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Party Control, Party Competition and Public Service Performance

  • George A. Boyne, Oliver James, Peter John and Nicolai Petrovsky

Abstract

This article assesses party effects on the performance of public services. A policy-seeking model, hypothesizing that left and right party control affects performance, and an instrumental model, where all parties strive to raise performance, are presented. The framework also suggests a mixed model in which party effects are contingent on party competition, with parties raising performance as increasing party competition places their control of government at increasing risk. These models are tested against panel data on English local governments’ party control and public service performance. The results question the traditional account of left and right parties, showing a positive relationship between right-wing party control and performance that is contingent on a sufficiently high level of party competition. The findings suggest left–right models should be reframed for the contemporary context.

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2 Besley, Timothy and Case, Anne, ‘Political Institutions and Policy Choices: Empirical Evidence from the United States’, Journal of Economic Literature, 41 (2003), 773; Boyne, George A., ‘Theory, Methodology and Results in Political Science – The Case of Output Studies’, British Journal of Political Science, 15 (1985), 473515; Boyne, George A., ‘Assessing Party Effects on Local Policies: A Quarter Century of Progress or Eternal Recurrence?’ Political Studies, 44 (1996), 232252; Sharpe, L. J. and Newton, K., Does Politics Matter? The Determinants of Public Policy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).

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4 Stokes, Donald E., ‘Spatial Models of Party Competition’, American Political Science Review, 57 (1963), 368377; Clarke, Harold D., Sanders, DavidStewart, Marianne C. and Whiteley, Paul, Political Choice in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

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6 Schmidt, ‘When Parties Matter’.

7 Boix, Political Parties, Growth and Inequality; Huber and Stephens, Development and Crisis of the Welfare State.

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9 Clarke, Sanders, Stewart and Whiteley, Political Choice in Britain; Oliver, J. Eric and Ha, Shang E., ‘Vote Choice in Suburban Elections’, American Political Science Review, 101 (2007), 393408; Boyne, George A., James, OliverJohn, Peter and Petrovsky, Nicolai, ‘Democracy and Government Performance: Holding Incumbents Accountable in English Local Governments’, Journal of Politics, 71 (2009), 12731284.

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11 Oliver and Ha, ‘Vote Choice in Suburban Elections’; Boyne, James, John and Petrovsky, ‘Democracy and Government Performance’.

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13 Whiteley, Paul, ‘Public Opinion and the Demand for Social Welfare in Britain’, Journal of Social Policy, 10 (1981), 453476.

14 Boyne, , James, John, and Petrovsky, , ‘Democracy and Government Performance’; Christopher R. Berry and William G. Howell, ‘Accountability and Local Elections: Rethinking Retrospective Voting’, Journal of Politics, 69 (2007), 844858; Oliver and Ha, ‘Vote Choice in Suburban Elections’.

15 In his The Doctrine of Responsible Party Government, Ranney surveys arguments for and against this view.

16 Keman, ‘Parties and Government’, p. 161.

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18 Keman, ‘Parties and Government’, p. 162.

19 Klingemann, Hans-DieterHofferbert, Richard and Budge, Ian, Parties, Policy and Democracy (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1994); Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, Volkens, Andrea, Bara, JudithBudge, Ian and McDonald, Michael, Mapping Policy Preferences II: Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments in Eastern Europe, European Union and OECD 1990–2003 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

20 Keman, ‘Parties and Government’, p. 171.

21 Hofferbert, Richard I. and Budge, Ian, ‘The Party Mandate and the Westminster Model: Election Programmes and Spending in Britain, 1948–85’, British Journal of Political Science, 22 (1992), 151182; MacDonald and Ian Budge, Elections, Parties, Democracy.

22 Alesina, Roubini and Cohen, Political Cycles and the Macroeconomy; Garrett, Partisan Politics in the Global Economy; Imbeau, Pétry and Lamari, ‘Left–Right Party Ideology and Government Policies’; Midtbø, ‘The Impact of Parties, Economic Growth, and Public Sector Expansion’; Swank, Global Capital, Political Institutions, and Policy Change in Developed Welfare States.

23 Iversen, Torben and Soskice, David, ‘Real Exchange Rates and Competitiveness: The Political Economy of Skill Formation, Wage Compression, and Electoral Systems’, American Political Science Review, 104 (2010), 601623.

24 Iversen, Torben and Stephens, John D., ‘Partisan Politics, the Welfare State, and Three Worlds of Human Capital Formation’, Comparative Political Studies, 41 (2008), 600637.

25 Rothstein, Bo, Just Institutions Matter: The Moral and Political Logic of the Universal Welfare State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

26 Blom-Hansen, Monkerud and Sørensen, ‘Do Parties Matter for Local Revenue Policies?’; Imbeau, Pétry and Lamari, ‘Left–Right Party Ideology and Government Policies’.

27 Hotelling, Harold, ‘Stability in Competition’, Economic Journal, 39 (1929), 4157; Downs, Anthony, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1957).

28 Boix, Political Parties, Growth and Inequality; Huber and Stephens, Development and Crisis of the Welfare State.

29 Clarke, Sanders, Stewart and Whiteley, Political Choice in Britain; James, Oliver and John, Peter, ‘Public Management at the Ballot Box: Performance Information and Electoral Support for Incumbent English Local Governments’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 17 (2007), 567580; Stokes, ‘Spatial Models of Party Competition’.

30 Strom, Kaare, ‘A Behavioral Theory of Competitive Political Parties’, American Journal of Political Science, 34 (1990), 565598, pp. 588–91.

31 Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State (New York: Wiley, 1954); Taagepera, Rein and Shugart, Matthew Soberg, Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989); Neto, Octavio Amorim and Cox, Gary W., ‘Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties’, American Journal of Political Science, 41 (1997), 149174.

32 Carey, John M. and Shugart, Matthew Soberg, ‘Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote: A Rank Ordering of Electoral Formulas’, Electoral Studies, 14 (1995): 417–39.

33 Oliver and Ha, ‘Vote Choice in Suburban Elections’, p. 394.

34 Besley and Case, ‘Incumbent Behavior’.

35 In English local government, the financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March.

36 Schmidt, ‘When Parties Matter’; Imbeau, Pétry and Lamari, ‘Left–Right Party Ideology and Government Policies’; Blom-Hansen, Monkerud and Sørensen, ‘Do Parties Matter for Local Revenue Policies?’

37 Klingemann, Volkens, Bara, Budge and McDonald, Mapping Policy Preferences II.

38 Rallings, Colin and Thrasher, Michael, Local Elections in Britain (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 99.

39 Klingemann, Volkens, Bara, Budge and McDonald, Mapping Policy Preferences II.

40 Benoit, KennethLaver, Michael and Mikhaylov, Slava, ‘Treating Words as Data with Error: Uncertainty in Text Statements of Policy Positions’, American Journal of Political Science, 53 (2009), 495513.

41 Klingemann, Volkens, Bara, Budge and McDonald, Mapping Policy Preferences II.

42 Whiteley, PaulSeyd, Patrick and Richardson, Jeremy John, True Blues: The Politics of Conservative Party Membership (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 13; Rallings and Thrasher, Local Elections in Britain; Bara, Judith and Budge, Ian, ‘Party Policy and Ideology: Still New Labour?’ Parliamentary Affairs, 54 (2001), 590606, p. 595.

43 Webb, Sidney and Webb, Beatrice, English Poor Law History: Part II: The Last Hundred Years (London: Frank Cass, 1963 [first published 1929]).

44 Crosland, Anthony, The Future of Socialism (London: Cape, 1956).

45 Clarke, Sanders, Stewart and Whiteley, Political Choice in Britain.

46 Russell, Andrew and Fieldhouse, Edward, Neither Left Nor Right? The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005).

47 Andrews, RhysBoyne, George A. and Walker, Richard M., ‘Strategy Content and Organizational Performance: An Empirical Analysis’, Public Administration Review, 66 (2006), 5263.

48 Andrews, Boyne and Walker, ‘Strategy Content and Organizational Performance’; Boyne, James, John and Petrovsky, ‘Democracy and Government Performance’.

49 Andrews, Rhys, Boyne, George A.Law, Jennifer and Walker, Richard M., ‘External Constraints on Local Service Standards’, Public Administration, 83 (2005), 639656.

50 Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings, Local Elections Handbook (Plymouth: Local Government Chronicle Elections Centre, various years).

51 Jr, Laurence J. O'Toole and Meier, Kenneth J., ‘Modeling the Impact of Public Management: Implications of Structural Context’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 9 (1999), 505526.

52 The Non-Domestic Rate is a business tax levied that is uniform across England. While local governments collect it, they transfer all of it to a common pool administered by the central government, which then redistributes the funds to local governments according to population.

53 See Arellano, Manuel and Bond, Stephen, ‘Some Tests of Specification for Panel Data: Monte Carlo Evidence and an Application to Employment Equations’, Review of Economic Studies, 58 (1991): 277–97. A potential problem of this estimator is that, while it is consistent, it may not perform well in samples of limited size, such as ours. One simple check for this is to verify whether the Arellano–Bond estimates of the coefficient on the lagged dependent variable lie between those obtained by fixed effects with a lagged dependent variable, and ordinary least squares with a lagged dependent variable, or at least not significantly outside this range. The rationale for this check is that, in the presence of unobserved heterogeneity, these two estimators are inconsistent. The estimated coefficients on the lagged dependent variable tend to be small in the former case and too large in the latter (see Bond, Stephen R., ‘Dynamic Panel Data Models: A Guide to Micro Data Methods and Practice’, Portuguese Economic Journal, 1 (2002), 141162, p. 144). In all our models, the range between these two coefficient estimates is indeed large, and all our Arellano–Bond lagged dependent variable coefficient estimates lie strictly between the fixed effects and the OLS estimate. A further check of the estimator is to test for the first-order and second-order serial correlation of the differenced residuals. While their first-order serial correlation should be negative, as it is for all our specifications, the second-order serial correlation should be zero. Due to the shortness of our panel, we cannot test for the latter. Nevertheless, our other checks do not indicate major problems with using this estimator.

54 Our findings on the effects of the three parties on public service performance remain substantively unchanged when previous experience governing the same local government is taken into account.

55 These findings also hold when change to Conservative party control is disaggregated into those observations where the change is from control by another party (four instances) and where the change is from no overall control (thirteen instances).

56 Each instance can be described in full: Plymouth went from Conservative to Labour control in 2003 with CSP rising from 50 to 52. Oldham went from No Overall Control in 2002 to Labour majority control in 2003 with CSP rising from 65 to 72. Sheffield went from No Overall Control to Labour majority control in 2003 with CSP rising from 65 to 73. Finally, Hartlepool went from No Overall Control to Labour majority control in 2004 with its CSP of 87 falling to 82. This conclusion holds when the local performance improvements are compared against the national rising trend on the CSP, Plymouth and Hartlepool being worse and Oldham and Sheffield slightly better.

57 As in Table 3, the findings in Table 5 also hold when change to Conservative party control is disaggregated into those observations where the change is from control by another party (four instances) and where the change is from no overall control (thirteen instances).

58 Barzelay, Michael, The New Public Management: Improving Research and Policy Dialogue (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001). The ‘New Public Management’ is a summary term for a wave of public administration reforms enacted by many countries, but particularly the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.

59 Clarke, Sanders, Stewart and Whiteley, Political Choice in Britain; Boyne, James, John and Petrovsky, ‘Democracy and Government Performance’.

60 Whiteley, PaulSeyd, Patrick and Billinghurst, Antony, Third Force Politics: Liberal Democrats at the Grassroots (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

* Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University; Department of Politics, University of Exeter; School of Public Policy, University College London; Martin School of Public Policy & Administration, University of Kentucky, respectively (contact author: Nicolai Petrovsky; email: ). Author order is alphabetical: each author made an equal contribution to this article. They wish to thank three referees and the Editor for helpful comments, and gratefully acknowledge support by the Economic and Social Research Council Public Services Programme (grant number RES-166-25-0026). The data are available from the UK Data Archive at http://store.data-archive.ac.uk/store/ as well as from the contact author. A STATA do-file that replicates the analysis is also available from the contact author.

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Party Control, Party Competition and Public Service Performance

  • George A. Boyne, Oliver James, Peter John and Nicolai Petrovsky

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