Rational Choice and British Politics: An Analysis of Rhetoric and Manipulation from Peel to Blair

Rational Choice and British Politics: An Analysis of Rhetoric and Manipulation from Peel to Blair

Rational Choice and British Politics: An Analysis of Rhetoric and Manipulation from Peel to Blair

Rational Choice and British Politics: An Analysis of Rhetoric and Manipulation from Peel to Blair


'McLean's research is excellent, his writing is polished and witty, and his cases are well selected to cover some of the truly fascinating moments of British politics... From a scholarly perspective, there are some novel and interesting parts to McLean's work.' -American Political Science Review'This is a genuinely - possibly even eccentrically - original book... He [McLean] states his rationale explicitly, consciously attempting to demonstrate the value of combining political science and history. His conceptual approach is intellectually original and in itself makes this a most valuable study... as a conceptually original study it demands serious attention from both of its intended audiences.' -English Historical Review'Intelligent undergraduates will find a stimulating read... clear and stylish... engaging and concisely written... offers a thought-provoking text which should commend it not only to historians but more widely to all those interested in public affairs in this country.' -Ian Budge, University of Essex, Government and Opposition'An original study... marries the techniques of political science and game theory with those of narrative history... the result is both readable and suggestive.' -Peter Riddell, The TimesThis engaging and original study, by one of Britain's leading scholars of rational choice theory, explores the course of British parliamentary politics over the last 150 years. McLean marries an appealing combination of social science and analytical narrative history to the great turning points in British politics.


Introduces basic concepts of social choice. Describes the median voter theorem for one issue dimension, and its chaotic failure in more than one. It explains what rhetoric and heresthetics are, also how veto games and credible commitments have operated in British politics since 1846. It introduces W.H. Riker's account of the triumph of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

Majority Rule and Its Problems

This book is about politicians who have changed the number of political dimensions in British politics. And it is about politicians who play veto games. So, what is a political dimension? And how many of them are there usually? And what is a veto game?

A dimension is a way of organizing opinions. There is an infinity of possible policy platforms. Both politicians and voters need some way to evaluate them. A simple measuring rod is money. If I like health care to be publicly funded, then, other things being equal, the more money politicians promise to spend on public health care, the better.

But of course, other things are not equal. Politicians have to decide not only how much to spend, but how much to tax. And when they spend, they have to decide not only how much to spend on health, but how much on defence, education, roads, police, statues of famous men, and all the other things that governments spend taxpayers' money on.

The commonest way to make sense of this is to arrange possible policies along some line from the most extreme in one direction to the most extreme in the other. Politicians are well used to the terms 'left' and 'right' to label the ends of this line. Voters are less well used to the terms, but a wealth of evidence from surveys in many countries shows that they are comfortable with the line, or dimension, and that they are able to locate themselves, and the political parties, on such a line. (For contemporary evidence from Britain see the successive reports from the British Election Survey: Heath et al. 1985 , 1994). A left-wing policy is one that gives priority to high spending, and a right-wing policy is one that gives priority to low taxation.

Politicians and voters alike make more subtle distinction. Within spending priorities there are 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' shades. People and politicians of the left give priority to health, social services, and overseas aid. People and politicians on the right give priority to defence and security. On both sides, people are aware that there is more to politics than taxing and spending, and they bundle their moral and ethical views into their evaluation of left

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