Policy Decision in Opposition

AuthorSaul Rose
Date01 January 1956
DOI10.1111/j.1467-9248.1956.tb00948.x
Publication Date01 January 1956
SubjectArticle
POLICY DECISION
IN
OPPOSITION
SAUL
ROSE
St.
Antony’s
College,
Oxford
THREE
years’ experience at Transport House from 1952 to
1955
as
Secretary of the International Department
of
the Labour Party have
instilled in the writer an appreciation of the danger of generalizing about
the Labour Party. Any general statements made in this article are there-
fore to be understood with the qualification that they relate to those three
years when the Labour Party was in opposition. During the period after
the war when Labour was
in
office, the way in which policy decisions were
made was certainly different. Even
in
opposition, it would be
rash
to
assume
that an analysis based on earlier years remains valid. In the interests of
brevity and clarity no attempt is made to deal systematically with the
process of policy formulation, as distinct from policy decision, although
the two processes are interrelated.
To
see how Labour Party policy is decided it
will
be useful to look first
at the way
in
which policy
is
ascertained. Students of politics have a special
interest in the process by which decisions on policy are reached; but a far
more frequent question in practical politics is ‘What is the policy‘?’ It
is
a
question which may be asked by supporters or opponents or by the elusive
floating voter, by affiliated organizations or by foreign visitors. It arises
also
in the preparation of official publications.
In principle, there should be an answer.
To
reply that the Labour Party
has no policy on a particular issue may sometimes make an impression of
careful deliberation or open-mindedness; but if it happened too often, the
Opposition would be
in
danger of forfeiting its claim to be an alternative
government,
Also,
a noncommittal answer is not likely to be much help
to a local party agent who is being harried by opponents. Consequently,
whenever the question
is
asked, the headquarters staff set out to find an
answer. If all research fails, that may provide a reason, supposing the
matter is sufficiently important, for seeking a policy decision.
Usually the question relates to matters which are currently in the news,
and the reply
is
ready to hand. But there
is
always a first time for any
question, and then the answer has to be sought. It
is
normally to be found
among
the
following
sources:
Polltlcal
Btudles,
Vol.
IV.
No.
2
(1966,
128-138).

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