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.
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 change long-standing traditions 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 drunk driving laws. 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…