This work examines the relationship between governments and the parties which support these governments, a relationship which has been summarised by the expression ‘party government’. It focuses on eight Western European countries for which detailed empirical data have been collected, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland. But the purpose of the study goes beyond these countries: it is to begin to answer questions about what is the nature of party government by using the reflections which the analysis of these eight Western European countries suggests. There are many reasons why a reflection on party government needs to be undertaken: they all stem from the fact that party government, surprisingly perhaps, has been grossly understudied and therefore remains nebulous if not wholly obscure as a concept.
A first examination was undertaken in a previous volume, Party and Government ( Blondel and Cotta, 1996) which analysed on a country-by-country basis the same eight Western European polities as well as the United States and India. The empirical data which form the basis of the present study are broadly similar, but the analysis here is cross-national, which makes it possible to draw conclusions, albeit tentative, about current trends in the nature of party government in Western Europe, conclusions which could not be reached on the basis of the country-by-country approach adopted in the earlier work.
Moreover, alongside the empirical analysis of party government, common to this and the previous volume, the present study also explores a number of theoretical ramifications, as party government raises general questions about the scope to be given to its two components as well as about the normative implications of the concept. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of this sub-field of political science is the fact