6.1.3 Political Context

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/613.htm)

Politicians make decisions on behalf of the people.  The processes of political decision-taking are deemed to be part of the Political Dimension of governance in this book’s analysis framework, whereas the impact of most of those decisions is felt in other dimensions:

  • In the Economic Dimension of governance, politicians control the proportion of wealth that people pay in taxes – striking what they regard as an acceptable economic balance between different interests: those who create wealth, those who are needy, and the population’s requirement for infrastructure and services (3.5.2).
  • Politicians are also responsible for setting the framework of economic regulation (3.3.1).
  • They set macroeconomic policies which affect the prosperity of the country as a whole (3.3.8).
  • They represent people in negotiations on human rights (
  • They can try to use their status as figures of authority to exert moral influence (4.3.1), though this is not easy; for example John Major’s “back to basics” campaign in 1993, to raise moral standards, backfired when it became clear that the politicians themselves had all-too-human failings. The resulting media reports, such as a BBC article entitled The sleaze that won’t go away, undermined his government’s leadership.
  • In most countries, the legislature is composed of national politicians (e.g. the British Parliament or the American Congress) who have some degree of independence from the government or executive, under a separation of powers (5.2.8).
  • The overall relationship between the government and the legal institutions has already been described (5.1.3).
  • If governments use military force against other countries without the express agreement of the UN Security Council, they are exercising Ungoverned Power on behalf of the people.

There is political control of all these aspects of governance, so people’s influence upon the way they are governed is largely achieved through the mechanisms by which politicians are appointed and influenced – which is the subject of the rest of this chapter.

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