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Government and Governance

The idea of government has also been opened up beyond democratically elected institutions to a much wider range of institutions of governance (Kooiman, 1993; Rhodes, 1997; Kohler-Koch and Eising, 1999). Traditionally the term was used as a synonym for government (Richards and Smith, 2002; Leach et al., 2007), but in recent years it has come to mean something much more distinctive. Governance is now seen to include not only government but also other societal institutions, including the private sector and civil associations (Cheema and Rondinelli, 2007). Stoker (1997) argues that government refers to formal institutional structure and authoritative decision-making, while governance focuses on the relationships between governmental and non-governmental forces and how they work together. In other words, 'governance usually involves a range of actors wider than elected representatives or appointed officials' (Loughlin, 2007, p.35) and therefore involves different kinds of partnerships at various levels. One useful definition of governance is given by Chhotray and Stoker (2009), as follows: 'Governance is about the rules of collective decision-making in settings where there are a plurality of actors or organizations and where no formal control system can dictate the terms of the relationship between these actors and organizations' (p.3).

Partnerships, then, have become a standard feature of policy and decisionmaking which typically 'gather representatives from the public, private and civil society sectors, often relying on voluntary participation and mutual agreement' (Giguere and Considine, 2008, p.1) Governance is a partnership between government and non-governmental forces and the process of interaction between them (Edler-Wallstein and Kohler-Koch, 2008) governing through networks where there are multiple centres of policy making (Rhodes, 1997), though some feel that even that is too narrow a definition (Kjaer, 2011). These networks are frequently referred to, following Rhodes (1997), as 'policy networks', and they consist of formal and informal policy linkages between government and other actors, structured around shared interests in making or implementing public policy with a degree of autonomy from the state. Policy itself emerges through bargaining between network members. Rhodes (1997) argues that there is a mutual need: the government needs legitimated spokespersons, and the groups need the resources and legislative authority of the government. The concept of governance has gained increasing prominence in recent years, 'in large part reflecting the transition from state-centre governing relationships … to a greatly more complex constellation in which states and their governments are but one important group of players and centres of political power' (Debardeleben and Hurrelmann, 2007, p.1). It raises questions about how able the state is to steer policy on its own and the extent to which networks and partnerships of both public and private actors are able to co-ordinate and self-govern themselves (Pierre, 2000). Hirst claims, on this basis, that democracy itself needs to be rethought as one which 'shares power with increasingly salient sub-national governments with proliferating forms of networks and partnerships' (Hirst, 2000).

Unified State and Decentralisation in the United Kingdom

The ideology of Britain as a unified state has been deeply embedded both in the official mindset of the political elite (O'Neill, 2004) and in popular political culture (Gartside and Hibbert, 1989). In Britain the largest and dominant entity is England, which has had a single national government since the Norman conquest of the eleventh century and currently holds more than 80 per cent of the population. Wales was annexed by England in 1536 by Henry VIII. Despite Henry VIII's attempts also to impose English hegemony on Ireland, it remained largely Catholic though the infamous 'plantation' of Scots Protestants into Ulster (1609) led to the seizing of local Catholic Chieftains' lands (Ó Siochrú and Ó Ciardha, 2012) and created a significant Protestant minority in the north. Then after the Protestant William of Orange had replaced the Stuart dynasty in England, he defeated Catholic James II at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. The thrones of Scotland and England were united in 1707, when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England.. The Acts of Union of 1800 produced a merged parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with effect from 1 January 1801. The UK has a long history as a single national state but it 'is not a unitary state' (McLean and McMillan, 2005) precisely because it depends upon these two constitutional contracts of the Acts of Union of 1707 and 1800 (McLean, 2010). One other change should also be noted. The partition of Ireland in December 1921 followed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and created the Irish Free State. At the same time, the British union was extended to include Northern Ireland as part of United Kingdom (McLean and McMillan, 2005).

In recent years the British experience might be seen as following the international and European trends outlined above (Scott, 2012). From being a highly centralised state (Hazell, 2006c) it has moved to one in which different powers are devolved in various ways, so that the UK has been described as one of the most complex examples of 'asymmetric autonomy' (McGarry, 2012).

Decentralisation in the United Kingdom is usually referred to as 'devolution', though sometimes the term 'federal' is used in debate. At the formal institutional level, any devolution of political power 'involves the dispersal of power from
a superior to an inferior political authority' [and] 'the transfer to a subordinate elected body or geographical basis of functions at present exercised by Parliament' (Bogdanor, 1979, p.2) as well as the creation of an elected body subordinate to Parliament. Devolution is therefore different from federalism (Kincaid, 2001; Elazar, 1979) in that it attempts to preserve the supremacy of Parliament intact (Bogdanor, 1979) rather than dividing power between parliament and various provincial bodies, each of which has sovereignty within the area of its responsibilities (Bealey, 1999). The British Government's insistence that, at least technically, the devolved bodies are subordinate to the Westminster parliament is indicative of this (McLean and McMillan, 2005; Hazell, 2006b).

While it has been argued by some that the United Kingdom does possess some features of a federation (Bond, 2011), albeit apparently an asymmetric one (McGarry, 2012; Unlock Democracy, 2011; Peeters, 2007), it lacks others (Watts, 2006). Indeed, Watts (2006) argues that as yet it does not even meet the requirements necessary to be called a 'quasi-federation' (Weare, 1963). Yet federalism as an idea has been a consistent feature of constitutional debate in the British Isles (Kendle, 1997) though much of the focus historically was on Ireland or the far off reaches of the Empire (Kendle, 1997; Burgess, 1986). Joseph Chamberlain proposed federation early in the 1880s as a possible solution to the movement in Ireland for political independence. The Imperial Federation League was established in 1884 to promote the permanent unity of the Empire through some form of federation, but its proposed scheme for a Council of Empire comprised of the self governing colonies was rejected in 1893 by Gladstone, the British Prime Minister. An Imperial Parliament and a federal government were again proposed in 1910 by Lionel Curtis of the 'Round Table' Unit. However, by the end of the First World War this had been superseded by the movement from Empire to Commonwealth. The idea of national parliaments in Ireland, Wales and Scotland and regional assemblies in England, all within an Imperial Parliament, had been promoted by both Winston Churchill and Lloyd George in 1912 (Burgess, 2007), but the continuing struggle for Irish independence ended the movement for a federal structure in the UK. Federalism within Britain has never reappeared as a serious political proposal for an overall government structure, though its influence has remained. As Pinder suggests, 'British understanding of the process of reforming institutions has been clouded by misunderstandings of the word federal' (Pinder, 2001, p.166), which is viewed as an alien, European concept.

 
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