Why we’re closing (although we don’t want to)

There is, today, a very generous and supportive piece by Sunder Katwala of the Fabians on their blog bewailing our closing down.

For those who are interested, the position is this. Over the last decade or so, this research has been generously funded by two bodies, the Leverhulme Trust, who funded the study into the 1997 Parliament, and then the ESRC who funded the study into the 2001 Parliament. We managed to stretch that funding into the 2005 Parliament too, and then with bits and pieces of cash – from the University of Nottingham – limped on till the end of the Parliament.

We’ve put in two bids to the ESRC to continue the project into the next Parliament – where we agree with Sunder, there is the potential for things to be really interesting –but both have been unsuccessful. There’s nothing too surprising about funding bids being turned down – money’s scarce, competition’s stiff and the majority of bids fail. No academic should get huffy about grant bid failures; they’re just part of life.

What was a little surprising – to us, and to some observers– was that these bids were to a specially created ESRC pot, called the Follow-On Fund, designed to allow projects to continue where they have a potential public impact. And, whatever else one thought about the work, it was difficult to argue that it didn’t manage that, given the way it was religiously used by journalists and MPs. One of the reviewers of our ESRC last end-of-award report described it as probably the best disseminated project in ESRC history. But still we applied twice, and got turned down twice.

It was ironic that at an ESRC organised event to praise social science recently both Sunder and Tony Wright used revolts as an example of exactly the sort of work the ESRC should be funding, and yet we’d just been turned down (again).

All the people involved in this project would like to carry on, but without funding, it’s difficult to do projects like this. The funding buys some research assistance to do the painstaking work checking and cleaning the data, as well as keeping comparative records, and provides teaching cover.

I know of at least one person who is pleased, though. Just before the election, a senior member of the Conservative whips office asked me whether it was true that our funding had ended, and we wouldn’t be around to report on any divisions within the Conservative Parliamentary Party. When I confirmed it was, he replied, with a smile: ‘Oh good’.

UPDATE: There’s also a very supportive leader in the Guardian, off the back of Sunder’s piece.