This week the School of Politics and International Relations has welcomed Associate Professor Richard Whitaker from the University of Leicester, UK, visiting until the end of March.
Dr Whitaker's research focuses on the study of legislatures, particularly the European Parliament and the UK Parliament, as well as British political parties and European integration. He is currently conducting a project funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council on Parties, Parliament and the Brexit Process (https://parlbrexit.co.uk) with Professor Adam Cygan and Dr Philip Lynch.
We took the opportunity to ask Dr Whitaker a few questions about his visit to the ANU.
You're here until the end of March - what are some of the key things you’re hoping to get out of your time with the ANU?
I am very much looking forward to working with Professor Patrick Dumont and others within SPIR and the Centre for European Studies. It will be great to benefit from the expertise of those in the Selection and Deselection of Political Elites (SEDEPE) network, based in SPIR.
Why did you choose the ANU for this visit?
The opportunity to become part of a network of colleagues working on similar research to my own and in the very attractive environment of the ANU campus make this visit something I am greatly looking forward to. It will also give me a chance to spend a bit more time in Australia, a place I felt I definitely had to come back to after my first, short visit a couple of years ago.
What drew you to your speciality of European Politics?
During the time I was studying for my undergraduate and masters degrees, I became fascinated by the study of comparative politics and European Union politics, in particular the European Parliament. The question of how a parliament might develop at a supra-national level was something that really drew me into the study of legislatures and those in Europe in particular.
A large part of your focus at present is the Brexit process (and its impact).
Are there any particular learnings for students of politics and international relations more broadly that you’d like to share with us?
One of the most interesting questions, for me, about Brexit, is how far it is leading to a change in the distribution of influence between the executive and legislature in the UK. I think we are seeing something of a shift towards parliament being a more powerful actor, but at the same time, as long as we have a minority government, it is difficult to say how much this shift is a consequence of Brexit and how much it results from the Conservative party’s lack of a majority. In addition, Brexit is testing the UK’s major political parties to the point where a small number of MPs from the two largest parties have broken off to form a new Independent Group. Party change tends to happen slowly in the UK so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions too quickly, but certainly we are in a period of turmoil for UK party politics.
I’ve been to Australia once before when I was invited by ANU to give a talk at a workshop in the Australian Parliament. It was a fantastic experience but I was only in the country for a week. The chance to come back and see more of Canberra as well as visiting Sydney and Melbourne at weekends, is something I am eagerly anticipating.