Book Chapter

United Kingdom, Public policy in



Kippin S & Cairney P (2023) United Kingdom, Public policy in. In: van Gerven M, Rothmayr Allison C & Schubert K (eds.) Encyclopedia of Public Policy. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, pp. 1-13.

Introduction: There is a remarkable contrast between two important stories of UK policymaking. We describe the Westminster story as the ‘official’ account based on widely accepted (but often misleading) assumptions about the way the UK’s political system operates. It emphasises strong central leadership and top-down control by senior policymakers, underpinned by majority party control of Parliament in an adversarial political system (Richards & Smith, 1992; Rhodes, 2011). We describe the Complex Government story to synthesise the accumulated wisdom of academic policy studies, which emphasises a gap between the official story and reality. There are profound limits to the resources and powers of ministers in central government, they are surrounded by a complex policymaking environment over which they have limited control, and they rely on a much larger number of actors who contribute to UK policymaking processes (including the devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales). We draw on both stories to explore recent developments in UK policy, identifying central insights drawn from examples such as the response to COVID-19, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), social and economic inequalities, climate change, and foreign affairs and terrorism.

UK policymaking; Westminster model; Complex government; British politics; Policy studies

Publication date31/12/2023
Publication date online29/07/2023
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Place of publicationCham, Switzerland

People (2)


Professor Paul Cairney

Professor Paul Cairney

Professor, Politics

Dr Sean Kippin

Dr Sean Kippin

Lecturer in Public Policy, Politics