BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND ITS DISCONTENTS by Geoffrey & Nelson W. Polsby Smith

BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND ITS DISCONTENTS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Unlike others who've assessed the British condition in recent years, London Times journalist Smith and Berkeley political scientist Polsby don't pretend to be seeing, in today's Britain, the American future--which either ""works"" or doesn't work, depending upon one's political presuppositions; instead they stick pretty close to specifically British institutions. The problems they set out are: 1) economic stagnation and relative (economic) decline; 2) social solidarity--the problems of nationalities and racial minorities; and 3) the loss of international prestige. But of these, the only one they treat as anything like a fundamental issue is the economy, since they think that Northern Ireland and the Scottish and Welsh issues are not potentially fatal (the latter threats, they feel, have been defused) and the international-standing problem is only one of self-confidence. In assessing the economy, Polsby and Smith note the pleasures of British civility, the low prestige of industrial careers, and the power of unions to protect jobs; but they pay scant attention to the transformations of the world economy or the British place in it. Aside from the empire, this would include some attention to Britain's role as a leader in the first industrial revolution and its back-seat position in the second, technological one. Instead, they hold out a vague hope that private initiative can be restored through a new non-ideological pragmatism oriented toward the private sector and spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher's tight purse. Without spending much time on this, however, they move on to propose a series of governmental reforms, ranging from weaker party control over Parliament to opening up the procedures and processes of the civil service, which are intended to bolster British self-confidence. By the time one gets through this, though, the initial set of presumed problems is all but forgotten. Like the problems, the proferred solutions have no context.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1980
Publisher: Basic Books