The Politics of Patronage in the United Kingdom: Shrinking Reach and Diluted Permeation



Delegation is a central concept in the study of governance and public policy. The modern state could not function without delegation because it provides a structural and esoteric capacity beyond the cognitive and physical limits of politicians. This article focuses on the role of ministers in making appointments to quasi-autonomous agencies, boards, and commissions in the United Kingdom. Research undertaken within the Cabinet Office reveals a pattern of shrinking reach and diluted permeation in relation to ministerial appointment powers. This finding is significant because the existing body of research in this field is generally associated with exposing clientelistic relationships between political parties and quangos, and patronage is frequently regarded as a resource through which political parties can “politicize” or “colonize” the state. This article therefore contributes a case study that exhibits countervailing tendencies and a quite different pattern of statecraft that raises broader questions about the evolution of state projects.