Why Governments Keep Making Big Policy Blunders



Why is Britain badly governed? Policy blunders 1980-2010
Political Insight


The author argues many major policy changes in the UK, such as the poll tax in the early 1990s and devising a sustainable social care policy for the aged, have failed spectacularly and have eroded public trust in government.

He finds the problems constitute a pattern of ‘disconnect’ and lack of strategic policy thinking and planning among politicians and policy makers. These problems include:

  • A deficit of deliberation: where the nature of political decisions encourages political and policy decision-makers to act decisively, but not necessarily in a strategic or carefully thought-through way. The author writes: 'The British system is designed for decisiveness rather than deliberation … the common feature of the dozen case studies of blunders is that the Government did not engage in serious deliberation.'
  • Cultural disconnect: where policy advisors construct policy in a vacuum without proper consultation with key stakeholders. In each policy blunder, the author writes: 'The Government did not deliberate with the people most directly affected, with those whose job it is to apply a policy, with independent experts, and with those who were opposed, before arriving at a decision.'
  • Operational disconnect: where policymakers fail to consult with those down the line responsible for implementing the policy change. The author states: 'The policy-makers operated in an implementation vacuum. They did not regard issues of implementation as their problem, because they did not imagine it could ever threaten the policy’s viability.'

The author argues that other reasons for major policy blunders include a lack of accountability in the UK political and policy system whereby the architects of major policy blunders largely escape unscathed, as well as culture of ‘hyper-activism’ in which ministers believe they must act quickly on policy problems rather than take a more deliberative, considered approach.

The author concludes that solutions to reducing the number and scope of major policy blunders involve better mechanisms of deliberation and consultation with key stakeholders, as well as better processes to connect policymakers with those who implement it.

'Blundering governments are not governments that command respect. Perhaps the principal cause of our discontents is poor governance rather than democratic deficit – and is what needs to be addressed,' he states.


Thumbnail image: Márcio Cabral de Moura/Flickr

Ivor Crewe

Oxford University

United Kingdom
Published Date
November 6, 2013