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Breaking bad news: Penal populism, tabloid adversarialism and Brexit

Greer, Chris and McLaughlin, Eugene (2018) 'Breaking bad news: Penal populism, tabloid adversarialism and Brexit.' The Political Quarterly, 89 (2). 206 - 216. ISSN 0032-3179

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This article analyses the role that British conservative tabloid newspapers play in promoting penal populism and delegitimising liberal prison reform initiatives. Principally, we consider how different sections of the British press reacted to the then Prime Minister David Cameron’s prison reform speech of 8 February 2016. The analysis illustrates how different newspapers cohered around two diametrically opposing interpretations of the scandalous state of the prison system, reflecting distinctive penal philosophies and moral positions. In the context of penal populism and the populist furies unleashed by the Brexit campaign, the central research finding is that the comparatively passive and equivocal support offered by the broadsheets was no match for the vitriolic attack mounted by the conservative tabloids on the ?soft justice? parts of Cameron’s prison reform agenda. We conclude by arguing that the stark lesson to be learned is that the scandal?ridden prison is a particularly toxic issue marked by serial policy failure. Consequently, in a febrile, intermediatised penal populist context, why would any political leader take on the manifest risks associated with embarking on liberal prison reform?

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Greer, C. & McLaughlin, E. (2018). Breaking bad news: Penal populism, tabloid adversarialism and Brexit. The Political Quarterly, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving
Uncontrolled Keywords: Brexit, penal populism, prison reform, punitiveness, scandal, tabloid adversarialism
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 05 May 2020 13:47
Last Modified: 05 May 2020 13:47

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