6.6.4.1 The Internal Role of National Politicians

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6641.htm)

National politicians have internal roles in all five dimensions of power (6.1.3).  They are more powerful than those in local government for several reasons:

  • They have more scope to influence public opinion than lower levels of subsidiarity because national media, particularly newspapers and television, focus more on national than local issues.
  • Within the hierarchical organisation of political parties, national politicians outrank those at lower levels of subsidiarity; they have been able to seize powers that could have remained local.
  • Benefits are the largest portion of most national budgets, and most countries prefer to pay benefits at similar levels throughout the country as a matter of principle.
  • Foreign policy and defence have to be controlled on a national basis.
  • It is more efficient to collect most types of tax revenue centrally.
  • Political control over law and order is hierarchically controlled (5.3.2), to ensure that all parts of the country are effectively covered and that a coherent service can be delivered.
  • There are reasons for centralising some quality monitoring, for example on education.

Despite their inevitable dominance, though, national politicians in Britain and Europe have less internal power than they used to have – as described in a Prospect article, Why winning got so difficult: the changing political rules.  “Power has seeped from Westminster to myriad places”, according to the article, leading some British politicians to become frustrated; they hadn’t appreciated the huge compensating factors:

Devolution to the constituent nations, although inadequately implemented, was intended to make central government more acceptable to them – as described previously (6.6.2).

EU membership gave Britain influence in Europe, and gave national politicians more external responsibilities, as described in the next sub-section (6.6.4.2).

Frustration, at having to co-operate and share power, led to the vote to leave the EU in a ‘Brexit’.  It is an irony that, if trade is to continue, there will be no less need for shared rules – but Britain will no longer participate in setting them.  Loss of influence over other countries is the penalty for having more (partly illusory) control over internal affairs.

Donald Trump’s promise to “make America great again” is a comparable retreat to isolation, as described below (6.6.4.3), inflicting damage on its relations with other countries in an effort to compensate for people’s feelings of powerlessness in the face of change.

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