COVID-19 and ‘the public’: UK government discourse and the British Political Tradition

Alan Finlayson, Lee Jarvis, Michael Lister

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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This article presents an original analysis of the UK government’s discursive response to COVID-19 across the first six months of the pandemic. Two arguments are made. First, representations of the state/people relationship were vital to the state’s storying and selling of its response to this crisis. And, second, despite populist-style inflections, the state/people relationship was typically constructed around a ‘government knows best’ claim associated with the ‘British Political Tradition’ (BPT). In making these arguments the article offers three contributions: (i) empirical, via an original thematic analysis of over 120 speeches, statements and documents from the UK government; (ii) analytical, via a new taxonomy of ways in which ‘the public’ is imagined and represented in political discourse; and, (iii) theoretical, via conceptualisation of the flexible and adaptive discourse of the BPT.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-356
Number of pages18
JournalContemporary Politics
Issue number3
Early online date11 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • British political tradition
  • British politics
  • COVID-19
  • crisis
  • discourse
  • rhetoric

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