British political circles suddenly “forced the palace” huge earthquake, an ambitious self-help declared the end?

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? she Qianying | Law School of Beijing Industrial and Commercial University

? Zhang Jiajun | Peking University Law School (at the time of publication)

[introduction] on July 5, 2022 local time, the British Chancellor of the exchequer and the Minister of health resigned successively, triggering a wave of resignations of British officials. According to the statistics of British media Sky News, by the evening of July 6, 46 officials had resigned because of losing confidence in prime minister Johnson, more than a fifth of the total number of Johnson government officials. The latest poll shows that nearly 70% of the British people believe that Johnson should resign as prime minister, but Johnson still insists that he will “continue to move forward” and fulfill the prime minister’s mission.

Although the great shock in British politics was directly caused by Johnson’s personal scandal and oversight of employment, in the longer term, the seeds of the crisis had been planted as early as a few years ago. In June, 2020, in order to cope with the COVID-19 and solve the serious shortcomings that Britain has not been able to solve in the past 30 years, Johnson launched the most radical new deal in Britain since the “World War II”, launched the Roosevelt style reform plan of the United States, and tried to re-establish and strengthen national integration at the political, economic, social and other levels: on the one hand, he tried to solve the problems of regional development imbalance, the decline of innovation momentum, social polarization between the rich and the poor and so on; On the other hand, it challenged the “behind the scenes government” represented by civil servants, trying to break the rigid officialdom culture and establish a strong man political pattern led by the prime minister. However, the plump ideal was not equal to the realistic bone feeling. This ambitious plan finally failed to get rid of the interference of Johnson scandal. Some commentators believe that this time, the resignation of the chancellor of the exchequer and the Minister of health, who are responsible for the two most important events in Britain – Revitalizing the economy and combating the epidemic, may mean that the Johnson version of the “Roosevelt New Deal” is on the verge of bankruptcy.

This article was published in the 6th issue of culture in 2020, originally entitled “can the Roosevelt Road save Britain?”, It only represents the author’s point of view for your reference.

Can Roosevelt’s road save Britain?


Crisis superposition: where is the divided Great Britain going?

In June 2020, borisjohnson, the British prime minister who witnessed the death of covid-19, launched what he called the most radical new deal in Britain since World War II. Johnson vowed that the new deal “is not only committed to defeating novel coronavirus, but also committed to using this crisis to finally solve the great challenges that have not been solved in this country in the past 30 years”. So, how to understand this “great challenge”? Where is the crux?


Screenshot of the report

Look back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. At that time, Margaret Thatcher led the conservative party to win the British general election, and then promoted the historical reform with privatization as the core. In the United States on the other side of the Atlantic, Reagan, the newly elected president of the United States, also implemented a similar reform policy. A political and economic model called “neoclassical liberalism” (later gradually referred to as “neoliberalism”, hereinafter referred to as “neoliberalism”) began to come to the forefront of history. In the process of global expansion, Neo liberalism realized the internal and external confluence of industrial production, free trade and transnational capital, which once revitalized the west, but also caused widespread structural imbalances within a country, between countries, and between geographical regions.

With the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008, the world economic recession exacerbated this structural imbalance, and then there was the “pendulum effect” predicted by Carl Polanyi: after liberalization, marketization, globalization, universalism, the opposite movement – social protection, state intervention, anti globalization, nationalism also rose against the trend. Many Western intellectual elites, including Joseph Stiglitz, a famous economist, and Francis Fukuyama, a political scholar, have pointed out that neoliberalism in the 21st century is facing unprecedented challenges, and the sudden arrival of the COVID-19 has further aggravated the crisis.

Britain is in the “vortex” zone of great changes in history. After the financial crisis, Britain’s economic recovery was weak. Although the Cameron government once led the economic resurgence, as Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, said, “the economic ‘cake’ did not grow rapidly, and the ‘cake’ was not cut evenly”. As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor widened, and the problem of “democratic deficit” became increasingly prominent.

As one of the major changes to deal with the dilemma, brexit, which began in 2016, was originally expected by the British to regain control of the dominant power of national development. However, the “brexit” has been delayed for a long time, and it has wasted nearly four years to complete the legal process. So far, the failure to reach a post brexit British European trade agreement has made Britain’s internal contradictions more prominent: the political differentiation of political parties is serious, and once there was no “hung parliament” and minority government with more than half of the seats held by political parties, and it is difficult to integrate the policy agenda; The national rift is gradually deepening, with local separatism represented by Northern Ireland rising one after another, and the United Kingdom between central and local governments is facing more unstable factors; Social differentiation has intensified significantly, public opinion under the catalysis of brexit has been further torn apart, and populist politics and identity politics have replaced class politics as the main factors affecting the political trend; The trust between the government and the people has been severely damaged. Because the political system, mainstream political parties and political elites cannot effectively respond to the challenges, the gap between the political elite and the ordinary people has further deepened.

According to a survey report of the Hansard society in Britain, in 2019, the British public’s evaluation of the government governance system fell to the lowest point in 15 years. People are pessimistic about the problems existing in the country, think that the government system is inclined to the rich and powerful, and urgently hope to have an active and promising government to lead the real reform. More than half of the respondents expect a strong leader to break the rules without being subject to Parliament everywhere.

This “Pandora’s box” mixed with recession, differentiation, doubt, pessimism, imbalance and other factors was finally completely opened with the fatal blow of the COVID-19. According to the British National Bureau of statistics, the UK entered the worst recession in history in 2020, with the largest decline in GDP among G7 countries and the highest mortality among European countries. Moreover, the epidemic has exposed the inadequacy of government governance, and the sharp contrast between different groups in the life and health situation has made the structural inequality of British society clear, thus aggravating the already precarious differentiation dilemma.

In a nutshell, the democratic political crisis caused by the overall dilemma of neoliberalism, the identity political crisis derived from the dilemma of social division, and the political crisis of life highlighted by the COVID-19 were superimposed with the economic recession for a time, creating a crisis moment in Britain. These problems all point to a highly divided Great Britain, especially the political differentiation and the withering of popular support as the biggest challenges; The fundamental way out for British politics is to re strengthen national integration from the political, economic and social levels, rebuild people’s trust in the system, and condense the confidence and joint forces of national development. Britain urgently needs a transformation of national governance. To borrow the words of Benjamin Disraeli, the core figure in British politics and the leader of the Conservative Party in the late 19th century: “in this country, the society is confused and almost paralyzed; it will usher in change and needs corresponding system design.”


British New Deal: when Johnson awakened Roosevelt

In December 2019, the British general election ended with the Conservative Party winning a landslide victory and Prime Minister Johnson regaining control of Parliament. This means that after being suspended for many years, the traditional Westminster “strong government” model characterized by centralization and the integration of Parliament and administration in Britain has been reactivated, which has reversed the highly divided political situation to a certain extent and created political conditions for the Johnson government to actively govern. The outbreak of COVID-19 has caught the new government unprepared, but also forced a rare opportunity for reform.

On June 27th, 2020, Michael Gove, one of Johnson’s right-hand men and the then British Cabinet Secretary (editor’s note: gove is one of the most senior members of the Johnson government and a representative of the brexit faction. On July 6th, 2022, gove was dismissed by Prime Minister Johnson), delivered a public speech on behalf of the government, saying frankly that people’s confidence in the traditional political and economic elite has been shattered, and the current crisis in Britain is comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s, There is an urgent need to use the new deal of Roosevelt as a model to reshape the British political ecosystem and avoid further aggravation of division. Three days later, Johnson himself announced the launch of a “Roosevelt style” large-scale economic stimulus plan. These two speeches and a series of policies focused on awakening Roosevelt’s new deal legacy and outlined Johnson’s new deal roadmap from two aspects.

At the level of political reform, with the theme of “making the government closer to the people”, we will promote the transformation of the British government, focusing on improving the performance of government governance and the ability of officials. Goff’s speech proposed that, according to the idea of Roosevelt’s new deal, the first priority of British reform is to pay attention to the vulnerable groups, so that the government can better serve all people rather than the minority dignitaries, and build a more inclusive society. In this sense, “public service” is not a privilege for public officials to seek private interests or settle for the status quo, but an opportunity and responsibility to promote the prosperity of citizens and the innovation of government governance.

Specific to government reform: first, close the distance between the government and the people. For example, expand the policy decision-making center from London to different regions of the UK, appropriately promote decentralization, and give local governments more decision-making power. Second, taking “truly helping citizens achieve prosperity” as the standard, the evaluation of government programs and projects should be both strict and bold. At the same time, more data should be shared and released to the outside world, and data analysis experts should help the government evaluate the success or failure of policy formulation and implementation, so as to truly improve the effectiveness of policies. Third, in order to make the civil servants adapt to the governance needs of the era of the new technological revolution, the reform tries to break the inherent mechanism, establish a new employment orientation of “science and technology politics”, shift the quality structure of the civil servants from focusing on humanities to focusing on mathematics, economics and science and engineering, promote “talent diversity” and “skill diversity”, and overcome the cumbersome disadvantages of paperwork politics in the form of expert administration.

In addition to these specific measures, the reform also tries to reverse the increasingly rigid government culture ideologically. Gove believes that in the past, the British government culture was hostile to adventure, experiment and innovation, and the rigidity of the political operation process was not conducive to promoting innovation, let alone officials taking responsibility. Therefore, the British government needs more radicalism, and the reform should create space for experiments, “turn to a system in which those who put forward innovative, distinctive and challenging suggestions will have room for progress and, if necessary, allow failure”.

At the economic and social policy level, the reform takes economic stimulus as the engine, and is committed to solving the problems of unbalanced regional development, insufficient innovation power, and solidification of social strata in the UK. First, the “infrastructure revolution” is the top priority of Johnson’s economic stimulus plan. As early as the budget announced in the spring of 2020, the Johnson government proposed to invest 640billion pounds in the next five years to upgrade and optimize infrastructure; In the new deal declaration at the end of June 2020, Johnson announced the implementation of a £ 5billion infrastructure investment project to promote employment and economic recovery. In order to give the “green light” to economic construction, the Johnson administration has completely changed the British planning legal system since 1947, and greatly reduced the planning approval procedures and project construction delivery time. In order to stimulate the real estate economy and solve the housing difficulties of young people and vulnerable groups, the British government has introduced a new deal of real estate stamp tax relief, and plans to invest 12billion pounds to build 180000 affordable housing units in the next few years. In order to promote regional coordination and achieve the overall development of the UK, the central government also plans to cooperate with local governments to speed up the infrastructure construction in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and comprehensively improve the transportation interconnection facilities between the four regions, so as to form a closer United Kingdom.

Linked with economic policies, the Johnson administration has laid out the medium and long-term revitalization of the UK in the policy areas of science and technology, talent, immigration, education, environment and so on. Johnson personally presided over the meeting of the science and Technology Committee, calling for the formulation of the “moon shots” to revitalize British science and technology in key areas such as medicine, transportation, energy and robotics. Since then, the British government has released the UK research and development roadmap and set up a talent office in the prime minister’s office. While tightening immigration policies, it has launched the “global elite visa” for international top talents. In the field of education, in response to the abuse of “unconditional offers” by British universities for many years, the British Ministry of education has promoted the change of the recruitment system in favor of the upper middle class, which recruits students in advance with estimated results, and replaced it with the new system of first out results before applying for universities, so as to make the recruitment more fair and transparent, break the class solidification and promote social mobility to a certain extent. In the field of environment, Johnson proposed “green recovery”, actively develop energy-saving technology and new energy industry, and invest in ecological protection projects to create more green jobs. On the whole, the Johnson administration, labeled by the outside world as a right-wing government, did not launch a polarization policy in its actual administration, but was compatible with many ideas of the Conservative Party and the labor party, moving towards a typical middle line.


Challenging the “behind the scenes government”: the centralization of power by the prime minister and the rise of strongman politics

In order to consolidate the political situation and implement the reform policy, as soon as the Johnson administration came to power, it launched an internal operation to challenge the “deep state” with the civil service group as the main body. As a result, Jill Rutter, a senior researcher at UK in changing Europe, a think tank, pointed out that the politicization of civil service selection has become increasingly prominent, and the British government has “changed from a collective cabinet system to an operating system in the name of the prime minister and completely led by the central government”, forming a powerful political pattern in which power is vested in the prime minister.

Historically, the famous British civil service system was once known for its neutrality. However, with the solidification of the bureaucratic system, the civil service group itself has also become a highly politicized existence: on the one hand, they hold some real power in the process of decision-making consultation, policy design, information processing, project implementation, etc., and their actual influence expands with the growth of their years in politics, gradually becoming a bureaucratic group with special interests; On the other hand, in order to cope with this bureaucratic trend and avoid “administrative dilution of politics”, the prime minister has been playing games with the cabinet and civil service groups. Since Thatcher, the prime ministers have strengthened their political control over the civil service through personnel adjustment, and Johnson is no exception, and has also made this internal struggle public.

At the beginning of Johnson’s administration in 2019, he promoted the internal integration of the conservative party by forcibly replacing the members of the European Group in the party or expelling them from the party, dismissing a number of cabinet ministers, etc., forming a new cabinet dominated by the tough brexit group, and then won the general election and returned to power, largely consolidating the political situation dominated by the administration. However, within the administrative system, the civil service group with real power tends to be rigid and conservative. Most civil servants hope that Britain will never leave the EU – for example, sir mark sedwell, then the number one figure in the British civil service, cabinet secretary and national security adviser, is recognized as a pro EU official.

In order to overcome bureaucracy and remove administrative obstacles, Johnson and his core staff planned to promote a series of personnel adjustments. On the one hand, they excluded those old people who were unwilling to leave Europe or were afraid of reform, and on the other hand, they sought to introduce new people with mathematical science and engineering expertise, forcing some senior civil servants to leave their posts one after another. Bronwenmaddox, director of the Institute for government, a British think-tank, said bluntly: “civil servants are under great pressure. There is an indisputable argument in this government, ‘you are either on our side or not on our side’. The impartiality of the civil service system has been questioned, which is unprecedented.” It is particularly worth mentioning that in June 2020, sedwell, as the chief civil servant, also announced his resignation. Subsequently, the power of the chief civil servant was divided, and the cabinet secretary and national security adviser were no longer held by the same person. This move shocked British politics. The New Statesman believes that it means that the operation mode of the British government has changed significantly, and an important step has been taken in the long-term goal of government reform.

The above example of civil service selection and change is only a natural extension of the overall trend of the British civil service system from neutrality to politicization over the past half century. Johnson’s reform obviously went beyond this. He also changed the leadership mechanism of the cabinet and civil servants:

First, a new “committee model” centered on the prime minister and cooperating in the fight against the epidemic was established. In order to concentrate on responding to the epidemic, four implementation committees were established under the prime minister and above the ministries of the cabinet, namely, health care, general public sector, economy and commerce, and international affairs. The prime minister and the heads of the committees form a five person team to hold daily meetings on the prevention and control of COVID-19, and then the committees will guide the relevant departments to make specific decisions, so as to achieve unified command, upload and release of epidemic prevention and control.

Second, the cabinet ministers are restricted by controlling the special advisers subordinate to each cabinet department. In the past, the special adviser has been managed by the Minister of his ministry. Now the prime minister directly orders the special adviser over the minister, and the special adviser also directly reports to the prime minister’s office on the work of his department, “which has been transformed into a control tool in Downing Street”.

Third, take the opportunity of dealing with the epidemic to realize the centralized and unified management of the information and intelligence of all departments and their release channels. The prime minister’s office has established a unified information collection and release mechanism, requiring the communication teams under each ministry to report directly to the prime minister’s office, and the ministers of each ministry are also controlled by the prime minister’s office and cannot express their opinions publicly at will. This made the information control power concentrated in the prime minister’s office, and the cabinet “was downgraded to another group of government spokesmen, and only when the prime minister’s office allowed it to speak out”.

Fourth, enhance the status of the Permanent Secretary of the prime minister’s office, require senior officials to report to him the implementation of the prime minister’s policies, and include the Secretariat of the cabinet office under the leadership of the prime minister, so as to transform it from a coordinator and balancer between the prime minister and the cabinet to a direct tool to serve the prime minister.

Jill lat believes that these reforms mean that the prime minister is bypassing the cabinet to govern, and the result will undoubtedly strengthen the power of the prime minister and degrade the power of all departments of the cabinet and their ministers. The New York Times quoted Martin Stanley, a former civil servant of the British government, as saying that under the reform, civil servants of the British government are increasingly inclined to act as “courtiers”, while the prime minister’s leadership system is increasingly inclined to centralized command and control.


unfinished comments

The prevalence of the COVID-19 once again shows that the global high-risk society has become a fate that the world has to face, and this fate is accompanied by a centralized model of risk response, which is spreading around the world to varying degrees through nationalism, economic regulation, social intervention, administrative centralization and other forms, and almost once again declares the end of the era of laissez faire. Even the old liberal Britain has failed to break through the torrent sweeping the world. Its various reactions under various crises have inevitably intensified the localization and centralization from politics to economy

Characteristics: on the one hand, we do not give up globalization, but the economic focus continues to shift back to the mainland, highlighting economic nationalism; On the one hand, we should break through conventional politics and coordinate and promote “integrated politics”. The deeper the crisis is, the closer the relationship between politics and administration is, and the more centralized the national governance system is.

After the impact of several rounds of epidemic, the British social and economic difficulties, Johnson government pressure unprecedented. Under the trend of long-term crisis, how will the political and economic integration route of the Johnson administration change and how far can it go? Is it to retreat from setbacks and lead to an improved and delayed version of Neo liberalism, or to forge ahead and lead to the institutionalization and even expansion of the crisis concentration model? Or is it the “hybrid integration” of the two? Regardless of the outcome, the British politics and society have reached the time to change.


[1]PM: A New Deal for Britain, GOV.UK, June 20, 2020.

[2]David Harvey, Spaces of Neoliberalization: Towards a Theory of UnevenGeographical Development, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005, pp. 7-19.

[3]Joseph E. Stiglitz, The End of Neoliberalism andthe Rebirth of History, Project Syndicate, November 4, 2019.

[4]Francis Fukuyama, Nous allons revenir à unlibéralisme des années 1950-1960, Le Point, April 9, 2020.

[5]Michael Gove, The Privilege of Public Service, New Statesman, June 28, 2020.

[6] Kong Xinfeng, he Jingyi: “the institutional resilience of British politics from the 2019 general election”, published in contemporary world socialist issues, No. 1, 2020.

[7] Li Jingkun, “the evolution and reconstruction of British party politics: against the background of brexit”, published in European studies, No. 4, 2019.

[8]John Harris, The Covid-19 crisisis accelerating the breakup of the UK, TheGuardian, August 23, 2020.

[9]Hansard Society publication, Audit of Political Engagement 16 (The 2019Report).

[10]Hansard Society publication, What’s trust got to do with it (2010).

[11]George Eaton, The UK Suffers the Worst Recession of Any G7 Country, New Statesman,August 12, 2020.

[12] [UK] Nigel foreman, Douglas Baldwin: a general theory of British politics, translated by Su Shumin, Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, 2015 edition, page 480.

[13]Vernon Bogdanor, The Coalition and the Constitution, Oxford: HartPublishing, 2011, p.1.

[14]Levi Winchester, New homes to get‘automatic’ planning permission approval to speed-up building, The Sun, August2, 2020.

[15]Readoutof Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, GOV.UK, March 4, 2020.

[16]PallabGhosh, Global Talent visa: New System to Keep UK ‘Open to Talented Scientists’,January 27, 2020.

[17]James Forsyth, Mission impossible: Boris’s attempt to rewire the Britishgovernment, The Spectator, July 4, 2020.

[18]Jill Rutter, Boris Johnson’s Imperial Premiership, UK in a Changing Europe,July 6, 2020.

[19]Colin Campbell, Public Service and Democratic Accountability, Edinburgh:University of Edinburgh Press, 1993, p. 124.

[20]Anna Joyce, Boris Johnson Launches War on U.K.’s Own Deep State, New YorkTimes, March 7, 2020.

[21] see song Xiongwei: “the internal logic of British administrative reform after World War II: centralization or decentralization?”, Published in political science research, 2018, issue 5.

[22]James Forsyth, Mission impossible: Boris’s attempt to rewire the Britishgovernment, The Spectator, July 4.

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