Neo-Liberalisms in British · PDF file Neo-Liberalism From a Governmentality Perspective 68 ....

Click here to load reader

  • date post

  • Category


  • view

  • download


Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Neo-Liberalisms in British · PDF file Neo-Liberalism From a Governmentality Perspective 68 ....

  • Neo-Liberalisms in British Politics


    Christopher Byrne

    A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of


    Department of Political Science and International Studies

    College of Social Sciences

    The University of Birmingham


  • University of Birmingham Research Archive

    e-theses repository This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.

  • Abstract

    This thesis reconsiders conceptualisations of neo-liberalism by challenging established

    economistic and ideologistic narratives of the unfolding of the neo-liberal project in

    Britain. Drawing on and attempting to integrate with one another Laclau and Mouffe’s

    post-Marxist discourse theory and Foucault’s theory of governmentality, the thesis

    charts the development of a neo-liberal governmental rationality in British politics from

    the emergence of Thatcher onto the British political scene in the late-1970s, through the

    New Labour project in the 1990s and 2000s, up to the formation of the Conservative-

    Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010. The second major strand of the

    argument presented in the thesis is that each of these decisive moments in the history of

    British neo-liberalism served the crucial purpose of reinvigorating the longer-term neo-

    liberal governmental project by providing it with a new hegemonic basis upon which to

    base its popular support. The thesis begins with an analysis of Thatcherism as a chaotic,

    fledgling form of neo-liberal governmentality underpinned by, in Hall’s (1979)

    memorable words, an ‘authoritarian populist’ hegemonic project. It then considers New

    Labour as representing a more fully-developed, ‘advanced neo-liberal’ form of

    government, which simultaneously restored the electoral viability of the Labour party

    and provided the neo-liberal governmental project with a new, ‘technocratic populist’

    hegemonic basis. The final section of the thesis focuses on the politics of the

    Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. The historical significance of ‘Big

    Society’ is theorised as both a neo-liberal technology of government and as an ideology

    with the dual purpose of ‘detoxifying’ the Conservative party brand and winning

    popular support for the further neo-liberalisation of British society.

  • Contents

    Chapter 1: Introduction 1

    Neo-Liberalism as an Object of Political Analysis 2

    The Research Aims of This Thesis 16

    The Limitations of This Thesis 20

    Chapter 2: Thatcherism, Authoritarian Populism and

    ‘Roll-Back’ Neo-Liberalism 24

    ‘Uni-Dimensional’ Accounts of Thatcherism 26

    The Hall-Jessop Debate 30

    ‘Ideologism’ and Political Analysis 36

    Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Keynesian Welfare State 46

    The Hegemonic Politics of Thatcherism 58

    Foucault and Government 65

    Neo-Liberalism From a Governmentality Perspective 68

    Thatcherism as Neo-Liberal Governmentality 77

    Privatisation as a Neo-Liberal Technology of Government 77

    The Artificial Marketisation of the Public Services as a Neo-

    Liberal Technology of Government 84

    Cultural Change and the Promotion of New Subjectivities 92

    Depoliticisation as a Response to ‘Governmental Overload’ 98

    Conclusion 102

    Chapter 3: New Labour, ‘Modernisation’ and Neo-Liberal

    Renewal 105

  • Specifying the ‘Ideological Content’ of the New Labour Project 107

    Bevir’s ‘Disaggregated’ Approach to the Study of New Labour 112

    Discourse Theoretical Approaches to New Labour 121

    Social Antagonism in New Labour Discourse 132

    ‘Fair is Efficient’: New Labour and the Logic of Difference 139

    The ‘Crisis’ of Thatcherism 144

    New Labour as Neo-Liberal Governmentality 149

    From ‘Governance’ to ‘Governmentality’? Determining the

    Specificity of New Labour as an Instance of Neo-Liberal

    Governmentality 150

    ‘Partnership’ as a Neo-Liberal Technology of Government 153

    The Changed Role of Audit in the Public Service 158

    The Creation of Good Neo-Liberal Citizens in New Labour

    Discourse 168

    Conclusion 178

    Chapter 4: The Big Society and the Future of Neo-Liberalism 181

    Making Sense of the ‘Cameron Project’ 183

    The Big Society and Gramscian Political Economy 184

    Foucauldian Approaches to the Big Society 193

    Over Before it Ever Really Began? The Big Society as Hegemonic Project 205

    Changing Ideological Dividing Lines in Cameronite Discourse 214

    Explaining the Failure of the Big Society as Hegemonic Project 224

    The Coalition Government and Neo-Liberal Governmentality 235

    From ‘Governmentality’ Back to ‘Governance’? Making Sense of the

    Apparently Retrograde Nature of Coalition Government Governmentality 235

  • Governmental and Ethical Self-Formation in Advanced Neo-Liberalism 246

    ‘Responsibilisation’ and the Creation of the ‘Active Society’ Under the

    Coalition Government 251

    From the New Public Management to ‘Citizen Co-Production’ 261

    From Rational Choice Understandings of Citizen Behaviour to ‘Nudge’ 271

    Conclusion 281

    Chapter 5: Conclusion 283

    Contribution to Knowledge 289

    Potential Avenues of Future Research 295

    Bibliography 301

  • 1

    Chapter One


  • 2

    Neo-Liberalism as an Object of Political Analysis

    This thesis arose out of an interest in the complex interrelationship between New

    Labour, which when work on this thesis first began was still very much in the

    ascendancy of British politics, and what is commonly referred to in the literature as

    ‘Thatcherism’. In some respects, there appears to be a great deal of continuity between

    Thatcherism and New Labour. To take one pertinent example, it is not difficult to

    identify several lines of continuity between Thatcherism and New Labour in the area of

    economic policy. The Thatcher governments’ monetarist escapades in the early 1980s,

    their eschewing of the goal of full employment, and repeated attempts to rein in

    ‘irresponsible’ public spending after 1979 were all echoed in Gordon Brown’s adoption

    of his lauded ‘golden rules’ in relation to fiscal policy and the 1997 decision to shift

    responsibility for the setting of interest rates over to the Monetary Policy Committee of

    the Bank of England. Likewise, looking at New Labour’s social policies it is easy to draw

    parallels between the private finance initiatives of Labour governments after 1997 and

    the earlier public-private ‘partnership’ arrangements explored by Major in the early-

    1990s and, to a lesser extent, Thatcher in the mid-1980s.

    However, it is also clear that, for as many lines of continuity there are between

    Thatcherism and New Labour, there are as many lines of discontinuity separating the

    two. Not only was the public persona and overall political style of Blair very different to

    that of Thatcher, but Blair’s version of Thatcher’s ‘there is no alternative’ – namely, his

    discourse on ‘globalisation’ and ‘modernisation’ – was a much more sophisticated

    defence of neo-classical economics. Added to that, Thatcher’s famous assertion that

    ‘there is no such thing as society’ seems a long way from the Third Way ideas that were

    so critical early on in the New Labour project, which not only drew heavily on

  • 3

    communitarianism, but also envisioned a continuing ‘enabling’ role for the state in an

    era of globalisation.

    The literature on New Labour, despite its voluminous nature, fails to account for these

    lines of continuity and discontinuity in a satisfactory way. This literature will be

    explored in greater detail in chapter three, but the part of it which is of interest for

    present purposes – namely, the part of it which addresses the interrelationship between

    Thatcherism and New Labour – can be roughly divided into two camps: in one camp we

    have the critical realist accounts of figures such as Colin Hay (1999) and Richard

    Heffernan (2000) and in the other we have the ‘interpretivist’ accounts of figures such

    as Mark Bevir (2005). The argument Hay sets out is that, in order to understand New

    Labour, we first have to arrive at an understanding of the contradictions which inhered

    in the regime of accumulation characteristic of the advanced i