Point of No Return? Neoliberalism and Changing Public Opinion in New Zealand and the United Kingdom

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:10 PM
Room: F203
Oral Presentation
Louise HUMPAGE , Sociology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Neoliberalism represents a significant and enduring shift in the politics shaping social policy. Although it is frequently ascribed a hegemonic, all-powerful status that focuses our attention on the coherence found in neoliberal policies, this paper is influenced by scholars highlighting variegation in the neoliberal project across different policy areas, national settings and across time. Specifically, it employs Peck & Tickell’s (2002) view that neoliberalism has gone through multiple phases in response to both external and internal crises as an entry point for studying neoliberalism’s impact on public support for the welfare state. Drawing upon a New Zealand case study with select comparisons with the United Kingdom, the paper argues that public reactions to the early period of retrenchment (‘roll-back’ neoliberalism) differ from those found in the following ‘roll-out’ or embedding phase of neoliberalism implemented by Third Way Labour governments in both countries. Indeed, continuing public support in many policy areas arguably contributed to the internal crisis that provoked an adaptation of the neoliberal project. Moreover, the paper explores what has happened to public support for the welfare state following the external crisis provoked by the financial meltdown of 2008-2009: do New Zealand and British public attitudes show signs of resistance against austerity measures or do they indicate a third, ‘roll-over’ period of neoliberalism whereby the public accepts not only a neoliberal economic agenda but also the need for further retrenchment of the welfare state? Conclusions about the politics of social policy at the level of public opinion are drawn from a qualitative analysis of both survey data over three decades and interview/focus group conducted in New Zealand, offering both good and bad news for welfare state advocates.