‘Responsibility’ in democratic security politics

Friday 30 October 2015


Friday 30 October 2015, University of Glasgow 

Seminar: Dr Andrew Neal of Edinburgh University will be presenting his research on democratic oversight of the security state in the UK. Andrew is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Edinburgh, and co-convenor of the new Centre for Security Research, also based at Edinburgh. He has published widely on issues related to security, governance, governmentality, and liberal democracy.

5:15 pm | Room 916 Adam Smith Building

‘Responsibility’ in democratic security politics

Security presents real problems for liberal democratic politics. There are high stakes involved, state secrecy is pervasive and potentially misused, ‘playing politics’ with security is frowned upon as irresponsible, and those who become ‘security insiders’ get seen as part of the problem. The result is that politicians who are not in the government, which is most of them, are pressed into a position of tutelage and deference to the executive. These problems are to an extent perennial, but parliamentary activism and innovation are making them into more of a historical legacy than an accurate description of current security politics.

This paper, drawn from a wider project, explores the empirical finding that politicians see the problem of security as a dilemma of responsibility. While universally accepting that security is the first responsibility of government, they face the dilemma of how to address public fears and hold the security state to account, all the while without access to privileged intelligence or any real way to test the arguments. Responsibility appears to encompass both the legacy of security politics and challenges to it. Politicians support security as the first responsibility of government, but also consider it their responsibility to defend certain constitutional principles against the government, such as habeas corpus and democratic accountability.

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