection—namely, diversity in relation to commissioned authors. As a glance at the contents page reveals, the Oxford Handbook of British Politics includes chapters from both established and emerging names. It also includes contributions from scholars and practitioners alike. And, reflecting the genuinely international scope of the contemporary analysis of British politics, the collection includes chapters written by scholars based in North America, Australia, and mainland Europe.

The final principle underpinning this collection is a focus on the very nature of the distinctiveness to which we have already pointed. Every chapter in its own way (p. vi) and through a number of approaches seeks to reflect on what is distinctive about British politics—in terms of both the empirical nature of the issue of concern, and the theories and methods that have been deployed to unravel the nature and causes of the debate. The issue of distinctiveness is of critical significance in relation to a long‐standing epistemological and methodological tension between what can (and has) been termed ‘British political studies’ and those approaches that commonly fall within the rubric of ‘political science’. The first section of this collection— ‘Approaches’—seeks to engage with this debate and challenge, or at least soften, the sub‐disciplinary barriers that have so often tended to demarcate the study of British politics. In many ways this aspiration dovetails with the inclusive nature of this collection, while also fitting with the generally more pluralistic approach to theories and methods that has formed a defining feature of British political studies since its emergence as a distinct profession during the middle of the twentieth century.

Taken together these three principles have provided the reference points within which each author has been asked to prepare their chapter. The result is a unique collection of commentaries that: draw upon the intellectual strengths of the study of British politics; reflect the innate diversity and inclusiveness of the discipline; isolate certain distinctive issues and then reflect on their broader international relevance; and finally seek to point towards emerging or overlooked areas of research in order to maintain a certain momentum or dynamism in relation to each particular sphere. In some chapters the nature of the topic or the approach of the author has encouraged an emphasis on some of these issues more than others. As with all projects of this nature, the editors have sought gently to steer whilst resisting the temptation to row, setting down the key principles and ambitions but leaving it up to each author to interpret and emphasize these markers as they see fit. However, a degree of independent assessment and refinement was achieved through an editorial process in which each chapter was independently refereed by at least three established scholars. We are immensely grateful to all those scholars who were willing to contribute some of their time to this project by acting as reviewers.

The output of this process is a collection of chapters that, we feel, reflects the resurgence of British politics as a discipline while also seeking to probe and extend its boundaries in order to draw upon new approaches and perspectives. We hope the outcome of this project is a more refined and sophisticated appreciation not only of the British political tradition but also of the varied insights that the analysis of British politics can contribute more broadly.

The editors were saddened to hear of the death of Sir Bernard Crick, one of our contributors, shortly before this volume went to press. Bernard's essay in this collection is one of the last essays he wrote, and provides an excellent illustration of his significance and originality as a commentator on our political culture and life.

Matthew Flinders

Andrew Gamble

Colin Hay

Michael Kenny