Politics and Policymaking in the UK

Right now, this page contains:

1. The full draft of a book that I am co-authoring with Dr Sean Kippin:

Cairney Kippin 1st full draft BUP PP in the UK Clean 12.10.22

I had also uploaded drafts of each chapter (with the bibliography)

PREFACE How to analyse UK policymaking

Chapter 1 Introduction: how to understand UK politics and policymaking

  1. Describes the importance of policy and policymaking to the study of UK politics.
  2. Introduces three essential ways to research it, via policy analysis, policy studies, and critical policy analysis.
  3. Warns against equating UK politics with the ‘Westminster model’ story of power concentrated in the hands of government ministers.
  4. Introduces an alternative ‘complex government’ story, in which ministers can only influence a small proportion of their responsibilities.
  5. Shows how to use these insights to analyse, explain, and evaluate contemporary politics and policymaking in the UK.

Chapter 2 What is policy analysis, how is policy made, and who benefits from its outcomes?

  1. Describes three perspectives on policy and policymaking
  • Policy analysis is research for policy: defining problems, seeking solutions, identifying trade-offs, estimating their effects, and making recommendations.
  • Policy studies is research of policy and policymaking: what policy is, who makes it, how policymakers understand and address problems, and the environment that limits their influence.
  • Critical policy analysis combines elements of both, to identify: who decides, who benefits, and how to challenge inequitable processes and outcomes.
  1. Shows how all three perspectives are essential to our understanding of policymaking

Chapter 3 UK politics and policymaking: Westminster and complex government stories 

  1. Compares two different stories of UK policymaking.
  • The Westminster story describes the concentration of power in the hands of a small number of people at the heart of central government.
  • It remains an important reference point in UK politics, even though it provides an inaccurate account of policymaking.
  • The complex government story describes the limits to central government control.
  • It is more accurate but less easy to understand and connect to UK political norms.
  1. Explores what happens when policymakers draw on both stories for different reasons, even when they seem to contradict each other

Chapters 4 and 5

Chapter 4 The transformation of the UK state

  1. Describes the transformation of the UK state in the post-war period.
  • Transformation describes profound changes including: the size of the UK state, its level of intervention in the market, and reforms to its policymaking and delivery functions.
  • There have been major changes in UK economic policy and ownership of industries.
  • UK governments have reformed public sector functions in health, education, housing, and local government.
  1. Relates state transformation to two reference points:
  • The post-war consensus story describing state ownership and intervention.
  • The neoliberal story describing a trend towards state retrenchment and privatization in favour of market forces and individual responsibility.
  1. Examines how parties make a difference.
  • In a few cases, a new party has become associated with a major change in the long-term direction of travel.
  • In most, a new party slows or accelerates the same trend.
  1. Identifies the impact of devolution.
  • Devolution as a policy has accentuated UK state transformation.
  • However, devolved government policies often opt-out of the UK government policies associated with state transformation.

Chapter 5 What does state transformation tell us about the UK policy process?

  1. Links state transformation to stories of policymaking. The Westminster story emphasises core executive action. The complex government story situates action in a wider policymaking environment.
  2. Examines the UK policy style during this period: were policy changes negotiated in policy communities or imposed from the top-down?
  3. Relates transformation to theories of policy change: did change occur incrementally or in bursts of activity? Was it part of a coherent plan?
  4. Explores debates on the consequences: did UK governments produce ‘lean’ and more effective government, or a ‘hollowed out’ state?
  5. Relates UK transformation to globalisation and the influence of international actors.

Chapter 6 Responding to crisis: COVID-19 policy and policymaking 

Highlights key perspectives on COVID-19 policy and policymaking:

  • Policy analysis identifies how to address a profound existential crisis in public health. How could UK and devolved governments define and seek to solve this problem?
  • Policy studies identifies how governments address the problems and policy processes that they do not fully understand or control. How did governments respond?
  • Critical policy analysis identifies and challenges inequitable processes and outcomes. Who won and lost from government action and inaction?

Chapter 7 Who should govern the UK, and for whose benefit? The Brexit vote and aftermath

  1. In 2016, the ‘Brexit’ campaign drew on the Westminster story to describe ‘taking back control’ of UK policy and policymaking. In 2020, the UK left the EU.
  2. The complex government story suggests that UK ministers have limited knowledge and control over policy processes. The Brexit process exposed those limitations, and changed only one of many drivers of fragmented and multi-level policymaking.
  3. Brexit created some confusion about the new responsibilities of devolved governments, and amplified demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
  4. Three approaches highlight key perspectives on these issues:
  • Policy analysis identifies how to address profound constitutional crises. For example, what case could people make to leave or remain in the European Union?
  • Policy studies identifies how governments address the impacts of constitutional change. What was the actual consequence of Brexit on policy and policymaking?
  • Critical policy analysis identifies and challenges inequitable processes and outcomes. Who won and lost from Brexit? Did it reduce or exacerbate inequalities?

Chapter 8 Dealing with existential crises: Environmental policy and climate change

  1. Climate change is an existential crisis requiring global and domestic cooperation to secure rapid and radical policy change.
  2. However, there is a large gap between requirements and reality: environmental issues receive fleeting attention, policy reforms have not produced the required outcomes, and other government policies undermine progress.
  3. Three approaches highlight key perspectives on these issues:
  • Policy analysis identifies how to address environmental crises. For example, what policy instruments seem to be technically and politically feasible?
  • Policy studies identifies how governments address the impacts of climate change. Which policies have governments favoured, what has been their impact, and how coherent is their approach?
  • Critical policy analysis identifies and challenges inequitable processes and outcomes. For example, does policy address climate justice as well as climate change?

Chapter 9 Neoliberalism and austerity politics in the UK

  1. The 2008 global economic crisis had a major impact on the UK government, which borrowed extensively to support banks and deal with the cost of recession.
  2. The 2010 Coalition government sought to address the UK’s annual deficit and overall debt problems by reducing public spending and reforming public services.
  3. This emphasis on ‘austerity’ reinforced a longer-term trend towards neoliberalism, emphasising state retrenchment in favour of individual and communal activity.
  4. Three approaches highlight key perspectives on these issues:
  • Policy analysis identifies how to address economic crises. For example, what is the size, urgency, and cause of the problem? What solutions should governments adopt?
  • Policy studies identifies how governments address the impacts of economic crisis. Which policies have governments favoured, and what has been their impact?
  • Critical policy analysis identifies and challenges inequitable processes and outcomes. For example, they highlight government choices to reduce social security spending, with a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities, women, and minoritized populations.

Chapter 10 Inequalities, racism, and protest politics in the UK

  1. The UK contains a highly unequal social and political system.
  2. Social and political attitudes to class, gender, race, migration, sexuality, and disability are common causes. Unequal income, education, and wellbeing are common effects.
  3. There is sporadic government attention to inequalities, with limited impact on policy.
  4. Protests against some causes of inequalities – such as racism – are a long-term feature of UK politics, but without producing a direct, substantive impact on public policy.
  5. Indeed, a focus on how governments respond to protests highlights a tendency to take some inequalities seriously while they ignore or exacerbate others.
  6. The case study of London ‘riots’ shows how the UK government exploited crisis to accelerate its ‘troubled families’ agenda and reject criticism of policing.
  7. Three approaches highlight key perspectives on these issues:
  • Policy analysis identifies how to address inequalities as a series of interconnected policy problems, including: what inequalities are the most severe and urgent, what is their cause, and which solutions are feasible?
  • Policy studies situates this analysis in the context of real-world developments. We discuss the tendency of the UK government to maintain multiple, contradictory commitments to reducing inequalities, and to reframe protests about government policies to support its policy agendas.
  • Critical policy analysis encourages the use of ‘critical race theory’ to highlight and challenge persistent inequalities and racism.

Chapter 11 UK foreign policy: the ‘war on terror’

  1. The UK Labour government supported the US’ ‘war on terror’ following terrorist attacks on the US on the 9th September 2001 (9/11).
  2. The government was a key contributor to US-led wars in Afghanistan from 2001 and Iraq from 2003.
  3. The Iraq War prompted unusually high public protest in the UK, but without changing UK policy.
  4. These conflicts provide a useful way to examine UK foreign policies.
  5. Three approaches highlight key perspectives:
  • Foreign policy analysis examines how to understand international conflict.
  • The Westminster and complex government stories help to explain the central control of policy choices but not outcomes.
  • Critical policy analysis helps identify who wins and loses, including economic benefits to businesses and the harm to those involved.

Chapter 11 Foreign policy: the ‘war on terror’

  1. This chapter uses the dramatic experience of the Liz Truss government to highlight key aspects of UK politics and policy.
  2. A focus on policy analysis helps to identify the overwhelming number of problems facing a government at any one time, and how ministers define and prioritise problems.
  3. The Truss government drew on the Westminster story to project an image of strong and decisive government in the national interest. Then, it became a ‘listening’ government, willing to make a U-turn when some measures faced a backlash.
  4. The Truss government exemplifies the limits associated with the complex government story, including the need to inherit problems and policies, and respond to multiple crises, while having a limited understanding of events and control over outcomes.
  5. A key source of backlash was a temporary decision to reduce the 45p rate of income tax for high earners at a time when low earners were struggling to pay for energy. This example shows how the media and public to pay disproportionate and infrequent attention to inequality.

We should manage to complete this book on time if everyone promises that not much else will change in British Politics before 2023.

2. Older blog posts and podcasts on the theme of policy and policymaking in the UK (for a 2016 module)

  1. British politics, Brexit and UK sovereignty: what does it all mean? #POLU9UK

2. Two stories of British politics: the Westminster model versus Complex Government

3. Policymaking in the UK: do you really know who is in charge and who to blame?

4. Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: the Westminster Model and Multi-level Governance

(podcast download)

4. BONUS MATERIAL Writing a policy paper and blog post (no podcast)

[Weeks 5 and 6 were for presentations]

7a. Policy networks and communities 

7b. Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Networks, sub-government and communities

8a. Socioeconomic factors and events in British politics 

8b. Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Context, Events, Structural and Socioeconomic Factors

9. What happens when UK Governments try to control and delegate policymaking? 


Note on podcasts: if you want to download them (perhaps because they won’t play on the site on some computers), right click and download: one, two, three, four, … nine.

3. Old Book Idea: Policy and Policymaking in the UK

Here are some old versions of my single-author chapters . They are part of a book that was never written, but chapter 2 gets too many downloads to dump.

Chapter 1 Introduction: how is policy made in the UK?

Chapter 2 Policymaking in the UK: What is Policy and How is it Made?

… big gap ….

Chapter 16 Conclusion: Two ways to understand policymaking in the UK

See also:

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