Academic approach leads to heart of politics

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ALTHOUGH its campus is more than 200 miles away from London, one Yorkshire university’s politics department has aimed to put itself at the heart of UK government.

When it opened, Hull University’s politics department had just one professor and a small group of students.

Now, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has more than 20 staff, more than 400 students and a track record of sending graduates into top positions in both Westminster and Whitehall.

The department is marking the occasion with a series of lectures throughout the academic year. Thee guests include House of Commons Speaker John Bercow MP and Hull West and Hessle MP Alan Johnson who spoke this week.

When the department was established in 1961, Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister of a nation that “had never had it so good”. Now its undergraduates are studying against the backdrop of the UK facing what has been described as its worst-ever financial crisis.

Director of undergraduate studies and senior lecturer Dr Simon Lee said: “Our teaching and research aims to reflect contemporary developments. I teach students about the global economy which is continually changing and always needs refreshing.

“We encourage our students to make an impact and to challenge orthodox thinking.

“We are not the biggest politics department in the country but what we can be is the first to tackle key issues. For instance in 2007 I wrote a book which argued that Gordon Brown would not be very successful for the economy as Prime Minister and that is a view which I think now quite a few people would agree with.”

He added: “We can also give students some historical perspective. People were saying that the combining Conservative and Liberal ideas was something new for the country but this has happened before. It happened in the 1930s and Margaret Thatcher brought liberalism into conservatism.”

Although the department includes a Centre for British Politics, its work is not only focused on Westminster.

The department runs eight degree courses and has five research units – the Centre for Legislatives Studies, the Centre for Security Studies, the Centre for European Union Studies, the Centre for Democratic Governance and the Centre for Idealism and New Liberalism.

The university also boasts links with both Houses of Parliament. One current professors sits in the House of Lords and the department also sends students to work in the House of Commons each year through an internship programme that sees them paired with MPs.

Politicians who have taken part in the Westminster Hull internship programme include Labour leader Ed Miliband, Foreign Secretary William Hague, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and former Hull politics student Tom Watson who has shot to prominence this year for his campaigning against phone hacking.

Lord Norton of Louth, who has worked in the department for 25 years and been a peer in the House of Lords since 1998 said: “We started the programme in 1988 and it really has developed into a very special degree. “It is built on the three ‘I’s: induction, investment and integration.”

He said that the number of Hull graduates coming through the internship programme to secure jobs at Westminster and Whitehall has led to the creation of what is known as the “Hull Mafia” in political circles.

A university spokeswoman said: “Many graduates have gone on to prominent careers in politics – everything from consultants, civil servants and advisers to sitting in Parliament.”