Through a different lens: researching the rise and fall of New Labour's ‘public confidence agenda

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Fleming, J. ; McLaughlin, E. (2012)

Until June 2010, public confidence in police was at the heart of the UK's police performance framework. In the preceding years, the public confidence agenda (PCA) was addressed through a diverse array of government-initiated programmes and concepts such as ‘neighbourhood policing’ and ‘reassurance policing’ that sought to enhance feelings of safety and inspire public confidence in police. Scholars, aware of the significance of fairness in police–citizen encounters and the central importance of visibility in building confidence and trust, began to examine the PCA through surveys and other quantifiable assessments of community safety to explore how cooperation and support for police could be encouraged, evaluating ‘satisfactory’ levels amongst citizens and communities and generally interrogating the ‘public confidence’ agenda. While there have been a variety of conceptual framings and methodological approaches to measure and quantify ‘public confidence’, scholars generally have located the concept of ‘public confidence’ as an objective condition; like the notion of ‘publics’, a ‘phenomenon to be achieved, rather than a concept that perhaps needs unwrapping itself’. This paper traces the origins and evolution of the PCA. In this paper we advocate the use of a policy analysis approach to explore how ‘public confidence’ surfaced as a significant policy issue during New Labour's three administrations. The paper seeks to reinsert political analysis into what has become a de-politicised and primarily methodological discussion about the measurement of such a concept. We argue that the PCA is not a collective subject that has sought to express itself universally but was been ‘called’ into existence and moulded by New Labour in order to construct a useful policy domain.
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