British policy style?

As one begins to consider British policy, both foreign and domestic, one conjures pictures of the Queen-mother and her regal adherence to British tradition. In this way the Queen-mother stands as an icon of everything that is British. One pictures solicitors, in their powdered wigs and smart suits engaging in scholarly argument that will shape British policy in the future. These icons are the epitome of British policy, they are steadfast, solid and true. Their foundation is rock-solid as it has its basis in the argument of many others before them.

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Government policy is the result of conflict. The people of a particular country develop policies as a result of the needs of the individual country. These needs may vary due to many factors, including the availability of natural resources in the region. Traditions arise from necessity. As time passes, many times the people tend to forget exactly why a policy stands, however, this is where the term “tradition” can be of use. Traditions are not arbitrary and have a solid logical root in the past. However, after the reason for the policy is passed and the persons who adopted it as gone as well, then when asked, “Why do you do that?” The answer will invariably be, “We do it because it is tradition.”

This is the case with British policy. The Queen-mother and solicitors are the icons of British tradition. The Queen-mother is a reflection of the past, when the country was monarchical in nature. The solicitors in their powdered wigs represent a change from a monarchy to a more democratic approach, ruled by the people. These symbols reflect a reluctance to change that which is already established. This is how the British government reacts to new situations, as well, by looking to the past for answers. The British have a reputation for being unwilling to compromise, especially if that compromise would mean going against established British tradition.

British culture and policy now reflect a conflict between the old traditionalists and a younger generation that sees a need to to meet the current needs. They recognize that traditions are important, yet feel that strict adherence to these traditions may be detrimental in the future. This conflict between tradition and the need to change has been particularly evident since the formation of the EU. The following research will support the hypothesis, through the examination of extent sources and example, that British policy has undergone a paradigm shift from one of rigid tradition to a more malleable policy style.

Defining Traditional British Policy Style

In order to support the existence of a change in policy style, we must first define both the old and new policy styles. This is best done by comparison of British policy on some issues to the policies of other countries on the same issue. It is also important to examine British reaction to certain events and situations, such as that of the British steel industry. The best way to define British policy is to look at what it is and also, what it is not.

British policy has been unwavering in its positions on gun control, abortion, and issues such as . This is more noticeable when one compares it to policies in the United States on these same issues. For instance, in the case of British Policies regarding drunk driving, the punishments for a first offense are severe and there is no bargaining for more leniency. In British policy Action A will lead to punishment B, every time. However, in the United States, individual judges determine what the appropriate punishment will be for each offense. Sometimes a first offense will get a slap on the wrist and a stern finger-waving from the judge, other times the first time offender will be jailed, heavily fined, and their driving license revoked. In the United States action A could lead to punishment A, B, or C. And it is a lottery draw for the offender. This is just one example by comparison, however, it in general is a reflection of British Policy. British policy, whether it concerns foreign or domestic policy is based on a set of rigid rules, A=B.

Another example of the rigidity of British policy and the resistance to change lies in the icons of British government itself. Powdered wigs were once popular style in most of Europe. When the United States was a fledgling country, its solicitors and beginning policy makers wore powdered wigs, just as everyone else in the world. Everyone will agree that powdered wigs are no longer in vogue. However, British policy makers still wear powdered wigs in formal occasions. In the United States, a lawyer would look ridiculous walking into a courtroom in a powdered wig. This is not an example of policy in Britain, but does help our definition of British policy by defining the rigidity of the British mindset, as compared to other countries and cultures. This same rigidity is reflected in British policy as well.

Like the formation of the EU, British Policy style has arisen from the need to resolve conflict within the country. Topics such as abortion, issues involving entrance into the EU, and more recently, whether to assist the United States in their upcoming war with Iraq have forced the British government to reach accommodations and compromises in order to adopt policies that will define how the government will respond when this situation arises in the future.

Jordan and Richardson (1982) agree that British policy is a result of conflict resolution. The parties involved negotiate until a consensus is reached and then everyone accepts the decision in the name of negotiation. In this way, British policy making can be considered “reactive” in nature (Jordan and Richardson 1982, p. 81). The stereotype of British Policy makers is that of one of cool, calm, critical debate. However, as Jordan and Richardson point our, this stereotype is quite unwarranted. They state,

That is not to say that the participants are always to proceed on this basis. The Crossman Diaries record a series of unsuccessful attempts to provide ‘central capability’ through the institution of some form of Inner Cabinet.” (Jordan and Richardson 1982, p. 83)

Jordan and Richardson explain this by the heads of the various ministries involved in the debates being too concerned with the issues facing their own departments. They were so concerned with their own needs, that they were not able to assess the opinions of other in an objective manner. The idea of the government being unable to resolve an argument effectively does not fit the stereotype of the orderly debate based on tradition that typifies British government. It does support the idea that British policy has arisen from conflict resolution and that it did nor occurs in a particularly orderly fashion. Jordan and Richardson give many examples of this system breaking down and failing to meet its primary objectives.

British policy has arisen from two key elements, “cultural bias containing normative values which emphasizes the need to legitimate decisions through consultation,” (Jordan and Richardson 1982 p. 5) and “functional necessity,” (Jordan and Richardson 1982 p. 85). From this description, one can surmise that Jordan and Richardson agree with our functional definition of British policy making mechanisms of the past, based on the current needs, but steeped in tradition.

When Traditional Mechanisms Break Down rigid set of rules established the procedures for policy making, consult policies of the past to establish if there are any precedents, then assure that these precedents are met in assessing the current need being discussed. However, as discussed by Jordan and Richardson (1982), these rules for policy making do not always work as planned. There have been times when British policy makers abandoned the tried and tested policy making methods.

One key example of a break from traditional policy making to a more negotiative style occurred when the British government, rigidly set in its ways, met with an equally committed opposition. When the Wilson government wanted to bring shipbuilding industries to Britain, it already had set methods that were effective and that it was unwilling to change. Some of these policies were in conflict with existing British labor and manufacturing policies (Jordan and Richardson 1982 p. 100). There were two resolutions to this conflict. One was to reject the shipbuilding trade and not allow it to come to Britain. The other was to negotiate and compromise some of their own policies and allow the trade to enter the country. They chose the later, as they saw many more benefits than negative outcomes from this decision. This was a clear break from traditional British policy making style.

There are many examples of a willingness of British policy makers seemingly abandoning there established norms, when they feel that it is for the good of the country at large. However, they do not do this on a regular basis. British Policymakers undergo an apprenticeship conducted by the established party (Jordan and Richardson 1982, 107). This assures that they learn the proper attitudes and positions and gives traditionalist some security that the next administration will not undo what has already been done. This system assures that continuity and tradition prevails.

A prime example of a change in policy is the recent policies regarding the Coal and Steel industries. The 1951 Treaty of Paris establishes the market structure of this industry. This treaty formed a basis for maintaining market stability among the treaty countries (Dudley and Richardson 1999). The Treaty of Paris provided a frame work for outside intervention into the industry by the concerned parties in order to regulate prices and assure stability of supply and demand. Recently there has been a shift from this conservative prospective and a trend towards a more open market environment. As a result there is now a movement to move away from the ideals in the Treaty of Paris. This reflects a trend in the world at large, but in this same respect, Britain must now make a decision of whether to abandon its rigid traditional rules, in which it may distance itself from other countries, or whether to re-examine its own policies and gain the benefits afforded by the global marketplace. This has been an ensuing debate and reflects the conflicts faced by the British on many other issues as well.

Richardson, (1982) identifies several categories of policy styles and makes a convincing argument that it is difficult to define the policy style of a particular country. In light of the conflicts between traditional policy styles in Britain and the more modern approach, it would certainly seem as if one would agree with this statement. Richardson used several characteristics and ideals in the construction of his policy categories including the issue style, decision technique, type of decision, and type of resolution, among others (Richardson, 1982 p. 11). The categories range from a participatory, problem resolving approach to a consensus approach to a proposed policy.

As far as British policy is concerned, it would seem as if the policy making style, as defined by Richardson, et. al. (1982) would be in the process of transition from a strict traditional consensus approach, base on past case studies and policies to a more participatory approach. When one examines the categories and elements in policy analysis, it is easy to realize that a shift in policy style is in-deed beginning to take shape in Britain. The is an efficient way to define policy and it would seem as it by definition alone, the hypothesis is supported that British policy-making is undergoing a definitive shift in ideology.

It is feared by many British traditionalists that British policy making will move towards the model of American Politics discussed in Baumgartner and Jones (1993). This book paints a picture of American politics as being driven by the agendas of special interest groups and influenced by the advertising campaigns of mass media. Baumgartner and Jones do paint a compelling picture for this vision of American politics. This is a stark contrast to traditional British Policy making. This is the other end of the spectrum as far as they are concerned and it is this extreme that they fear.

More liberal policy makers, do not see a problem with incorporating some more of these ideals into their own policy-making strategies. They are moving towards a more public participation model. Many do not see this trend going as far a the picture painted in Baumgartner and Jones (1993), but they do see a need to adopt a less rigid policy making style. The two sides are at odds, and the traditionalists fear that the liberals will take this idea to an extreme. However, in reality, many of the liberalists do not want this extreme, but just a slight loosening of the neck ties.

British policy has always prided itself in the equality of the parties and their ability to have equal access to the expression of their ideals. Baumgartner and Jones (1993) discuss seven examples in America where access to policy was denied certain groups by the over-riding influence of another group. The most extraordinary examples involved the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Traditionalists fear that this type of inequality of the ministries and control by special interest groups will begin to occur there as well. However, they forget, that there already been cases of this when the leaders of Ministries involving the debate in the steel industry blatantly ignored arguments by others in lieu of their own interests. They fail to see that in some cases, that which they feared the most has already occurred.

Kjellberg (1995) developed a case study in Sweden in which a governmental policy change had an undesirable effect. Instead of the projected economic growth, it instead created a welfare state. This brings up the idea that a when a change in the policy making process is being considered, the involved parties must be certain that the new policy change will be sustainable in the future. It does little good to make a change that later must be revoked due to unforeseen results, as in the case of Sweden, presented by Kjellberg.

The case presented by Sweden may be a key argument for traditionalists who fear the changes proposed by the more liberal British factions. Currently, traditionalists feel that the current status quo is comfortable and that consistency is the key to effective policy. They fear that a change to more liberal, publicly oriented policy making model could lead to instability and that they could experience the same scenario as Sweden (Kjellberg 1995).

Liberals, on the other hand, feel that al policy making style change is necessary if Britain is to be able to make the adjustments necessary to enter into the EU and the Global market. They feel that more flexibility will be needed and that a failure to do so will leave Britain trailing in the dust of the new economy. The inception of the EU has caused many countries to have to reconsider their policies and make compromises. Britain’s staunch adherence to tradition may make it difficult to enter into this new and expanding market. Let us examine this issue more closely.

The Effects of the EU on Individual Policies

In the past, European countries have consisted of a group of individual countries, steeped in rich cultural traditions. This cultural tradition not only effected the mannerisms and culture of the country, but was also inherent in the mode and method of governance. Europeans, proud of their individual cultures, were reluctant to change and held firm to their individualistic ideals. British governance is perhaps one countries with the most rigid traditions of any of the current members of the EU. These traditions are not malleable and, as expected, when asked to respond to a new situation, be it domestic, or foreign in nature, the British parliament first looks to the past to determine if there is any existing precedence for that particular situation. They have been known for the steadfast adherence to tradition in all matters, both foreign and domestic.

Other countries, such as France and Germany are also known for their strict adherence to long-standing traditions. Benz and Eberlein (1999) explore the formation of the European Unions and how it is possible for countries, so rich in tradition, to form a regional government. There are many differences in how the countries that make up the EU handle foreign policy. The formation of the EU required individual countries to make concessions and reach compromises, the study of how these richly traditional countries accomplished this task has been the subject of many studies in foreign policy.

The formation of the EU required a paradigm shift in the ideology of many governing entities. The EU previously consisted of a group of countries competing for a finite set of resources. The formation of the EU required that these countries adopt policies of cooperation and sharing, rather than that of competition (Benz and Eberlein 1999 p. 329).

Benz and Eberlein (1999) disagree with many previous studies on the development of the cooperation of governments on a ‘multi-level’ governing system. Many researcher felt that the formation of a cooperative effort was the result of “Vertical activities” (Benz and Eberlein 1999, p. 332). This would make it sound as if everyone automatically just “played nicely in the sandbox.” Benz and Eberlein feel that this is not the case and that the regional government that exists now is a result of conflict resolution between the individual governing entities.

Benz and Eberlein support their argument by pointing out the differences in needs between developed regions and underdeveloped regions. They use France and Germany as examples. However, this same argument holds true for all countries in the EU. This would seem to support their argument and would hold true for the differences between every country in the EU. The needs of individual countries in the EU are not homogeneous and the adherence to previous “vertical activities” theories does not seem likely as that would require the individual countries to ignore the needs of its own people. Therefore, common sense and the empirical evidence presented by Benz and Eberlein would create the most likely scenario for formation of a regional government in Europe.

These same differences in regions have been the previous shaping elements of British policy. One must remember that Britain was not always a unified front. The history of Britain began as a groups of separate lands, ruled by competing Kings, Dukes and other wealthy inhabitants. Each of these regions had their own needs and local economy.. The economic structures in this feudal state varied according to the ruling party. Through conflict and competition of these conflicting states, the modern British government was born. This is much as the process that is taking place in the European Union, only on a smaller scale. This idea should not be unfamiliar to the British. However, one will remember the earlier discussion regarding traditions, it would seem as if they have forgotten where these traditions originally came from.


Through the examination of extent sources and example, we have defined British policy as being steeped in tradition and rigid in nature. Negotiation has not always been its greatest asset and many conflicts have gone unresolved as a result of this. None the less, British policy remains based on events of the past and it holds to its iconic public image of order and equality. This policy style has served them well for many years and they have seen little need to change. However, recent advances in communication has created an . Exchanges and trade is possible on a level never before experienced. The market place is changing.

Coalitions, such as the European Union and MERCOSUR in South America require a new kind of diplomacy. There are those in Britain who see the need to change to a less rigid, more fluid policy style in order to enter into the World market and take advantage of the many opportunities that it has to offer. They fear that Britain’s traditional staunch position will make them an outcast in the Global community. These two sides continue to battle it out and as of yet, no compromise is in site.

Evidence clearly supports our original hypothesis. We have entered into a lengthy discussion regarding the two sides of the political policy battle currently taking place in Britain. Our original task was to support the hypothesis that a change in policy making ideology was occurring. This hypothesis holds true and this change is being sparked by outside influences and a changing global marketplace. Many questions regarding the future of British policy remain unanswered, however the hypothesis holds true regardless of the outcome of the final battle. In the end, British policy will undergo a major stylistic change.


Benz, A. And Ebelein, B., (1999) ‘ The Europeanisation of regional policies: patterns of multi-level governance’ Journal of European Public Policy, 6.2 pgs 329-48

Baumgartner, F.R. And Jones, B.D. (1993) Agendas and Instability in American Politics. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 298 pages

Dudley, G. And Richardson J. (1999) ‘Competing advocacy coalitions and the process of “frame reflection”: a longitudinal analysis of EU steel policy’, Journal of Public Policy 6.2 pg. 226-247

Jordan G. And Richardson J. (1982) ‘ The British policy style or the logic of negotiation’, in J. Richardson (ed.) Policy Styles in Western Europe (London: Allen & Unwin) pp 80-110.

Kjellberg, F. (1995) ‘ Policy styles’, Journal of Public Policy. 5.2 pg 271-3

Richardson, J et al. (1982) ‘The concept of a policy style’, in J. Richardson (ed) Policy Styles in Western Europe. George Allen & Unwin: London, Boston, Sydney. Pgs. 1-16.