Geography and the British electoral system

Representational democracy is at the heart of the UK’s political constitution, and the electoral system is central to achieving it. But is the first-past-the-post system used to elect the UK parliament truly representative? To answer that question requires an understanding of several factors: debates over the nature of representation; the evolution of the current electoral system; how first-past-the-post distorts electoral politics; and how else elections might be conducted. Running through all these debates are issues over the representation not only of people but also of places. The book examines all of these issues and focuses on the effect of geography on the operation of the electoral system.

Thomas Prosser

The first chapter elaborates the problem of self-interest and sets out the approach of the book, arguing that most of us gain something from our political views. We are evolved animals and, consistent with the premises of several fields, tend to act in our self-interest. Though the link between self-interest and specific worldviews may often be indirect, associations become clearer if three influences are understood. Firstly, people sometimes express interests in non-material terms. Secondly, human cognition is limited, meaning that we fail to appreciate the extent to which our preferences benefit ourselves. Thirdly, individual worldviews have separate constituent parts, reflecting long-term historical development. The chapter introduces five worldviews (conservatism, national populism, liberalism, the new left and social democracy) with reference to these points and elaborates tenets of institutional theory, a crucial explanatory framework. Finally, the chapter argues that understanding of self-interest makes us more tolerant and improves the quality of politics.

in What’s in it for me?
Self-interest and political difference
Author: Thomas Prosser

This punchy and provocative book asks a simple but overlooked question: why do we have the political views that we do?

Offering a lively and original analysis of five worldviews – conservatism, national populism, liberalism, the new left and social democracy – Thomas Prosser argues that our views tend to satisfy self-interest, albeit indirectly, and that progressive worldviews are not as altruistic as their adherents believe.

But What’s in it for me? is far from pessimistic. Prosser contends that recognition of self-interest makes us more self-reflective, allowing us to see humanity in adversaries and countering the influence of echo chambers.

As populist parties rise and liberalism and social democracy decline, this timely intervention argues that to solve our political differences, we must first realise what we have in common.

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Between government and governance
Christian Lo

The first part of the chapter summarizes the main findings of the book and discuss their theoretical implications for network governance theory. A key point is that political and administrative practices do not divide themselves into any orderly distinction between government and governance. Consequently, the author argues that the two categories should rather be treated as conceptual metaphors that enable an analysis of the coexisting institutional logics regulating municipal policy processes. The chapter further addresses a number of key propositions from the network governance literature, including the transformation thesis and metagovernance. While the author nuances most of these propositions, the goal is not to provide a new and comprehensive account of governance. Rather, the empirical investigation in the book demonstrates how political practices are informed by a contingent mix of different traditions and developments. The author therefore provides a warning against uncritically transporting theoretical conceptualizations as comprehensive explanatory devices across contexts.

The author also summarizes the analysis of pragmatic policy alliances, arguing that such alignments are made up of individual actors mediating between organizational and individual goals, thereby operating in tension with the hierarchical command chain of the municipal organization. However, such alignments can also find an alternative source of legitimacy rooted in a sense of pragmatism and egalitarian trust. This observation is carried into the end of the chapter, where the author concludes the book with a discussion of the historical and cultural conditions underpinning relations in municipal policy development.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
Re-examining the transformation thesis
Christian Lo

Based on the author´s experiences of a mismatch between the collaborative governing practices encountered during fieldwork and their representations in the network governance literature, the first part of the chapter develops a critique of contemporary governance theory. The author argues that the normative implications of the so-called “transformation thesis,” depicting a transformation from government to governance, have led to several problematic biases in the literature, including the tendency to overemphasize government and governance as separate modes of governing. Instead, the author argues that a mix of hierarchies and networks is axiomatic to any system of governing and that changes to practices of governance take more diverse forms and paths. In line with recent perspectives from interpretive political science, the author argues a need for ethnographic accounts of governance that can unveil this larger diversity of practices, actions and strategies in play.

The second part of the chapter details the multi-sited research strategy, ethnographic methods and analytical perspectives applied in the study. The author argues that doing interdisciplinary work entails an analytical reconstruction of the research object itself and discusses how perspectives from political anthropology inform the perspectives on political practices in the book. Here the author also introduces F. G. Bailey´s classical game approach to analyzing political struggle, which inspires the action-oriented analytical approach applied throughout the book.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
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Christian Lo

The chapter gives an introduction to the main themes addressed in the book and the analytical perspectives applied. The author argues that the Norwegian municipality provides a particularly interesting case for exploring some key tensions and dilemmas in how actors in bureaucratic organizations interact with their surroundings through both formal and informal ties. The specific ways of resolving such these tensions and dilemmas, as well as their consequences for political life, are introduced as key topics for the ethnographic analysis developed in the book. Another topic introduced is the relation between the political-science-derived concepts of government and governance. By centering the focus on their interconnectedness, the author argues, these two concepts enable analysis of a central tension in the examples of political struggle and the policy processes investigated: that is, the tension between adherence to the hierarchical command chain of the municipal organization and alternative alliances found both within and beyond the formal municipal organization.

The chapter also provides a brief overview of the ethnographic methods applied in the study and introduces some of the analytical perspectives from political anthropology in the analysis. In the final parts of the chapter, the author gives a brief overview of the book’s structure and ends by addressing some of the limitations of the study presented in the book.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
Christian Lo

The chapter is an introduction to the organizational landscape of the municipal organization and some key features of municipal policy processes that will be further analyzed and discussed in the succeeding chapters. In the first part of the chapter, the reader is introduced to the ambiguous borders of the municipal organization by visiting three different offices and the persons occupying them in the municipal hall. The second part of the chapter gives two examples of policy processes and associated political struggles that will also be revisited in the subsequent chapters. The first example describes the political and administrative process surrounding the building of a sporting arena while the second example concerns a process of centralizing healthcare services in one of the municipalities studied.

The two examples illustrate three points related to the main themes covered in the book. First, both cases entail a degree of controversy and show how the political and administrative spheres of the municipal organization become arenas of political struggle during policy processes. Second, while demonstrating how both political and administrative actors can become the prime movers of policy processes, they also show how successful “municipal entrepreneurship” depends on a dialectic relationship between the two roles. Third, and important to the ambition of exploring the relationship between government and governance, the two cases display how internal and external relations (and resources) are interwoven during policy processes, and how external relations become an integral part of policy struggles within the municipal organization.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
Christian Lo

The chapter is structured as a presentation of the dominating narratives describing the development of local government, the municipal organization and political culture in Norway. While these narratives inform the analysis of policy processes in the later chapters of the book, their relevance is also critically explored as their explanatory powers are put to the test.

The chapter begins with a historical overview of the major institutional developments that have given the Norwegian municipality its present form and function. Thereafter, the author provides a brief introduction to the multiple roles the present-day municipal organization is working to fulfill (service provider, administrative machinery, democratic body, local community developer and employer). The third part introduces three interrelated narratives dominating the stories of recent developments within municipal leadership. These are the introduction of New Public Management reforms, the aforementioned shift toward (network) governance and, finally, a narrative of local government being reduced to mere implementers of national policy.

The final part of the chapter is informed by the notion that political institutions neither develop nor persist within a historical and cultural vacuum. Rather, their present-day form and practices are profoundly shaped by their historical pathways and the political culture informing them. Through past ethnographic accounts, the reader is introduced to a discussion of political culture and the configuration of “egalitarian individualism” claimed to characterize Scandinavian culture. This discussion will form an important theoretical background for the analysis of municipal policy processes presented in the succeeding chapters.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
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The rules of political struggle
Christian Lo

During a municipal council meeting, a council member is met with strong reactions after giving a speech concerning the sale of municipal-owned property. In the heated debate, it is revealed that the councillor has been in contact with the county governor concerning the sale, enquiring about the relevant rules and regulations. This revelation prompts strong reactions both from both the administrative and political actors present during the meeting. This vignette provides a mystery to be solved in the chapter as the author attempt to interpret the strong reactions through mapping the normative rules at play during municipal policy processes.

Inspired by F. G. Bailey’s (1969) game theory approach, the chapter develops an understanding of the normative rules at play through observations and numerous accounts from both administrative and political informants discussing their roles during policy processes. The normative rules echo the classical Weberian distinction between political and administrative roles, and understanding the normative emphasis put on this distinction proves essential to understanding the enactment of both government and governance.

The empirical examples provided in the chapter show how conforming to the normatively prescribed rules functions as a tool for securing the legitimacy of policy processes by vesting them in the municipal organization’s democratic and impartial legitimacy. However, the examples also show how that the enactment and enforcement of prescribed roles can sometimes seem arbitrary and, in some cases, even strategic. Revisiting the vignette that opens the chapter reveals a telling intertwinement between formal sanctions and more informal social control regulating political behavior.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
Tales of municipal entrepreneurship
Christian Lo

Drawing on the previous chapters, this chapter explores the more pragmatic rules at play during municipal policy development. The chapter begins with a short discussion of the dialectic relationship between political and administrative roles in municipal policy development. A central point is the paradoxical normative status of administrative entrepreneurship: that while administrators are expected to propose new policy developments, they are expected to await political initiatives before doing so and to refrain from engaging in a political fight. Moreover, the empirical cases show how the emphasis on conformity and consensus also puts normative constraints on the politician’s ability to singlehandedly introduce political fights.

By analyzing the tactics and strategies applied in municipal entrepreneurship, the author shows how the normative rules of conduct were enacted in a tension with the pragmatic rules of political struggle. Through a discussion of how different forms of relations within, and stretching beyond, the municipal organization were individualized, the author argues that municipal policy processes are characterized by the creation of pragmatic policy alliances. These alliances create a system of cross-cutting loyalties and conflicts that exist in tension with the hierarchical command chain of the municipal organization. Toward the end of the chapter, these findings are related to the discussion of political culture in Chapter 3 in an effort to advance not only the understanding of the political culture at play but also some of its functions and consequences.

in When politics meets bureaucracy