The study argues Labour Party tactics are symptomatic of the “juridification” of politics -

Keir Starmer’s efforts to be “Mr Rules” and his focus on calling for probes and inquiries reflects the growing “juridification” of politics, experts have said.

Though the Labour leader’s consistent calls for probes and inquiries into the conduct of government, often culminating in demands for resignations, could be seen as a mere tactic of opposition politics, the study argues that it is symptomatic of the “juridification” of politics – the ceding of the terrain of politics to the seemingly superior and separate domains of law and administration.

This marks the abandonment of values-based politics in favour of a reliance upon rules, norms, conventions and procedures to address substantive matters of public policy.

The study, by Dr Jamie Johnson, from the University of Leicester, Dr Owen Thomas, from the University of Exeter and Professor Victoria Basham, from Cardiff University, is published in the journal British Politics.

Dr Thomas said: “Through this rules-based, rather than values-based approach to politics, the task of government is reduced to the dual imperatives of maintaining standards of probity and competency in public office. Such an approach to politics tends to focus more on restoring established forms of conduct rather than seeking forms of political renewal or reimagination.

“As the contours of an incoming Labour government begin to emerge, it is unclear whether such an approach to politics can meaningfully respond to the series of reinforcing crises it will be tasked with tackling: from the climate emergency to the cost of living. The challenge for Labour is to make sense of a political moment in which problems arise as much from the following of established rules as their transgression.”

The study says a persistent feature of Labour’s opposition to policies such as immigration and asylum is that it appears more comfortable talking about efficacy than ethics, processes not principles.

At times, Labour is keen to appear as the reluctant inheritor and administrator of Conservative policy. At other times, however, Labour appears keen to emphasise elements of continuity as a sign of their seriousness, pragmatism, and readiness for government.

Professor Basham commented: “Our argument is that Starmer’s ‘forensic’ style, with its associated emphasis on probity and competency, should be read as a continuation of a global trend in the juridification of politics, that signifies a reliance on judicial and quasi-judicial means to address substantive ethical and political matters of public policy.

“It is an approach to politics which stands back and lets the law, the rule, the procedure decide. It is unpolitical in that it seeks to stand above the political sphere and to seek political outcomes by means other than politics. It does so through the conspicuous abandonment of the terrain of politics and the reification of the seemingly superior and separate spheres of law and administration.”

“This rise of juridification has not gone unnoticed. The Conservative government clearly understands that the most concerted and effective opposition to their policies in recent years has come through law, not politics. In response, Conservative rhetoric has been defined by attacks against the institutions that administer ‘the rules’: human rights lawyers, supreme court and European judges, civil servants, Treasury orthodoxy, and the so-called ‘left-wing economic establishment’.”

Dr Johnson said: “The juridification of politics extends well beyond Starmer’s Labour Party, capturing a broader trend within centre and centre-left politics in which progressive political outcomes are increasingly sought with recourse to the law. The juridification of politics is not simply to pursue good politics through good law, it is to reduce and equate good politics to good law.

“If politics is to be nothing more than ensuring adherence to the rules and policing their transgression, then what are we left with in an age in which the rules themselves appear to be the problem?”