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The Conservative Party and social policy

Hugh Bochel
Paperback, 336 pages, 234 x 156 mm
Other formats available
23 Mar 2011


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North America customers can order this book here from the University of Chicago Press.

"Hugh Bochel has edited an excellent text; comprehensive and contemporary in its coverage, and with chapters clearly and engagingly written by relevant social policy experts."
Journal of Social Policy
“This excellent book assembles an impressive range of experts to analyse Conservative party social policy, with a particular focus on developments since 1997 ... The rigorous evidence-based analysis presented in this volume marks an important contribution to understanding this process, and has set a benchmark against which future work in this area will be judged.” Political Studies Review.
"This timely and eagerly awaited collection from leading commentators is an essential guide to the current government's social policy."
Martin Powell, Professor of Health and Social Policy, University of Birmingham
"This is indeed a very timely and useful collection. Following so quickly on the accession to power of the new Coalition government, dominated by the Conservatives, this analysis of the party's key policy plans will be essential reading for all social policy students in the UK. The Editor and The Policy Press are to be congratulated in getting it out so swiftly."
Pete Alcock, University of Birmingham

About This Book

With the Conservative Party breaking new ground in forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, this book examines the development and content of the Conservatives' approaches to social policy and how they inform the Coalition's policies. Chapters cover the development of Conservative Party social policy and specific policy areas. The book will be of interest to academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and everyone with an interest in the Conservative Party and the Coalition government's social policies.

Author Biography

Hugh Bochel is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Lincoln. He has published widely in public and social policy, including the politics of social policy.


Introduction ~ Hugh Bochel
Part one: A Conservative social policy?: The development of Conservative social policy ~ Robert Page
Public expenditure and the mixed economy of welfare ~ Nick Ellison
Conservative social policy and public opinion ~ Andrew Defty
Part two: Policy areas: Health ~ Rob Baggott
Education ~ Stephen Ball
Housing ~ Peter Somerville
Social security ~ Karen Rowlingson
Employment and work ~ Alan Deacon
Adult care ~ Jon Glasby
Children and young people ~ Paul Daniel
Crime and criminal justice ~ Mike Hough
Part three: Governance issues: The Conservatives and social policy in the devolved administrations ~ Richard Parry
Mechanisms/governance of social policy ~ Catherine Bochel
Conclusions ~ Hugh Bochel.


ReviewsOwn it? Review it!

The Conservative Party and social policy

At the time of writing this review, we seem in the UK to be experiencing particularly intense ‘knee-jerk’ reactions to political issues, which are also often deeply personalised and simplistic. Rarely is there an opportunity to stand back a little and assess what is really happening – but this very timely book allows just that.

The writers assess the Conservative Party’s contribution (and attitude) to a range of social policy issues, including welfare; health; education; housing; the family; crime and criminal justice. They also look briefly at the changing role of the Conservative Party in the devolved administrations; and the developing approaches to ‘governance’ (as opposed to government) which is defined as the changing/new approach to the way in which government operates. The book is ‘topped and tailed’ by chapters which set the current Conservative Party into something of an historic context, and a brief look at the effects of the Coalition Government on the Conservatives – and the Liberal Democrats.

In doing so, the seventeen writers (all expert commentators on their particular areas) bring a critical analysis to bear, putting current social policy into context and comparing it with that of previous Conservative administrations and the Labour administration from 1997-2010.

This is particularly useful when party politics is still seen fairly simplistically (especially by parts of the media). The writers show how there has been continuity in social policy between the Conservative and Labour administrations (especially in some areas of education, for example), but also enormous changes and developments. What is also fascinating is the description of the changing ‘face’ of Conservatism (and the impact it has had on the other main Parties) – the book has appeared just before some bits of the Coalition began to look quite ‘creaky’, and it will be interesting to ponder some of the issues raised in the book as the months pass …

A key issue which many of the writers raise is how far the current notion of a ‘compassionate’, ‘modern’ or ‘progressive’ Conservatism can actually survive in the face of a great desire by many to continue with the ‘rolling back’ of the state – as Hugh Bochel summarises in his final paragraph, their biggest test may be: “both in the extent to which they allow this to happen, and in their ability to maintain key areas of state provision and/or develop alternative structures and mechanisms to deliver many of the services that the public have come to expect of their governments, and upon which large numbers of people depend.” [p278]

This is an important book which ought to be read widely – particularly by media commentators! Its analysis of key social policy issues and the way they have developed under the different political parties is very clear and gives a good starting point for anyone wanting to find out exactly how social policy evolves.

One other tiny comment – I would have found a glossary immensely helpful as there were terms used which I had to go away and look up (for example, the term ‘One Nation Conservatism’ is used regularly without defining exactly what is meant in this context).

Reviewed by John Vincent

The Conservative Party and social policy

It is no mean feat to produce a book of this quality, breadth and critical depth so soon after the Coalition Government came into office. Bochel begins this edited collection from a standpoint of robust and thorough underpinning knowledge of the contemporary social policy process, its historical roots and the prevailing impact of global perspectives and change. He charts the recent themes for the Conservatives of clear and established power throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the ‘culmination’ of their hegemonic position in the continuation of many ideological policy trends in New Labour’s terms, despite being in disarray as a party, and the reinvention of the party drawing on past learning and responsiveness to public mood; from the ‘nasty party’ to the ‘compassionate conservatives’ of Iain Duncan-Smith and David Cameron. The ideological pragmatism and ideals of Conservatism are dealt with clearly throughout this collection, but especially in the earlier chapters. For instance, Page’s charting of welfare policy direction and internal policy drivers.

Bochel has drawn together a formidable array of social policy and interested academics, critiquing the historical mood and the ‘givens’ of ideology, whilst presenting a critical analysis often flavoured by a left-of-centre perspective but nonetheless a cogent critique. It would be most interesting to see what Conservative-minded academics and commentators – such as Norton, Norman and Blond, often quoted within the chapters – would have made of these areas.

Core elements permeate the chapters covering the economics of welfare, political and ideological considerations, health, housing, education, welfare-to-work and social security, family policy and adult social care. The chapter authors reflect on the welfare policy continuities (from One Nation and Thatcherite Conservatism and from New Labour; a kind of neo-Butskellism), the extent to which a compassionate phase in policy development and implementation has really been entered, and projections of future welfare in the contemporary world.

It will be interesting to see where welfare and social policy is taken throughout the Coalition’s term of office and beyond. What this edited collection achieves, however, is an enduring analysis of the state of play at the outset. This is certainly a book for any serious student of social policy, whether academic or involved in policy-making. A must-buy, must-read!

Reviewed by Professor Jonathan Parker

The Conservative Party and social policy

The Conservative Party and Social Policy is a skilfully edited book providing a comprehensive snapshot of current government health, education and social welfare policies, viewed through the paradigm of New Labour and to a lesser extent the Thatcher-Major years. Throughout the authors maintain a consistency of structure in their treatment of the Blair-Brown years and analysis of manifesto commitments informing current Coalition policy, thereby creating an accessible volume for the researcher to consult at will. A timely and wide-ranging collection, The Conservative Party and Social Policy is an invaluable point of reference for any student, academic or practitioner of social policy, welfare, education, or social work.

The title of this volume is misleading; it is as much about New Labour as the current government and the analysis of New Labour and the Third Way is this book’s primary strength (perhaps unsurprising given that current government social policy has yet to mature). The Coalition’s readiness to embrace its New Labour inheritance is a central theme of this book. Despite the anti-Labour rhetoric of Cameron, Lansley, IDS, Grayling and others, contributors consistently point to the continuity of contemporary social policy as it builds on, rather than diverges from, the ideas and direction of New Labour. Bochel (the editor of this volume) and his fellow authors cleverly illustrate that, while the rhetoric hardens or softens, politicians have maintained a progressive continuity in social welfare policies since the ending of the welfare consensus that held from the 1940s until the onset of Thatcherism in 1979.

A second consistent theme in this book is the dominance of the Conservatives, as senior coalition partners, in Bochel’s words “across large swathes of social policy”, especially education, employment, health, and welfare. While statistics show a number of Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges have been incorporated into government policy, the authors separately and consistently demonstrate that the bulk of these were in the manifestos of both parties and that the concessions that have been won, such as raising the tax threshold for those on lower incomes, are of marginal impact when set against high profile policy U-turns such as the increases in tuition fees. The ideological shift from New Labour for the Coalition is the rolling back of the state and while, as Bochel and others point out, this has been presented in terms of financial necessity it is clearly a long-standing Conservative policy. The separating out of presentation and policy in practice is consistently strong in this book.

The marginalisation of the Liberal Democrats is more starkly illustrated by Baggot in his analysis of the roots of the Coalition’s health policies, where he delineates a progressive continuity in which New Labour built on the legacy of the Thatcher-Major years just as Cameron and the Coalition are developing the legacy of New Labour. The notion of progressive continuity resonates throughout this book and is perhaps best elucidated by Defty in his overview of public attitudes and opinion. In this regard The Conservative Party and Social Policy provides a wide-ranging history of recent social policy, in particular the incremental shift to the right that has taken since the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. ,The use by the authors of considerable current evidenced-based data and literature from both government and non-governmental sources is a feature of this work which will benefit both students and those with a general interest in social policy. However, while this is a most commendable book, and the historical analysis from Thatcher to Brown will stand the test of time, it will inevitably need updating in a relatively short period of time to retain its full worth. Nevertheless, if regularly revised The Conservative Party and Social Policy could well become a key text for those involved or studying social policy or welfare for some time to come.

Reviewed by Huw Griffiths

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