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The Blair governments, public sector reform and state strategic capacity


Marsh, MI, The Blair governments, public sector reform and state strategic capacity, The Political Quarterly, 80, (1) pp. 33-41. ISSN 0032-3179 (2009) [Refereed Article]

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DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1467-923X.2009.01955.x


Prior to the Iraq imbroglio, Tony Blair had made reform of public services his prime theme. This was the heart of the third way, which many have dismissed as vapid and as another example of spin. Now, however, two books at the end of the Blair era offer retrospective flesh and substance to the project. They provide strong grounds for taking his endeavour seriously and for revisiting fundamental assumptions about ends and means. These two studies, by Michael Barber and Julian LeGrand,offer essential, indeed engrossing, reading to anyone interested in politics and public policy.They make the case that there is a fresh nexus between these activities. Both authors explore strategies for public service reform. Both books are clearly written and, despite championing particular approaches, clear eyed in their advocacy. Yet perhaps their deepest added value lies, first, in their case for radical reform, which is grounded in a positive vision of the role and importance of public services, and, second, in their identifcation of the array of possible responses.

The discussion that follows is mostly based on Michael Barber's book, which is by far the more comprehensive of the two. His is simply the best account of the practical dilemmas of modern public management that I have read. These are dilemmas of theory, vision and strategy no less than of leadership, structure and implementation. It draws on Barber's experience in translating into action Tony Blair's election promise to improve public services, in which he was a principal protagonist. In the implementation of Blair's commitment, strategies were progressively imagined, tried and discarded or developed. This reflected an experimentalist or pragmatist approach, which Barber vaunts. In recounting this learning, his enthusiasm, can-do imagination, managerial capabilities and meticulous attention to detail shine.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:British politics, public administration, public sector reform, role of parliament, the third way, strategy in government
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Policy and administration
Research Field:Public administration
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Government and politics
Objective Field:Public services policy advice and analysis
UTAS Author:Marsh, MI (Professor Ian Marsh)
ID Code:57312
Year Published:2009
Deposited By:Australian Innovation Research Centre
Deposited On:2009-07-07
Last Modified:2014-12-04

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