P18 Exploring ‘Populism’ and its continuing implications and challenges for public service values and delivery of public services

Corresponding chair

Alex Murdock, Professor, Emeritus, London South Bank University, UK


Review group chair

Stephen Barber, Professor, Regents University, London, UK



Recent years have witnessed the emergence of ‘populism’ and ‘populist leaders’ and this has demanded a new response by public management.  The USA, Brazil and Hungary are clear examples of the phenomenon as is the UK with the premiership of Boris Johnson and the broader ‘Brexit environment’. The shelf life of populist leaders is often relatively short, most recently evidenced by the eviction of Johnson from office.  We have been developing the concept of New Public Populism, this panel  investigates  the extent to which the era of populism will lead to a (semi-)permanent transformation or at least evolution in the way that public services are administered.

Looking back, New Public Leadership represented a response to a period of ‘austerity’ where those responsible for managing public services attempted to do more (or at least the same) with squeezed financial resources.  It was a development from the radicalism of an earlier time when New Public Management sought to re-cast the public sector from fat bureaucracies to efficient organisations modelled on a private sector ideal.  the era of populism to have emerged in western democracies has represented a different sort of challenge which invited a fresh appraisal of public services and the people who rely upon them most.

To understand this challenge, we adopted the concept of New Public Populism which is a departure in logic from NPM and NPL and which we develop further theoretically here.  It represents a contradiction for the delivery of public services when the very citizens who need to be satisfied politically are in many cases also the most vulnerable and need to be cared for. 

With this conceptual lens, we explore in this paper the continuing implications of a populist trend even when the populist leaders are defenestrated.  The persistence of populism in public discourse (whether of the left or right) has implications for the creation of public policies and for the operational environment of public managers.  We argue that it challenges the traditional concepts of public service value, neutrality and the rule of law.  

Even in countries where populist leaders have been kept at bay or removed from office, disenchantment, social division and anti-elitism have given rise to simplistic answers and contradictory positions. Since populism is neither inherently logical nor rational, it is difficult to address in a coherent fashion.  And yet public services are expected to tackle the broad array of social concerns which underpin the growth of populism.  After all it is the most vulnerable in society who rely on heath, social care and welfare, but they are also most likely to be part of the demographic which identifies with populist rhetoric and vote for populist politicians.  

In developing further the concept of New Public Populism we argue that there is a permanent departure in logic from NPM and NPL that appears capable of outliving populist leaders.  This represents a contradiction for the delivery of public services when the very citizens who need to be satisfied politically are in many cases also the most vulnerable and need to be cared for. 

Key words

Public Management; Populism; Public Spending

Further Information for prospective submitting researchers

We hope that panel may attract a diversity of interest and also a high quality of submissions. 

We would  encourage the participation of researchers with particular expertise not just in aspects of populism but also within countries where there has been some clear evidence of its manifestation.  We are interested in country cases ( especially countries where there has been a past or recent growth in populism demonstrated by the outcome of recent elections such as Sweden and Italy)  . 

We also welcome papers which explore and develop theory into the public management space through the lens of populism as developed in other disciplines such as politics and psychology.  Such papers would not need to offer research based on primary data collection as long as the theoretical basis was sound and grounded in the literature.

As both chairs are journal editors and have experience of special editions depending on the number and quality of papers submitted we would want to explore a special issue in a relevant public administration journal.  This could obviously by PMR but failing this we are confident that we could develop a special issue for an appropriate journal (again dependent on the number and quality of submissions). 

The  panel chairs have extensive experience of organising panels ( including previous IRSPM panels) and also have experience as journal editors and convenors of special issues of journals ( including PMR).   In particular  Alex Murdock has organised panels at numerous conferences not just in Public Administration but also in areas of Social Enterprise and  Social innovation.  These panels have been successful in subsequently leading to special issues and publications in rated journals ( for example Food Insecurity in  Voluntas   and forthcoming in PMR on resilience related to covid response – with Adina Dudau, Roula Masou and Paul Hunter)

Panel format

The panel format will take a standard format of submitted papers which will have nominated discussants . However we also plan to organise a ’round table’ discussion with encouragement for a wider participation.   As populism is a subject which has largely been the focus of psychology and politics we hope that the panel will identify how the public management and public administration researcher community might develop a particular perspective which brings to bear the particular agendas and issues which populism might present in our academic discipline.

Physical Participation

Both chairs plan to attend in person and indeed the first chair is familiar with Budapest and the host university from a previous attendance.

Brief References

Burleigh, M., 2021. Populism: Before and after the Pandemic, Hurst

Moynihan, D.P., 2022. Public Management for Populists: Trump's Schedule F Executive Order and the Future of the Civil ServicePublic Administration Review82(1), pp.174-178.

Murdock, A. and Barber, S., 2020. Beyond Public Services: The Era of New Public Populism. In Public Management and Vulnerability (pp. 14-35). Routledge.

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