4

The welfare state

Introduction

The previous two chapters used an interpretive approach to explore the traditions and problems that inform New Labour's ideas. All too often political scientists assume that interpretive approaches aim solely at an understanding of ideas as opposed to an explanation of actions and practices. In their view, interpretation enables us to understand the meanings that bubble up on the surface of politics, but, if we want to explain these bubbles, we need to invoke the deeper currents of interests, economic forces, or institutions. This view implies that interests, economic forces, or institutions are given, objective facts as opposed to subjective beliefs. Typically it also equates subjective beliefs solely with values and identities. I have argued, in contrast, that interests, economic forces, and institutions can influence actions only by way of people's beliefs about them, for all of our experiences are constructed in part by our prior theories. When people act on interests or institutional norms, they still act on their beliefs; it is just that the relevant beliefs are those they hold about their interests or institutional norms rather than about values or identities. Any adequate explanation of people's actions has to invoke their beliefs even if only implicitly. An interpretive study provides us, in other words, with an explanation - as well as an understanding - of the relevant actions and practices. When we point to the traditions and problems against the background of which people formed their beliefs, we explain why they hold the beliefs they do, and when we unpack people's beliefs and desires, we explain their actions and the practices to which these actions give rise.

The foregoing interpretation of New Labour represents not only an attempt to chart some of the sources of its ideas but also the beginnings of an explanation of its practice. Although interpretive studies often have explanatory intent, we should not assume that the ideas governments express always correspond to their practice. Gaps arise between the two because politicians dissemble and because their actions typically have unintended consequences. 1 When politicians dissemble, they express beliefs

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New Labour: A Critique
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Abbreviations xiv
  • 1 - Political Science 1
  • 2 - Institutionalism 29
  • 3 - Communitarianism 54
  • 4 - The Welfare State 83
  • 5 - The Economy 106
  • 6 - Social Democracy 128
  • Notes 157
  • Bibliography 178
  • Index 195
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