British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 18 notes - The New British State

Return to full list of chapter notes.​
  • British government is still in the process of extensive transformation. It is not yet clear how the newly emerging British state should be characterized.
  • The boundaries of the state have become blurred. In academic literature there has been some switch in emphasis from considering the institutions of government to the process of governing (or ‘governance’), which can involve the private and voluntary sectors.
  • Under Conservative governments from 1979–97 the rhetoric was about reining back the state. Some state assets and activities were privatized and others subjected to competition either from the private sector or through the introduction of internal markets.
  • New Labour has emphasized partnership with the private and voluntary sectors and ‘joined-up government’. Much new capital investment for the public sector has been financed through the controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
  • Under all governments there has been a growth in importance of appointed public bodies (quangos), for a variety of reasons.
  • Under both recent Conservative and Labour governments the state’s role has changed from providing to ‘enabling’. A centralized and largely uniform welfare state has been replaced by more diversity of provision, and supervised by what has been described as a regulatory state.
  • Despite moves towards more open government, culminating in the passage and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, critics argue that British government is still too secretive.
  • The old British state centred on Westminster and Whitehall has ceded some authority upwards to the European Union and other international bodies and devolved some power downwards. Multi-level governance has replaced the old centralized unitary state, with uncertain implications for the future.