Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Visions of Subsidiarity and the Curse of the British Political Tradition

In a piece recently posted on Whitehall Watch, Martin Smith (with Dave Richards and Patrick Diamond from the University of Manchester) argues that despite philosophical and practical differences over the nature and role of the  state, there have been underlying synergies in how New Labour and the current centre-right Coalition have approached reforming the organisation of government and its relation to society. 

"There is little doubt that the previous Labour Administration and the current Coalition government have discernibly different governing projects. Despite a rhetorical appeal to the contrary, Labour substantially increased both the size and role of the state, developing a new set of interventions in social policy and significantly increased government expenditure. The Coalition on the other hand has been focused on reducing the role of the state, decreasing government expenditure and making cuts of over 50,000 in civil service numbers.

However, despite philosophical and practical differences over the nature and role of the state, there have been underlying synergies in how they have approached reforming the organisation of government and its relation with society  Both New Labour and the present centre-right Coalition have been motivated by an inclination to reform the topography of the state, devolving and decentralising power, while initiating a more participative mode of governing in which citizens play a greater role on the development and implementation of policy. Prior to 1997, Tony Blair boldy stated that: 'The era of big, centralising government is over'. In a similar fashion, David Cameron announced shortly after taking office in 2010: 'Today is the start of a deep and serious reform agenda to take power away from politicians and give it to the people. 

Yet, what neither government has been able to do is to reconcile the tension between a desire for greater subsidarity by devolving power to local and regional bodies and the impulse to control all that goes on in politics..." 

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