BRIT POLITICS, Study, Learn,  Create, Inspire

University 18 Yrs + | The Core Executive

Discover Central Government banner

Theories around the UK Core Executive

The Westminster Model

The Core Executive in Britain has operated on the basis of what has been called The Westminster Model and textbooks on British Government in the post-war period promoted this as the way that things work.

The model assumes a series of links that relate the Core Executive to the electorate and to policy implementation.

At the general election voters choose the party whose policies they prefer. The Leader of the largest party becomes Prime Minister and forms the Government.

The Government, advised by neutral civil servants, implements its manifesto and deals with other issues as they arise through the Whitehall machine, and then the voters judge after four or five years whether they approve of the Government’s record or whether they want the Opposition to take over.

There are obvious problems with the Westminster Model as it assumes two party government alternating (with the largest party supported by a near majority of voters) and doesn’t work so well with a Coalition or our developing multi-party system. It also leaves limited room for participation by civil society beyond voting in elections.

Despite the criticisms of the Westminster Model it is still very much the picture that politicians and the media portray of everything happening at the centre, and remains in the mind of the public, with views such as ‘time for a change’ and ‘throw this lot out and put the others in’.

The Differentiated Polity Model

An alternative to the Westminster Model has been developed by Rod Rhodes (Understanding Governance, 1997) who argues that the Westminster model has become increasingly out of touch with reality.

The Differentiated Polity Model argues that there has been a process that Rhodes calls the ‘hollowing out of the state’ so that power has leaked away from the Core Executive:-

  • Decisions in many policy areas are taken through the various institutions of the European Union
  • The devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken over most policies in their areas
  • Agencies have taken over functions from the major Departments and non-departmental bodies are responsible for many issues
  • The process of privatisation has led t the penetration of the state by private firms who now implement large areas of policy
  • In some areas of social policy the voluntary sector has taken over services (and is likely to do further at the local level with reductions in public services)
  • Decisions on services in many areas have always rested with local authorities
    Interest groups and think tanks may have a significant effect on the development of policy

Policy Networks

Rather than the Core Executive being the power house that takes decisions and drives it through the system, power lies in a complicated set of Policy Networks which operate between organisations and negotiation takes place among these to agree on changes in policy.

In the example below, the three agencies are at the centre of the network and interest groups such as the Prisons Reform Trust are influential, as are firms such as G4S that manage prisons.

Negotiations between these organisations may take place more with the civil service in the Ministry of Justice than the politicians, who may have to use a lot of pressure to change policy and may find that dealing with crisis such as a prison riot, and the inquiry after it, takes up a lot of their time.

The Asymmetrical Power Model

Some political scientists feel that the policy networks approach merely describes the connections between organisations rather than really explaining where power lies in the system.

The Asymmetrical Power Model of Marsh, Richards and Smith accept that patterns of government have changed but that there is still a hierarchical distribution of power, with the Core Executive the most important.

Dominant ideas reflecting inequality in society permeate the system. (Dave Marsh’s article in Public Administration Vol. 89 No 1 summarises the Differentiated Model and then explains his own model)