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    'One is, after all, finite': what is political capital? how do political leaders get it, use it and then lose it?

    Bennister, M. and Worthy, Benjamin (2012) 'One is, after all, finite': what is political capital? how do political leaders get it, use it and then lose it? In: In Defence of Politics, 2012, Belfast.

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    Political capital is frequently used as a short hand for the diverse range of attributes and advantages a leader brings with them to power and develops in office. Compared to other forms of ‘capital’ it remains under theorised. Since Pierre Bourdieu first outlined it, scholars have viewed political capital either as being synonymous with personal skills or a description of wider contextual attributes, particularly the link between leader and public. It is frequently seen as analogous to financial capital: a political leader has a fixed stock of capital that they can spend, hoard, fritter or gamble. This paper takes a first look at the literature and applies it to ‘t Hart’s approaches to leadership study, drawing on examples predominantly from US and UK politics. Following Lopez (2002) it takes the view that political capital is both ‘personal’ (in terms of their own skills) and ‘political’ (in terms of events, institutional resources and context). A politician with skills and attributes can use this to shape the context in which they operate, creating a ‘positive multiplier’ as the personal and political reinforce each other. Where events can also overwhelm leaders and expose flaws and personality weaknesses, a ‘negative multiplier’ takes effect. However, unlike money in the bank, political capital is finite and subject to depreciation as part of ‘a natural trajectory’ whereby support and power is lost over time. Yet this trajectory is not always uniform. The loss is inevitable but the rate and shape may not be. Often leaders begin with high levels that slowly dwindle but some leaders build it more slowly. The most unfortunate never have it. The article concludes with a look at a selection of politicians who managed to turn around an initial lack of political capital or even regain it.


    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    Additional Information:
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Birkbeck Centre for British Political Life
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2013 14:47
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:08


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