Joseph Ward

Why risk a referendum? Reassessing the politics of the referendum in the UK

Supervisors: Dr. Peter Kerr and Professor Peter Burnham

Joseph Ward’s doctoral research concerns the factors surrounding the emergence of the referendum as a tool of political management in the UK. Focusing on a number of precedential cases, the thesis examines archival records to investigate why British government(s) initially decided to sanction use of the referendum in the face of longstanding institutional opposition. Utilising findings from the archival study, the research also takes an in-depth look at the EU referendum of 2016, analysing how the existence of this precedent impacted upon the considerations of senior policy-makers in a more recent application.


  • M.A. Political Science (University of Birmingham)

Research interests

  • British politics
  • democratic theory
  • state theory
  • electoral politics
  • historical political analysis


Since obtaining his undergraduate degree at Birmingham in 2012, Joe has worked in a number of administrative and academic roles at the university. He completed a Masters in Political Science in 2014, focusing on the UK government’s management of the global financial crisis and its democratic implications. Since early 2016 he has worked as a Research Associate in the School of Education, contributing to research projects on professional ethics and Aristotelian values education. He was awarded a Government & Society scholarship to undertake PhD research in late 2016.

Joe is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, having taught in POLSIS since 2017. He was formerly a member of the Unison committee, and remains an active trade unionist. He is also a keen musician in his spare time. 


Ward, J. (forthcoming), ‘Democratic change and ‘the referendum effect’ in the UK: reasserting the good of political participation’, in Arthur, J. and Kristjánsson, K. (Eds.), Virtues in the Public Sphere, Abingdon: Routledge



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