'British elections used to be rites of passage, festivals of democracy'

May 6, 2005

Academic and BBC polling-day stalwart Anthony King laments the slump in British turnout of recent years

Election night holds no guarantees for the parties, but one certainty is the BBC's reliance on David Dimbleby, a swingometer and the psephological insights of Anthony King, professor of government at Essex University since 1969. Professor King has served as a pundit for the corporation since the mid-Sixties. He has also penned analysis of polling data for The Daily Telegraph since 1989.

Professor King is concerned about the health of Britain's democracy - turnout in recent polls has declined. He wondered if politicians themselves were partly to blame. "Politicians are mainly honest people, but their efforts to win power are not always attractive," he told The Times Higher on the eve of the 2005 election.

Professor King was also concerned about postal voting, and not merely because of the risk of fraud. "British elections used to be rites of passage - festivals of democracy - and the loss of the sense of occasion is too heavy a price to pay for allowing people to vote in any old way they like."

With firsts in history at Queen's University, Ontario, and PPE at Oxford University, Professor King began his academic career as a fellow of Magdalen in 1961, leaving Oxford as a reader eight years later. During last year's tuition fees debate he wrote an article on how funding cuts, particularly in teaching, had led to a fall in educational standards. His published work ranges from the 1975 European referendum to a piece on US politics titled Why America's Politicians Campaign Too Much and Govern Too Little .

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