The Nature of Party Government: A Comparative European Perspective

By Jean Blondel; Maurizio Cotta | Go to book overview
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Patronage by National

Wolfgang C. Müller


Patronage, as understood in this chapter, is the use of public resources in a particularistic manner for political goals. While it is easy to give a general definition of patronage, it is much harder to identify it in practice. After all, technically, patronage is either an appointment (for example to a civil service position) or a policy decision (for example to give a contract or to pass a law). It is only the intention and effect which qualify some decisions as patronage. Thus patronage definitively belongs to the realm of covert politics. In this respect it is in sharp contrast with the other dimensions studied in this volume, ‘grand’ public policies and appointments.

Many policies are derived from electoral manifestos, and their elaboration often occurs partly under the eyes of the public with policies eventually appearing as laws in the statute book with recognisable impacts on the budget. The process of cabinet recruitment tends to be relatively well-documented by academic and journalistic research and the result of this process, the appointment, is unambiguous. In contrast, the mere existence of patronage is often publicly denied. The evidence of patronage which cannot be disavowed will be said to constitute the exception rather than the rule. Consequently, most information on patronage is soft. Any treatment of it is necessarily based on evidence which does not lend itself easily to quantification and precise comparison. Therefore, the findings reported in this chapter should be seen as even more tentative than those in the other parts of this book. Since the alternative to using soft data is not to study patronage at all, and given that patronage is a relevant but understudied phenomenon, this chapter proceeds from the assumption that even a tentative treatment can enhance our understanding.


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