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If every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets, what is wrong with the design of the systems that govern Britain? And how have they resulted in failures in housing, privatisation, outsourcing, education and healthcare? In How Did Britain Come to This? Gwyn Bevan examines a century of varieties of systemic failures in the British state. The book begins and ends by showing how systems of governance explain scandals in NHS hospitals, and the failures and successes of the UK and Germany in responding to Covid-19 before and after vaccines became available.
The book compares geographical fault lines and inequalities in Britain with those that have developed in other European countries and argues that the causes of Britain’s entrenched inequalities are consequences of shifts in systems of governance over the past century. Clement Attlee’s postwar government aimed to remedy the failings of the prewar minimal state, while Margaret Thatcher’s governments in the 1980s in turn sought to remedy the failings of Attlee’s planned state by developing the marketised state, which morphed into the financialised state we see today.
This analysis highlights the urgent need for a new political settlement of an enabling state that tackles current systemic weaknesses from market failures and over-centralisation. This book offers an accessible, analytic account of government failures of the past century, and is essential reading for anyone who wants to make an informed contribution to what an innovative, capable state might look like in a post-pandemic world.
“A coruscating analysis of the failings of British governance and public policy that led to the catastrophe of the Covid pandemic and its aftermath.”
— Patrick Diamond, Professor in Public Policy, Queen Mary University of London
“In this well-timed book, Professor Gwyn Bevan reflects upon fifty years of governance and public policy that he has spent his lifetime studying. He asks the question: how should public services best be organised – by markets or hierarchies? His conclusion - there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Instead, what society really needs is many more “knights”, that is, intrinsically motivated politicians and public servants who are intent on doing the right, without fear or favour, not for money, power or status, solely because it is the right thing to do. I’m absolutely certain that he’s right.”
— Alexander (Sandy) Pepper, Professor of Management Practice, London School of Economics and Political Science and author of If You're Ethical, Why Are You So Highly Paid?
“A chilling catalogue of systemic failure – and the consequences – at the heart Britain’s most important institutions. An account that lays bare repeated scandals in the NHS, financial mismanagement in high profile boardrooms and outsourced service companies such as the construction giant, Carillion.”
— Stewart Lansley, author of The Richer, The Poorer: How Britain Enriched the Few and Failed the Poor
“To say this book is timely would be an understatement. Few academic commentators could do better than Gwyn Bevan in explaining how Britain managed to muddle its way through to the condition it finds itself in right now. Politicians contemplating power after the forthcoming general election should read it.”
— Tony Travers, Associate Dean of LSE’s School of Public Policy
“How Did Britain Come to This is a challenging if controversial account of the malaise in our public services, arguing for an end to the neo-liberal consensus that has in effect ruled Britain since the time of Margaret Thatcher. It should be read by every concerned citizen.”
— Sir Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, King's College
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Bevan, G. 2023. How Did Britain Come to This?: A century of systemic failures of governance. London: LSE Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31389/lsepress.hdb
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Published on Oct. 23, 2023