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02 November 2021

Stuart reflects on 'enjoyable journey' after PhD pass

The British public’s views on European integration across the decades formed the fascinating backdrop for a King’s alumni’s PhD thesis.

PhD Graduation
Stuart Smedley has passed his PhD thesis.

Stuart Smedley wanted to investigate how public opinion towards integration, from the UK’s accession to the European Community in 1973 until the decision to leave the EU in June 2016, had evolved and responded to political and social change.

Having submitted his thesis earlier this year, Stuart appeared before a panel at his ‘viva voce', a rigorous examination from senior academics, and received the news this week that he had been successful.

He said: “Having passed my thesis, I’m feeling a mixture of relief and happiness – though mainly the latter! To get here it has been a long, challenging but enjoyable four-year journey. And since receiving the great news that I’ve been awarded my PhD, I’ve had a chance to reflect on that time, appreciate how much I have developed and what I have achieved.”

For his PhD thesis, Stuart analysed public opinion data related to European integration collected from across 40 years of surveys and contrasted the public’s views with the positions of Britain’s main political parties as expressed in their election manifestos.

I owe huge thanks to my supervisors, Dr Michael Kandiah and Professor Roger Mortimore, for all their advice and guidance over the past four years

Stuart Smedley

Stuart, a member of the Department of Political Economy, said: “One of my main arguments was that, in many policy areas, there were significant cleavages between British public opinion and the preferences of the government and main political parties.

“And where this was the case, for example regarding the Single Market and enlargement, public enthusiasm lagged behind that of the political class. In addition to this, I argued that British public opinion towards European integration was not volatile and largely quite stable. However, where shifts in the public mood did occur, these moved public opinion in an anti-European direction.”

Stuart said his findings raised questions about how government and Britain’s main parties sought to communicate European policy to the public, as well as what they understood about public opinion on those matters – an area of further study he has already started working on.

With his PhD now complete, Stuart hopes to stay in academia and is teaching at King’s and at the London School of Economics. He is also working on two research projects at the University of Southampton, including an ESRC-funded project converting historic Gallup opinion polls into formats compatible with modern data analysis software.

Stuart added: “I owe huge thanks to my supervisors, Dr Michael Kandiah and Professor Roger Mortimore, for all their advice and guidance over the past four years. Also, I’m thankful to my examiners, Professor Sir John Curtice and Professor Martin Westlake, for a challenging, yet ultimately very productive viva back in June as their feedback has greatly improved my final thesis.

“My family, friends and the SPE PhD community have offered a great amount of support, while I can’t go without saying a huge ‘thank you’ to the donor who funded the Sir Richard Trainor PhD Scholarship which I received.”