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About this book

The third edition of this comprehensive and innovative textbook provides an invaluable narrative and insight into the ever-changing landscape of British politics.

Updated to cover the 2015 General Election, the Scottish independence referendum and changing relations with the European Union, this extensively revised new edition sets out to provide students with a clear understanding of the core features of British politics and contemporary governance, as well as an examination of the way in which the governing process is becoming increasingly 'multi-level' and 'multi-agency'.

Written in a concise and accessible style by one of the leading authors in the field, this engaging text provides an illuminating framework that draws on the range of analytical issues and theoretical debates in the study of British politics. Through Moran's unrivalled account of the way Britain is governed, it is clear to see why this text continues to be essential reading for undergraduate students of British politics.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Third Edition

The first edition of this book was published in 2005, and was conceived and drafted in the early years of the millennium. In short, it was written in a very different political world from the one we presently inhabit. The economy was in the middle of the longest uninterrupted boom for over a century; New Labour under Tony Blair was at its height. The boom ended in 2007–08 in the greatest financial crisis since the Great Crash of 1929, and in a wider economic crisis from which the country has still not recovered. Labours crushing defeat at the 2010 general election ended the era of New Labour, and indeed led to something unknown in post-Second World War Britain - a long period of coalition government. The couple of years between 2008 and 2010 look in retrospect like watershed times: comparable to 1945 and 1979 as moments when the course of British politics changed dramatically. But like most moments of upheaval, the result was not simply a clean break with the past. British politics in the second decade of the millennium has been a mixture of change and continuity, and this third edition mirrors that mixture. The fundamental purpose remains unaltered: to provide an introduction to the study of British politics for the beginning student.
Michael Moran

1. Why politics matters and why British politics matters

A defining feature of the state is its ability to impose coercion. But coercion is supposed to be limited by the rules of liberal democracy. Torture, whatever precise definition it is given, is acknowledged to be out of bounds under the rules of liberal democracy. But what happens in a world where terror threats are global and are addressed through cooperation between states, some of which are liberal democracies and some of which are not? Rendition illustrates the problem. It refers to the practice of a liberal democracy, the US, rendering suspects to jurisdictions where there are no liberal safeguards against torture, and then using the evidence gained. The US admits that it has used rendition; the UK has now admitted that it assisted the US in the process of despatching suspects for rendition; there are allegations by suspects that they were tortured with the complicity of the UK authorities.
Michael Moran

2. Politics and policy in a capitalist democracy

We saw in the Introduction, and in Chapter 1, that most accounts of politics in Britain picture it as some sort of democracy - even if fully democratic politics is only an aspiration, providing a standard against which we can evaluate the reality of governing Britain. But politics cannot be isolated from the wider society, and one feature of that wider society - the way the economy functions - is critical to understanding how Britain is governed. The economy of Britain is capitalist. Capitalism is a word often used polemically - either as a term of approval or disapproval. But here it is used descriptively. A capitalist economy has two distinguishing features. First, it allocates resources primarily through market forces: that is, through price mechanisms which signal demand, and generate supply, of goods and services. Second, the most important economic institutions - firms - are privately owned. Thus the twin institutions of market allocation and private property define a capitalist economy.
Michael Moran

3. The constitution and the British political culture

After the final separation of fire from the United Kingdom in 1922 many constitutional issues remained for the United Kingdom, but for nearly half a century one seemed completely settled: the territorial boundaries of the Union encompassed England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and constitutional authority was centralized in the political institutions of the capital - in Parliament, the Executive and the Crown. The resurgence of nationalism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (described in later chapters) disrupted constitutional agreement about state boundaries, to the point where Scotland nearly seceded in the 2014 referendum. But another profound disruption is now being created. The idea of a single supreme constitutional authority is increasingly at issue. As powers are devolved to institutions like the Scottish Parliament the question of the relationship between the centre and the geographical parts of the United Kingdom is becoming increasingly contentious.
Michael Moran

4. The core executive in the Westminster system

Two major themes of this chapter are how the core executive should be organized, and how organization has changed over time, especially due to the growing influence of business thinking in government over the past generation. In turn, an important sign of all this has been the way the influence of business thinking in government has been growing for a generation. For over 20 years individual departments have had governing boards modelled loosely on boards of directors in the private corporate sector. But the coalition government of 2010–15 greatly enhanced the role of these boards, increased the representation of figures from business as non-executive directors and created a potentially powerful outside figure in the form of a lead non-executive director for each department. The development raises two issues. First, is the business of a department.
Michael Moran

5. Departments and agencies in the Westminster system

An important theme of this chapter is the rise of a new regulatory state: control of public bodies has shifted to an emphasis on performance measurement by officially created indicators and by oversight through external regulatory bodies. The Francis Report (published February 2013) casts doubt on the efficacy of all this. This was the report of a public inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC into the clinical management by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. It documented a history of horrifying neglect and abuse of patients at the Trusts hospital. The inquiry showed that much of the history of neglect was due to a diversion of resources from care to ensure that the Trust fulfilled official performance measures; and in 2003, despite the existence of abuse, the Trust received a 3 star (outstanding) rating from its main regulator, the Health Commission. The scandal thus raised three questions about the new world of regulation.
Michael Moran

6. Representing interests in the Westminster system

Lobbying, the subject of this chapter, has been the most enduring source of corruption in British politics. The common view that British politics is marked by high standards was damaged by a series of episodes under the Conservative government of John Major, under the governments of New Labour 1997–2010, and during the period of the coalition 2010–15. Under Major, the stream of cases led to the setting up of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1994 and to the passage of new rules concerning the registration of interests by MPs. The Labour leader Tony Blair announced that in office he would run a rigorously clean administration. But a sting by a newspaper showed an advisor in the Blair government boasting of his ability to gain preferential access for clients. A string of decisions ranging from the treatment of cigarette advertising in Formula One motor racing to the awarding of government contracts was soon suspiciously linked to donations to the Labour Party. In 2010 three former Labour Cabinet members.
Michael Moran

7. Parliament in the Westminster system

In 2009 Parliament was convulsed by articles in the Daily Telegraph detailing the allowances claimed by MPs. The most damaging revelations centred on housing allowances originally designed to allow MPs representing constituencies beyond Greater London to cover the cost of a second dwelling. The cases aroused huge public discontent, and were prompted by issues as various as triviality of claims (for toilet brushes), extravagance (contribution to cleaning out the moat of a stately home) and dubious legality (payment for non-existent mortgages). The publicity terminated the parliamentary careers of more than 100 MPs. But the longer-term significance of this issue was that it highlighted the ambiguous conception of what it is to be an MP: is it a job or a vocation? Until the seventeenth century members were paid. From the eighteenth century they were not, but only because membership of the Commons allowed numerous opportunities for corruption. The cleansing of British politics in the nineteenth century led to pressure for payment.
Michael Moran

8. Devolved government in Northern Ireland

The role of Northern Ireland in British politics is the most extreme sign of a problem that goes to the heart of the nature of the UK: what should be the boundaries of that Kingdom and how can its boundaries be maintained? In 1800 an Act of Union abolished the Irish Parliament in Dublin and united the whole island of Ireland under the British Crown. In 1922 an Irish Free State came into existence with the same degree of independence enjoyed by other members of the Commonwealth like Canada and Australia. This followed a treaty that brought to an end five years of military conflict between the British state and Irish republican nationalists. But the new Irish state only covered 26 counties with an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population. The remaining six, in the north of the island, dominated by a Protestant population that supported continued union with the Crown, were granted a high level of devolved government within the UK. That devolution lasted 50 years. The degree of devolution was unusual in an otherwise highly centralized political system, and was the result of a great clash about the identity of the UK. The independence settlement involved partitioning the island and incorporating the six northern counties as a component part of the UK, but one with its own legislature, executive and extensive control over its own domestic affairs.
Michael Moran

9. From devolution to dissolution: governing Scotland and Wales

A key theme of this book is the transformation of a once settled system of government in the UK. We have labelled it the Westminster system, in recognition of the extent to which its institutions and powers are heavily concentrated in a small part of central London. In this chapter we will examine one of the most important ways in which the Westminster system is being changed: by the rise of newly devolved systems of government beyond the capital city. (The adjacent chapters extend this: Chapter 8 looked at the devolved system in Northern Ireland; Chapter 10 will describe how the Westminster system is also being reshaped in a less publicly noticed way, by political innovation in local and regional government.) The reshaping, and partial dissolution, of the Westminster system has taken different forms in different parts of the UK, but in this chapter I consider the experience of Scotland and Wales as a piece. This is not to suggest that the Scottish and Welsh experiences are identical. On the contrary: one theme of the following pages is the dissimilarities between the two nations. Scotland and Wales nevertheless should be examined together. One obvious reason is that devolved government was introduced into the two nations at the same moment: formally, legislation passed in the Westminster Parliament in 1998 brought the devolved institutions into existence in January 1999.
Michael Moran

10. The worlds of local and regional government: multilevel governance in action

Behind this chapter lies a feature almost unique to Britain: the proportion of revenue for local government raised locally is lower than in almost any other advanced European state. The only significant source of local revenue available to councils is the council tax - a tax on property which provides about a fifth of revenue. The overwhelming source of local government revenue comes from central government, and even the levels set for council tax have since its introduction been tightly controlled by the centre. Local authorities are uniquely boxed in, and getting them out of the box is the most important policy problem in local government. But any solution is plagued with difficulties. The property values on which the council tax is based have not been revalued since 1991, and no government has been prepared to risk the political difficulties involved in revaluation in England. Other countries have developed alternative or additional local tax bases: for instance, local sales taxes, common in the USA; local income taxes; a land value tax (designed to capture part of the rising value of land); and a mansion tax on the value of exceptionally highly valued properties. Every one of these faces huge obstacles because each damages powerful interests. None of the aspirations for greater decentralization voiced after the Scottish independence referendum mean anything without a solution to the problem of centralized control of finances.
Michael Moran

11. Europeanizing British government

The Conservative victory in the May 2015 General Election means that a referendum on our future membership in the EU is now certain, by 2017 at the latest. The British have long been the most Eurosceptic people among the big member states of the European Union (EU). The UKs growing integration into the EU over the decades following the original accession in 1973 was due to elite consensus. Even the most Eurosceptic of Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher, put onto the statute book in 1986 the Single European Act - the most important measure of European integration since the signature of the founding Treaty of Rome in 1957. It did seem for over thirty years after the UKs accession that the question of Britain: in or out? had been settled in favour not only of membership but also of increased integration in a federal Europe. As this chapter will show that is no longer the case. Division over whether we should remain in membership, over whether we should confirm or end membership with a referendum, over whether if we remain in membership we should have some looser association than hitherto - all these have become central to British politics, including electoral politics, since the beginning of the millennium. They became even more central during the tenure of the coalition government after 2010 and a major theme of the 2015 general election campaign.
Michael Moran

12. Parties and their organization

The domicile status of one of the Conservatives main donors, Lord Ashcroft, has long been a bone of contention. Since David Cameron became leader they have relied increasingly on small numbers of rich donors. In November 2007 the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Peter Watt, had to resign because he had accepted donations amounting to 600,000 from a north-east businessman, channelled through intermediaries to protect his identity. Ed Milibands reforms discussed in this chapter may intensify Labours financial problems. In 2005 Michael Brown donated 2.4 million to the Liberal Democrats. He was subsequently convicted of fraud and the party narrowly escaped having to repay the donation - a course which would have caused it great financial problems; but the refusal puts the party, in the eyes of some critics, close to being a receiver of stolen goods. The issue, though, goes beyond high-profile cases and will recur for a reason central to this chapter. The root cause is that the parties have lost the mass membership which a generation ago raised substantial sums of money and provided the free labour on the doorstep to fight elections.
Michael Moran

13. Parties and their ideologies

For half a century after the end of the First World War - the moment from which we can date the start of Conservative and Labour dominance in political debate - political ideology shaped debate about political issues along one dimension: the state versus the market in economic management. But in recent decades, as we will see in this chapter, that single dominant divide has been overlain with many others. Three are especially important. First, the status of the United Kingdom has increasingly divided the parties, especially with the rise of nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland. Second, national identity, especially English national identity, has become an issue, especially in the light of the rising importance of EU membership: that has propelled the United Kingdom Independence Party to prominence, and has broken the silent agreement between the two dominant parties, Conservative and Labour, about the countrys membership of the EU. Third, struggles over the physical environment have become an increasing source of division. This is not just a matter of the rise of the Green Party, though that has in some instances been considerable. More widely, politics at local level is increasingly convulsed by struggles for environmental control: over windfarms, housing developments, shopping developments, road projects and rail projects like the ambitious High Speed 2 project planned for the Midlands and the north.
Michael Moran

14. How citizens participate

We commonly assume that participation is essential to democracy. But participation in Britain has often been highly problematic. There are three kinds of barrier, and all remain live issues in creating meaningful participatory democracy. First, there are conventional understandings that have limited what participation is possible or desirable. A big theme of this chapter is the reshaping of these conventional understandings, away from a notion that participation had to be guided by party elites to a more expansive idea of participation. Second, there remain legal barriers to participation: some groups, of whom most prisoners are the best-documented instance, are prohibited from even minimal forms of participation, like voting. Third, there are big institutional barriers to participation. Take voting, the most basic form: the Electoral Commissions review after the 2010 general election estimated that over 6 million voters were missing from the electoral register - and therefore were disfranchised (Electoral Commission 2011b).
Michael Moran

15. How political communication happens

For nearly 50 years until 2014 the press practised self-regulation: a Commission considered complaints from the public and issued adjudications. It was widely believed to be ineffective because it was controlled by the leading newspapers, who were the commonest offenders, and it had no effective sanctions. A series of scandals beginning with a criminal case in 2007 revealed serious intrusions into the lives of private individuals by newspapers, principally those connected with News International, the Murdoch group based on phone hacking - illegal accessing of mobile numbers. The government appointed a senior judge (Sir Brian, now Lord, Leveson) to inquire into the practices and regulation of the press. Levesons report, published in 2012, recommended the creation of a new regulatory body with power to impose stronger sanctions, in effect creating a system of registration for publications. After convoluted bargaining between newspaper interests and politicians a new non-statutory body, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has been created. But no consensus on regulation exists: three national newspapers (The Guardian, Financial Times and The Independent), together with the best-selling current affairs magazine, Private Eye, have declined to join IPSO.
Michael Moran

16. How elections are decided

Formally this issue is closed. It was decided by the great struggles over the suffrage over 100 years ago: since the 1920s we have had a system of universal suffrage, so all adults should be so entitled. But as we shall see several times in the chapter entitlement remains a difficult issue. This is partly because the idea of an adult is changing. For much of the twentieth century it meant someone aged 21 or over. That was reduced to 18 in 1969. There is an active lobby to reduce it to 16 for UK general elections, and the qualifying age in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum was indeed 16. Moreover, these rules relate only to entitlement to register to vote. In practice, as we shall see also in the chapter, millions who are formally entitled to register are not on the register; and some of those on the register find it difficult to exercise their entitlement on election day. We saw in Chapter 1 that Athenian democracy actually involved excluding from entitlement to participate more than half the population: slaves and women were disfranchised. The exclusions are not so dramatic in Britain, but they are nevertheless significant. What is more, the exclusions are not random: the young and the poor are disproportionately excluded. The Electoral Commission has struggled since its foundation to convert the formality of universal suffrage into a reality.
Michael Moran

17. How leaders are selected

A major theme of this chapter is changing patterns of leadership recruitment. For a generation, being well connected seemed to be a hindrance to rising in British politics. After the old Etonian Sir Alec Douglas-Home stepped aside as Conservative leader in 1965, the party chose a selection of leaders of modest origins: of the next six all but one were state school-educated; the exception, Duncan Smith, had been to a minor public school. All were born to families of modest means. The election of David Cameron (Eton and Oxford University) as leader of the Conservative Party in 2005, and the emergence of George Osborne (St Pauls and Oxford) as Chancellor, 2010–15, apparently reverses that trend. Several other prominent Conservatives, such as Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, are also old Etonians. There were 20 old Etonians in the 2010 Parliament, an increase of five over the 2005 Parliament. The leader of the Liberal Democrats until 2015 was Nick Clegg, the son of a rich banker, who was educated at Westminster, after Eton possibly Britains leading public school. The question is: why is democratic politics apparently producing upper-class leaders? There are three possible answers.
Michael Moran

18. Understanding policy under multilevel governance

Running through this chapter is a recurrent problem in policy making, both in Britain and elsewhere: how far is it possible to make policy in a rational way where alternatives are systematically considered and the best chosen according to the evidence? As we will see the number of ill-considered choices which lead to policy fiascos is exasperatingly high in the United Kingdom - leading some, indeed, to think that we are uniquely exposed to policy failure. But as the frequent attempts to develop ‘rational’ models for policy choice (see Documenting Politics 18.2 below) suggest, there may be powerful forces engrained in the very character of modern government which limit the possibilities of rational choice. ‘Politics’, in the sense of partisan interests, commonly intrude, but it may be more than a matter of the disturbing influence of politics: as Briefing 18.1 below shows, some important theorists of the policy process think muddle is inevitable, and indeed may be preferable to attempts to think of policy choice in a comprehensively rational way.
Michael Moran

19. Managing resource raising and allocation

The message of this chapter is that the state in Britain now spends on a huge scale. It raises the resources in the many ways documented in these pages, and a critical political issue is: who should bear the load of taxation? Historically the answer was simple: the poor should pay because they did not share the responsibilities of those with property. Nowadays, a key issue in allocation has been how much of the load should be borne by big companies - by corporate taxation, in other words. An industry of tax accountancy has developed which takes legal tax avoidance to a high art. Most of the best-known corporate names operating in Britain practise tax efficiency, which is the worldwide organization of their financial resources so as to minimize their tax bills to the British state. But being tax efficient within the law is a highly complex business - hence only those with the wealth to hire very skilled lawyers and tax accountants can realistically practise it. The phenomenon is worldwide, but Britain occupies an especially central place because most of the leading tax havens are Crown dependencies. Estimates of the amounts saved by corporate tax efficiency reach as high as 85 billion - give or take 10 billion, which is virtually the cost of public education in Britain. The pressure group UK Uncut repeatedly publicizes the issue, organizing public demonstrations and boycotts of tax-avoiding big corporates.
Michael Moran

20. Managing justice and security

In mid-2013 The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers began a series of revelations about huge programmes of electronic surveillance conducted using the latest technology by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The revelations were based on files provided by Edward Snowden, who had worked as a contractor for the Agency. It soon became clear that Britains main spy agency, GCHQ, was also operating ambitious systems of surveillance based on harvesting millions of phone and Internet records from private citizens. It also became evident that GCHQ and the NSA were cooperating closely in sharing this information, and that GCHQ was storing and analysing the harvested records. The surveillance also involved the cooperation of important private interests, notably the big Internet service providers. The implications of the revelations continue to unfold, and it is as yet unclear if surveillance on this scale is illegal in the UK. But what is clear is that it has taken place on a huge scale, was conducted in secret until the Snowden revelations, and if not illegal has at the very least involved the sophisticated circumvention of the law. One of the main themes of this chapter is the growth of codified rules governing surveillance of private citizens by both state and private organizations, and the creation of official bodies to oversee those codified rules. The Snowden revelations raise big questions, however, about the effectiveness, or even the point, of these codifications if the state can spy on citizens on such a large scale, and in secret.
Michael Moran

21. Managing, protecting and creating citizen rights

When the first edition of this book appeared it seemed that a new element had entered political and constitutional life in Britain: rights talk became central, especially after the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1998. And as this chapter repeatedly shows, rights talk is still central. But it has become an increasingly disputed vocabulary. This is partly because the creation of human rights in the UK has been closely associated with Europe. The Human Rights Act effectively incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into English law and political life. And while the Convention is separate from, and predates, the creation of the European Union, it has become associated with our membership of the EU, and has drawn fire as hostility to EU membership has grown, especially in the Conservative Party as it has tried to meet the challenge of UKIP. Rights talk is now often seen as an unBritish, foreign import. The Conservative Party is contemplating withdrawal from the Convention, and while this would still leave intact the broad outlines of the human rights regime created at the end of the twentieth century, it does mean that what seemed a settled part of the constitutional landscape - the creation of a domain of human rights protected from invasion by a parliamentary majority - is now once again a contested part of the constitution. The replacement of the Human Rights Act is a central plank of the legislative
Michael Moran

22. Understanding the British state: theories and evidence

Imagine studying British government 50 or more years ago - say at the moment in 1964 when the election of a new Labour administration under Harold Wilson as Prime Minister had produced the first change in partisan control of the Westminster government for 13 years. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that this moment also marked a turning point - the beginning of a long period of change in both the system of government and in the wider political system. The new era of change had comparatively little to do with the government that was elected in 1964. Rather, the change in the partisan colour of government in that year was itself a symptom of deeper changes in wider society and in the links between society and politics. We can identify six important changes, and four lines of continuity, if we glance back over the succeeding decades. The rise of multilevel and multi-agency governance In part this change is institutional and in part it is a change in the mindset of those involved in making policy. The institutional changes that have cropped up in many of the chapters of this book are part of the story. The two most dramatic are the increasing intersection between all levels of government in Britain and the governing institutions of the EU, notably the European Commission in Brussels; and the formalization of domestic multilevel governance which has taken place as a result of the devolution measures introduced from 1999, and the expansion of devolution after the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. But just as important as the objective institutional change is the rising consciousness that government is a multiagency matter: that it involves coordinating the activities of a wide range of agencies distributed both horizontally and vertically across society.
Michael Moran
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