Emeritus Professor of Contemporary British History, University of Bristol

Hugh Pemberton is an expert on the political history of contemporary Britain. The particular areas of focus within his research are British economic policy from 1945 to the present; UK public administration and government in that era; and the history of the country’s two main political parties. He has a particular interest is the historical dynamics of policy change, and of policy inertia.

Current research

I’m currently bringing one project to a close – Volume 2 of the Official History of the Civil Service, covering the years 1982-97 (to be published in 2020 – see publications page) – and continuing another which explores the historical relationship between Thatcherism and neoliberalism via a case study of policy implementation in pensions (a much more interesting topic than it sounds, for it represents an area of policy in which the Thatcher government’s ‘neoliberal’ ambitions were perhaps at their greatest, yet also an area in which those ambitions were largely disappointed – notwithstanding the widespread assumption amongst commentators that the Thatcher governments’ personal pension reforms and their cutting back of state pension entitlements were part of a wider neoliberal revolution in the UK).

Biography

Before moving into academia, I had spent most of the decade after leaving school working in bookselling, followed by another decade as a business analyst working successively for a number of companies, mostly in the financial services sector. During that second decade, I studied in my spare time, graduating from the Open University in 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I then completed a Master of Arts degree in Contemporary History at the University of Bristol in 1997, staying on to undertake doctoral studies in its departments of Politics and History. My PhD was awarded in 2001 for a dissertation entitled “The Keynesian-plus experiment: a study of social learning in the UK core executive, 1960–1966”. After another year at Bristol as an Economic and Social Research Council postdoctoral fellow, I then moved onto the London School of Economics as a British Academy postdoctoral fellow in its Department of Economic History. In 2004, I returned to Bristol to take up a temporary lectureship in Contemporary British History, covering the teaching of one of my PhD advisers, the late Rodney Lowe. That appointment was made permanent in 2006. In 2007, I became a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and after several succeeding promotions was appointed Professor of Contemporary British History by the University of Bristol in 2017. During my time as an academic, I consistently sought to connect contemporary history with present-day politics – for example by contributing evidence to House of Commons select committee enquiries and to government policy consultations, giving lectures in Whitehall, and working with History and Policy to promote better public policy through a greater understanding of history amongst policy makers.

I took early-retirement at the end of 2019, although I continue actively to research and write.