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The Simplistic View Of Westminster Models

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The argument that the Westminster model is a simplistic view of the British policy process could be said to be true as there have been a number of changes in British politics in recent years. This essay will evaluate this argument and to help do this will look at Rhodes' differentiated polity model, Marsh, Richards and Smith's asymmetric policy model and use the policy area of tuition fees to help understand the changes and advancements that have taken place within the policy process.

The Westminster model does not have one individually conclusive version as many political scientists have differing interpretations of the model. However there are a few key features that are agreed on. It is agreed that the Westminster model has strong centralised cabinet government controlled by the political party in power at the time. Parliamentary sovereignty is also key with power only within government and Westminster (Richards, 2008). The majority party is the party that implements policy and support for the policies are normally supported by their party's backbenchers. A two party system is present under this model and the opposition party is there to indicate faults of the elected party's policies as the opposition party's aim is to look the stronger party with the intention of being elected at a coming election (Garnett & Lynch, 2007). It is also a feature that policies are easily accountable as it is only the government involved in the policy process (Richards, 2008), where ministers elected by the public are representatives of the public and work for their benefit (Kavanagh, Richards, Smith & Geddes, 2006). Civil servants are there to implement policy, they are neutral and defend the government and House of Commons (Garnett et al, 2007). The model is regarded as an elitist, hierarchical, top down system and is seen as the traditional British political way of policy making (Richards & Smith, 2002). The model sees the Prime Minister exercising control over government ministers, who control the civil servants. The central government also exerts control of local government (Richards, 2002). These characteristics of governing shows that government have the power to dominate or guide society as they see fit (Kavanagh et al, 2006). The Westminster model has shaped government actions over the years and provides guidance on how public policy and government is effectively run.

It has become evident over the past few decades that the Westminster model is no longer completely evident in British politics. According to Kavanagh et al (2006) the period from 1945-1970 the model was apparent as state power was at a high level. However the changing governments and Prime Ministers have continuously changed and altered the way policy is made. The model has become limited and no longer helps us understand the policy process. The fact that Britain has an uncodified constitution may generate problems for the sustainability of the Westminster model. The political scientist Ralph Rhodes developed a critique of the Westminster model which he named the 'Differentiated Polity Model' which included a change to governance rather than government, power dependence, policy networks, a segmented executive, intergovernmental relations and a hollowed out state (Kavanagh et al, 2006). All of these characteristics attempt to explain why the Westminster model could now be said to be a simplistic view of the British policy process.

It has been argued that there has been a transition of the state from acting as government of the people to governance of the people. This implies that Westminster no longer makes decisions in terms of following official rules and through government organisations within the core executive, but decision making is done by many actors at a number of levels such as local, regional or national level (Garnett et al, 2007). It is seen as a new way in which the public is governed. Making decisions requires cooperation, negotiation and bargaining with a number of actors within and outside government. Under governance the amount of policy actors has grown with the increase in the use of the private sector and out with the core executive it has extended the boundaries of the state. The aim of a coalition between government and the private sector is to increase their possibility of getting the best outcomes in society (Marsh, Richards & Smith, 2003). Therefore the policy process has become fragmented and government has now adopted more of a regulatory role (Garnett et al, 2007). Some institutions such as schools and universities now have a bigger role in how they operate but are regulated through inspections (Garnett et al, 2007). Universities are given grants to fund teaching and resources however financial circumstances have meant public institutions have been handed over to market forces where it is now over to the individual or the private sector to fund higher education. This coincides with the argument that there is no longer government but governance in Britain. The Browne report which reviewed England’s higher education funding system has recommended a number of changes to this system. The report advised that public funding in terms of the teaching grants should be reduced meaning the state will have less power in universities as there will be higher private funding than government funding. The report also recommended that caps should be lifted on tuition fees where there are no limits on what universities can charge (At a Glance: Browne Report) {online}. This would according to Minister David Willets reduce bureaucracy and increase funding for universities through students and effectively improve education (Students face tuition fees rising to £9,000) {online}. This move from state funding to private funding of universities therefore supports the idea of a change to governance as governing of universities by the state has been reduced and replaced by regulation. The Westminster model has also changed in that government depends on other agencies rather than only those In the political hierarchy (Garnett et al, 2007). These external groups do not have any significant power but can have a say in policy (Dugget, 2009). The term governance implies there has been a shift away from the state control and passed over to individual interests and market forces to influence and enforce policies.

There is opinion that inter-governmental relations have weakened the Westminster model. This is the idea that there has been an expansion in the number of governmental organisations involved in policy making and implementation at a number of levels. For instance we have the devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and London. This has in effect made policy making for these nations more direct to the public (Garnett et al, 2007) and has eliminated a level of responsibility from Westminster (Dunleavy, Heffernan, Cowley & Hay, 2006). Therefore devolution has removed much of the centralised parliamentary sovereignty feature of the Westminster model. Devolution has meant Scotland has their own policies on education and tuition fees where Scotland believe in a free education to broaden opportunities for everyone regardless of their income. (Students face tuition fees rising to £9,000) {online}. Also the introduction of the membership of the European Union in 1973 into British politics has meant there has been a transfer of power from Westminster. The European Union can have a large influence on policy making. According to Dunleavy et al (2006) up to 70% of new policies in Britain are developed by the European Union. This shows again power is lost to other actors and the EU membership has reshaped and challenged British politics. Under the Westminster model local government did not have much impact on policy making (Dunleavy et al, 2006). However it is evident politics is moving away from the traditional Westminster model as local service delivery is being handed to external agencies instead (Garnet et al, 2007). Also the purpose and existence of local government has been questioned as it has limited powers. There are many more institutions and public, private and voluntary departments within policy which has become a new method for implementing policy. Within funding bodies there are a number of government agencies which help fund tuition fees such as the student loans company (SLC) and Local Education Authorities (LEAs) who are also included in the instalment of tuition fees and grants. This fragmentation can cause confusion in administration. The National Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education also recommended that funding process needs to be simplified as there are currently four higher education funding bodies in the UK (The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education) {online}. There are also agencies which help to maintain standards such as the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) (Distinction and Diversity in Higher Education) {Online}. Therefore in the tuition fees policy area we can see that there are now a wide range of organisations that are involved in delivering services.

A further criticism of the Westminster model is the argument towards a segmented executive. This explains there are divisions of government departments, ministers and civil servants who posses their own resources which are to be exchanged (Marsh et al, 2003). It is argued the core executive works in exchange relationships and these relationships are not said to be zero sum however, as no actor has equal resources (Marsh, Richards, & Smith, 2001). Each actor has resources that another actor requires (Marsh et al, 2003). The structure of the executive has become segmented as the civil service has generated what is called 'policy chimneys'. This phrase originates from the idea that policies are developed by a department but they tend not to take into consideration the effects it may have on any other policy area. According to Marsh et al (2001) departments can be unwilling to work with other departments on a policy which overlaps with other policy areas in government. For example raising the tuition fees may have an effect on employment policies as rising tuition fees could mean more people looking for unskilled jobs rather than furthering their education to fill jobs that require more skill. However Rhodes points out that the Prime Minister for example can not be concerned with every policy area (Marsh et al, 2003). As the core executive has become segmented the 1997 Blair government wanted to coordinate and control what was going on in the policy arena as there was a lack of direction. However it is believed that this could lead to further fragmentation and ineffective policy making (Garnett et al, 2007). Power has moved away from the centre and into policy networks involving negotiation and bargaining (Dunleavy et al, 2006) where power is shared and making decisions is not solely reserved for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (Garnett et al, 2007). However although there are many actors involved in the policy process the Prime Minister still remains a key actor. Departments are also a key actor within the exchange relationships as a large part of policies are made at the departmental level (Marsh et al, 2003). Evidence that the core executive is segmented is the fact that there have been attempts to bring back control of the centre by labour.

The policy network approach is also useful to use as a criticism of the Westminster model. Policy networks have grown along with the need for state intervention. Policy networks have been a simplifying device in the policy process as they can effectively deny access to groups who do not abide by the rules of the game in the policy process. Policy networks examine an individual policy area. Around the policy area networks are present where a variety of actors are included. This emphasises that it is not only government that is involved in policy formation but other actors such as pressure groups used for information on the policy area. The network approach breaks down policy to a number of actors to provide the best advice for better policy delivery and better policies for the public. Government depends greatly on organisations in networks for service delivery (Marsh et al, 2001). There are different kinds of policy networks; the first being policy communities where there are limited and consistent members as too many groups to consult is undesirable in the network, power of the members is equal, interaction is frequent and of a high standard. Members are dependent on each other as all have resources and therefore exchange relationships as all have resources. Additionally bargaining and negotiation is involved in the exchange of resources. Another form of policy network is an issue network which are the opposite of policy communities. There are a number of participants, membership changes and is more open. There can be conflict and negotiation deriving from consultation rather than negotiation of resources. Power is said to be a zero sum game as members have differing levels of power and resources (Kavanagh et al, 2006). Within policy networks government tends to be the key actor as they usually have considerably more resources (Marsh et al, 2001). As the policy networks involve exchange relationships, the more resources external groups have to exchange the tighter the relationships tend to be. These groups also depend on government as government has better resources which these groups cannot access (Marsh et al, 2001). Furthermore the features of policy networks do change over time because governments opinions on policy networks differ. For example the Conservative government was ideologically against consultation with others as it believed this was a sign of weak government. Thatcher used the market to implement services which fragmented the policy process (Rhodes, 2007). This decreased government power and limited their role as the negotiator. These changed again under the Labour government as Labour approved of policy networks and were revived under Blair (Marsh et al, 2003). This contrasts the Westminster model as resources have moved away from the core executive to different actors and therefore it seems governing is not as straightforward as the Westminster model implies (Marsh et al, 2003). Furthermore although the policy process has changed, central government does continue to have a large impact on which policies are implemented (Marsh et al, 2003). Policy networks determine who they wish to be involved in the policy process. It is very rare for the government to deliver policy on its own therefore government is very much dependent on other interest groups and there are strong dependency relationships in the policy process. Policy networks relating to tuition fees include a number of groups who try to influence policies through the network process. The private report by Lord Browne has managed to influence government into changing how education is funded. The key actors in the policy network would be the Prime Minister, the current deputy Prime Minister and education ministers. Negotiations had to be made between these two actors as Nick Clegg had previously signed an agreement which agreed to no increases in tuition fees. However with much negotiation and bargaining it was agreed the deal for increases were better than the previous funding system. (Nick Clegg regrets signing anti-tuition fees pledge) {online}. Ministers depend on agencies for resources such as the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). Pressure groups such as the National Union of Students have also played a key role recently in attempting to influence the stop to the rise of tuition fees policy using mass demonstrations to get their views heard that they are against the public funding cuts. The government also depends on students for information. The Browne report recommends students are used more and will therefore have more of a say in how their future is shaped (Independent Review of Higher Education Funding & Student Finance in England). Teachers Unions are also against the rise in tuition fees and believe it will result in poorer people being denied access to universities and result in damages within society (NUT) {online}.

Another move away from the Westminster model is the idea of Rhodes' 'hollowing out of the state'. It is claimed the British state has been hollowed out as of the changes in government which have arguably reduced central governments authority, autonomy and power (Kavanagh et al, 2006). It is described as the most 'radical aspect' of the differentiated polity model as the boundaries of the state have changed (Marsh et al, 2003). According to Rhodes (cited in Marsh et al, 2003) the policy networks approach has been the most influential aspect of hollowing out of the state in what he terms 'sideways', and also intergovernmental relations has led to hollowing out 'downwards'. Additionally the Rhodes model believes power has adjusted 'upwards' to international organisations as a result of joining the EU and globalization as it has meant these institutions have more of a say on British policies and British government is restricted (Marsh et al, 2003). The European Parliament and the European Courts powers have increased meaning many British policies have become 'Europeanized' (Marsh et al, 2003). However there are many who are against the hollowing out of the state argument such as Holliday (2000, cited in Marsh et al 2003) who believed the centre were more able to control policy outcomes it tried to obtain in the twenty first century (Marsh et al, 2003). The recent further use of policy networks has meant the increase in the private sector and market testing (Kavanagh et al, 2006). Privatisation has meant that government has lost power and exists more as regulatory body as the private sector now has a bigger role in providing public services. (tuition fee;s) The number of quangos, non departmental public bodies and Next Step agencies have grown and hollowed out the state and given power below the core executive. This has led to fragmentation in the policy process as power has moved from the centre. Quangos and agencies help deliver policy as they have specialist knowledge of specific policy areas as different policies have to be approached differently (Kavanagh et al, 2006). These changes within the British political system have meant accountability for policies has become more difficult as there are many more actors involved in implementation than previously. This goes against the Westminster models assumption of parliamentary sovereignty where the executive are the main political actors (Marsh et al, 2003). The argument that the state has been hollowed out can be seen in relation to tuition fees. The number of external agencies that fund university fees has grown as there are four regulatory bodies; the higher education funding council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish funding council (SFC), Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland (DEL). Under Lord Browne's report these would be scrapped and replaced by one Higher Education Council which would regulate standards, students and the institutions (Politics) {online}. Globalisation has also had an impact on tuition fees as institutions now need more funding to keep up their status as one of the worlds best for higher education. The removal of the caps on tuition fees would mean more funding for universities as the government have to reduce the public contributions as of the current economic climate and therefore institutions would depend more so on student contributions. It is claimed the rise in tuition fees would improve education and increase choice (Students face tuition fees rising to £9000) {online}.

Marsh, Richards and Smith criticised Rhodes' differentiated polity model and came up with their own angle on the changes of the Westminster model that Rhodes assessed called the Asymmetric power model. Key features were structured inequality, the British political tradition, asymmetric power, a pattern of exchange relationships, a strong segmented executive and a limited pattern of external constraints. In sum the asymmetric power model marginally agrees with Rhodes' model to an extent. However Marsh et al believe the idea of pluralism is over pronounced. The asymmetric model believed more in the direction of the Westminster model and argue the dominant actors in the policy process are the core executive. Their main argument and focus is the asymmetries in the exchange relationship (Marsh et al, 2003).


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