British Politics

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 215–233 | Cite as

The Changing British Policy Style: From Governance to Government?

  • Jeremy RichardsonEmail author
Original Article


There is a long-standing debate in British political science concerning how best to characterise the British policy process. One school emphasises ‘strong government’ under the adversarial/hierarchical ‘Westminster model’, leading to an impositional policy style. An opposing school emphasises the importance of bargaining and consensus, leading to a more consensual policy style via a process of power sharing between government and interest groups, so-called governance. This article highlights several trends that suggest that the British policy style has shifted towards the impositional end of the policy style spectrum, bringing it more in line with the traditional Westminster model of governing. At the same time, however, these changes might increase the number of policy blunders and failures in British Government unless means are found to access and manage the specialist expertise that interest group possess.


Governance Style Impositional Deliberation Blunders 



I wish to thank the following for commenting on earlier drafts. Nigel Bowles, Giliberto Capano; Peter Munk Christiansen; Sir Ivor Crewe; Carsten Daugbjerg; Anneliese Dodds,M.E.P.; Geoff Dudley; Dave Marsh; Sonia Mazey; Kent Weaver. I owe a very special debt to my friend and colleague Grant Jordan who has made a major contribution to my thinking on this topic, over several drafts.


  1. Baumgartner, F.B. 2012. Ideas and Policy Change. Governance 26 (2): 239–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blyth, M. 2013. Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Ideas. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Capano, G. 2011. Government Continues To Do Its Job: A Comparative Study of Governenace Shifts in The Higher Education Sector. Public Administration 89 (4): 1622–1642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Capano, G., M. Howlett, and M. Ramesh. 2015. Bringing Governments Back in; Governance and Governing in Comparative Policy Analysis. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis 17 (4): 311–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cooper, C.A., and P. Marier. 2015. Does it Matter Who Works in the Centre? A Comparative Analysis of Executive Styles. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis. 19 (1): 1–16.Google Scholar
  6. Crewe, I., and A. King. 2013. The Blunders of Our Governments. London: Oneworld Publications.Google Scholar
  7. Christiansen, P.M, 2016, Waning Light? Civil Society, Interest Groups, and Public Policies in the Nordic Countries. In The Current Nordic Welfare State Model, ed. N. Veggeland, 43–62. Nova Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Christiansen, P.M, 2017, 'Still the Corporatist Darlings?' In The Routledge Handbook of Scandinavian Politics, eds. P. Nedergaard, and A. Wivel, 36–49. Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Davis, A., and C. Walsh. 2015. The Role of the State in the Financialisation of the UK Economy. Political Studies. Google Scholar
  10. Eckstein, H. 1960. Pressure Group Politics: The Case of the British Medical Association. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  11. Everett, M., and E. Faulkner. ‘Special Advisers’, House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper, 03813, 28/01/15.Google Scholar
  12. Gamble, A. (2015), ‘The Economy’, in Britain Votes (2015), Parliamentary Affairs Supplement, 68 (1): 154–167.Google Scholar
  13. Halpern, D. 2015. Inside The Nudge Unit. How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference. London: W.H.Allen.Google Scholar
  14. Hall, P. 1993. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics. 25 (3): 275–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Institute For Government. 2014. Leading Change in the Civil Service. London: IfG.Google Scholar
  16. Institute For Government. 2016. ‘Ministerial Reflections’ Archive of Interviews with Former Ministers. London: IfG.Google Scholar
  17. Institute for Government. 2017. All Change. London: IfG.Google Scholar
  18. Jacobs, A., and K. Weaver. 2015. When Policies Undo Themselves: Self-Undermining Feedback as a Source of Policy Change. Governance 24 (4): 441–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jennings, W, and M. Lodge. (forthcoming). Comparing Blunders in Government.Google Scholar
  20. John, P., A. Bertelli, W. Jennings, and S. Bevan. 2013. Policy Agendas in British Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jones, R. 2017. Businesses Wish Tax Could Become Boring Again, IoG, 03/03/17.Google Scholar
  22. Jordan, G., and P. Cairney. 2013. ‘What is the ‘Dominant model’ of British Policymaking? Comparing Majoritarian and Policy community Ideas. British Politics 8 (3): 233–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kingdon, J. 1984. Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  24. Kraft, J. 2016. Social Democratic Austerity: The Conditional Role of Agenda Dynamics and Issue Ownership. Journal of European Public Policy. doi: 10.1080/13501763.2016.1231708.Google Scholar
  25. Lijphart, A. 1999. Patterns of Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Marsh, D. 2011. The New Orthodoxy: The Differentiated Polity Model. Public Administration 89 (1): 32–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Marsh, D., and M. Hall. 2007. The British Political Tradition: Explaining the fate of New Labour’s Constitutional Reform Agenda. British Politics 2 (2): 215–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marsh, D., and E. Vines. 2016. Does BREXIT Mark the End of the British Political Tradition? (unpublished paper).Google Scholar
  29. National Audit Office (NAO). 2009. The Failure of Metronet, HC, 512, Session 2008–2009, June 5, 2009.Google Scholar
  30. Olson, M. 1982. The Rise and Decline of Nations. Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Peters, B.G. 1997. ‘Shouldn’t Row, Can’t Steer: What’s a Government to Do? Public Policy and Administration. 12 (2): 51–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pressman, J., and A. Wildavsky. 1973. Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington are Dashed in Oakland: Or, Why It’s Amazing that Federal Programs Work at All. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Rhodes, R.A.W. 1996. The New Governance: Governing Without Government. Public Administration. 44 (4): 652–667.Google Scholar
  34. Rhodes, R.A.W. 2007. Understanding Governance: Ten Years On. Organization Studies 28 (08): 1243–1264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Richards, D., and M. Smith. 2016. The Westminster Model and the “Indivisibility of the Political and Administrative Elite”: A Convenient Myth Whose Time is Up? Governance 29 (4): 499–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Richardson, J. 2000. Government, Interest Groups and Policy Change. Political Studies 48: 1006–1052.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Richardson, J., ed. 2012. Constructing a policy-making state? Policy Dynamics in the EU. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Richardson, J.J., and A.G. Jordan. 1979. Governing Under Pressure. The Policy Process in a Post-Parliamentary Democracy. London: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  39. Richardson, J., G. Gustafsson, and G. Jordan. 1982/2013. The Concept of Policy Style. In Policy Styles in Western Europe, ed. J. Richardson, Routledge (Reprinted in Routledge Revivals, 2012).Google Scholar
  40. Scharpf, F.W. 1988. The Joint-Decision Trap: Lessons from German Federalism and European Integration. Public Administration 66 (3): 239–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sciarini, P. 2014. Eppure si muove: The Changing Nature of Swiss Consensus Democracy. Journal of European Public Policy 21 (1): 116–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Simon, H. 1972. Theories of Bounded Rationality. In Decisions and Organizations, ed. C. McGuire, and R. Radner. New York: North Holland Publishing.Google Scholar
  43. Smith, M. 2015. From Consensus to Conflict; Thatcher and the Transformation of Politics. British Politics 10 (1): 64–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Soroka, S., and C. Wlezien. 2014. Economic Crisis and Support for Redistribution in the United Kingdom. In Mass Politics in Tough Times, ed. N. Bermo, and L. Bartels, 105–127. Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Van Nispen, F.K.M., and P.W.A. Scholten. 2015. Policy Analysis in Times of Austerity: Puzzling in the Shadow of Powering? Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis. Google Scholar
  46. Weaver, K. 2010. ‘Paths and Forks or Chutes and Ladders? Negative Feedbacks and Policy Regime Change. British Journal of Political Science 30 (2): 137–162.Google Scholar
  47. Wildavsky, A. 1979. Speaking Truth to Power: The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis. Boston: Little Brown.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Centre for Research on EuropeUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  2. 2.Nuffield CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations