Credible Governance? Transparency, Political Control, the Personal Vote and British Quangos

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Abstract

This article claims that special-purpose independent agencies such as quangos provide an avenue for understanding the ‘personal vote’ and political control of administrative policy making in Britain. Quangos make policies that directly influence particularistic concerns in an MP's constituency, generating incentives for MPs to meddle with their independence in order to capture the personal vote. A division of labor within the governing party relies on back-bench MPs to sound ‘fire alarms’ when their constituents find fault with quango activities. Once the alarms are sounded, the government has the incentive to manipulate quangos’ independence, for example, by making their decision making transparent to provide information for the fire alarm mechanism in the future. This manipulation draws from the government's stock of political capital gained from a supportive electorate. Statistical analysis of transparency in British executive non-departmental public bodies from 2002 to 2005 suggests that increases in back-bench salience (personal vote) and public satisfaction with government (government strength) increase the transparency by which quangos make decisions, thus decreasing their independence. Public satisfaction with the status quo of public service provision, by contrast, decreases transparency, increasing independence. These results suggest that far from being fully independent, quasi-governmental organizations are subject to political control.

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