Policy and Politics in Britain
The Limits of Consensus. Policy & Politics in Industrial States
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 areas administrative reform, economic policymaking, industrial relations, local and regional policies, social security (social welfare in Britain), race and immigration to 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. Douglas E. Ashford is Director, Western Studies Program, Cornell University.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"For those of us who live amidst the chronic disorders of dispersed power, the British formula may have some appeal; a democratic system that, nevertheless, concentrates the power to govern. But, according to Ashford, that very concentration of power, sustained by ancient consensus, continually impedes its own use in governing. In a series of six studies of the main areas of domestic policy, he elaborates this thesis, enriching it with brief selections from basic documents and other readings. It is a brilliant example of how a leading practitioner of policy analysis can use the study of policy making to light uppolitics, and the study of politics to light up policy making." --Samuel H. Beer "This book demands thought and deserves it. I have rarely read anything that so firmly resists the cliche 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." --Samuel H. Beer, Harvard University "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." --William Plowden, Director-General, Royal Institute of Public Administration