Bringing the Politics Back In: Public value in Westminster parliamentary government
We challenge the usefulness of the 'public value' approach in Westminster systems with their dominant hierarchies of control, strong roles for ministers, and tight authorizing regimes underpinned by disciplined two-party systems. We identify two key confusions: about public value as theory, and in defining who are 'public managers'. We identify five linked core assumptions in public value: the benign view of large-scale organizations; the primacy of management; the relevance of private sector experience; the downgrading of party politics; and public servants as platonic guardians. We identify two key dilemmas around the 'primacy of party politics' and the notion that public managers should play the role of platonic guardians deciding the public interest. We illustrate our argument with short case studies of: the David Kelly story from the UK; the 'children overboard' scandal in Australia; the 'mad cow disease' outbreak in the UK; the Yorkshire health authority's 'tea-parties', and the Cave Creek disaster in New Zealand.