Published date01 March 2015
AuthorChris Painter
Date01 March 2015
doi : 10. 1111/p adm .12148
Peter John, Anthony Bertelli, Will Jennings and Shaun Bevan
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, 256 pp., £24.99 (pb), ISBN: 978-0-230-39042-3
This book is part of a series devoted to the dynamics of agenda-setting. The data drawn
upon are derived from the UK franchise of the Comparative Agendas Project, funded by
the UK Economic and Social Research Council as part of the European Science Foundation
collaboration. So, this is the product of original research.
Its substance revolves around stability and change in the policy agenda. The authors
re-visit familiar accounts of agenda-setting: incrementalism; the issue attention cycle; and
punctuated equilibrium. Their preference is for something called ‘focused adaptation’.
Policy elites continuously search the electoral landscape, adapting their attention and pol-
icy priorities accordingly. This process is shaped by the distinctive institutional environ-
ment of the British political system, notably the primary role accorded to the central state
executive. Although the UK government in recent decades has evolved into something
more multi-layered, key features of the Westminster model persist.
Various hypotheses about the trajectory of British public policy are rehearsed, provid-
ing the backdrop to a methodology for measuring degrees of change over time in agenda
priorities. The datasets and policy topic coding are inspired by the pioneering work of
Baumgartner and Jones as applied to the US, rened to allow for the salience (low or high)
of shifts in attention. The contention is that the (largely quantitative) techniques used can
identify key junctures in policy agendas.
Change point modelling is therefore the essence of the authors’ methodological tool-kit.
It forms the basis for a meticulous analysis of policy attention in different institutional
venues. For the governmental arena, the Speech from the Throne, Acts of Parliament and
budgetary expenditure are used as proxy measures. Given their potential inuence on
agenda priorities, public opinion and media coverage are added to the list of venues con-
sidered. The datasets presented all conclude in 2007–08, but with different post-war start-
ing points ranging from 1945 to 1960.
Indicative of the executive agenda, in terms of priorities within and across policy
categories, is that different trends are apparent in functional policy domains. What
also emerges from the analysis of speeches and acts is that at the macro-level notable
shifts in policy priorities can be discerned. As for budgeting, a concrete manifestation
of policy outputs, the politics of public spending has in the past inspired incremental
interpretations of decision-making. Yet the evidence of changing priorities in this sphere
would appear to confound traditional accounts, explained as much by longer-term
environmental and circumstantial factors as by political party inuences or elite policy
preferences (though opportunities presented by the former can be seized upon for partisan
With regard to public opinion, change rather than stability continues as an underly-
ing theme. If anything, this arena exhibits more volatility than applies in executive and
Public Administration Vol.93, No. 1, 2015 (262–270)
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT