An exploration of the tension between bureaucracy and democracy in Britain
Policy and Politics in Britain
The Limits of Consensus
Search the full text of this book
Douglas E. Ashford
This volume in the series Policy and Politics in Industrial States examines British effectiveness in planning and implementing government programs. In the British system, parliamentary supremacy rests on the widely accepted elite consensus that took shape a century or more before the British democracy took over the broad responsibilities associated with the modern welfare state. Modern political parties, mass democracy, even a modern administration, were grafted onto a working system, but the essential principles of cabinet and ministry responsibilities have survived with relatively little modification. The result has been a concentration of power at the top, while demands on government have proliferated.
Ashford analyzes six policy areasadministrative reform, economic policymaking, industrial relations, local and regional policies, social security (social welfare in Britain), race and immigrationto see how political constraints like these operate in a time of immensely complex government. Two cases (administrative reform and economic policy) deal with restructuring government; two deal with important social issues (social security and race relations). Each case analysis is accompanied by selected readings from official government documents and the writings of the critics of official policy.
The analysis offers a strong point of view, unusual in a textbook, that is sure to invite scholarly debate. For example, it argues that although power is quite concentrated in the British system, it is exercised most often in the direction of avoiding decisions. More often than not, the grand adversarial politics played out in parliament are ineffective in dealing with the complexities of the modern welfare state. In practice, when major changes in policy are at issue, labour and conservatives may act less like true antagonists and more like two groups sharing a consensus.
"This book demands thought and deserves it. I have rarely read anything that so firmly resists the cliché and rejects the conventional wisdom. Ashford sweeps you along in an inquiry that never lets up, and continually looking at familiar facts from new angles and revealing crucial and unexpected connections."
"This is a provocative and stimulating book. Professor Ashford focuses on some of the major current problems in British politics and government; his analysis and critiques should be a valuable contribution to understanding the issues involved."
1. Policymaking in the British Welfare State
2. Administrative Reform: Reorganizing for What?
3. Economic Policymaking: Public Expenditure for What?
4. Industrial Relations: Confusion of Sectoral Policies
5. Local and Regional Policies: The Rejection of Territorial Politics
6. Social Security: Complexity Overcomes Politics
7. Race and Immigration: A Consensual Non-decision
8. The Limits of Consensus: One-Party Government in a Complex State
Douglas E. Ashford is Director, Western Studies Program, Cornell University. He is also the author of Policy and Politics in France .
In the series
Policy and Politics in Industrial States, edited by Douglas E. Ashford, Peter J. Katzenstein, and T.J. Pempel.
Each volume in Policy and Politics in Industrial States, edited by Douglas E. Ashford, Peter J. Katzenstein, and T.J. Pempel, is a sophisticated textbook that focuses on a single country but in a comparative policy context. Each consists of a balance of analysis and primary documents for six major issues. The issues include topics like economic policy, labor relations, social welfare, and the internal organization of the state.