Managing Politics? Ethics Regulation and Conflicting Conceptions of “Good Conduct”


  • Richard Cowell is researcher and lecturer in the School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University. His research interests cover theoretical and political aspects of the relationship between public policy and sustainable development, including governmental strategies for resolving sociospatial confl icts. He has written widely on issues of policy integration, public participation, and trust, with a particular interest in ethics regulation in English local government. E-mail:
  • James Downe is a reader in public management in the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research, Cardiff Business School. His current research interests include local government performance regimes, political accountability, public trust, and the ethical behavior of local politicians. He has more than 10 years of experience conducting evaluations on local government policy and has published widely in international journals. E-mail:
  • Karen Morgan is lecturer and researcher in the Gender Violence Research Centre in the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol. Her research has examined domestic and/or sexual violence, social housing provision, the ethical framework governing local councillors in England, the needs of homeless women, and ethical food choices. Karen is also associate lecturer with the Open University and serves on the Academic Advisory Panel of an educational charity, the Vegan Society. E-mail:


Concern for fostering trust in public institutions has prompted many governments to invest in systems of ethics regulation, embracing various dimensions of good governance. This article assesses the impact of ethics regulation on the conduct of English local politicians using Foucauldian perspectives on government, power, and resistance. The research finds that ethics regulation encountered problems when politicians resisted the models of political identity and behavior that it was perceived to promote. Particular concentrations of misconduct complaints were identified in which politicians believed that changes to political management structures, designed to make local governance more effective, caused a loss of voice for elected representatives. Ethics regulation itself sometimes served as a device for controlling others and effecting resistance. The article concludes with reflections on how far we should expect political conduct to be managed by such regulatory practices.