Has Power in Britain Shifted Significantly Into the Hands of Unelected Individuals in Recent Years?

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Has power in Britain shifted significantly into the hands of unelected individuals in recent years? A modern nation-state such as Britain prides itself upon its strong democratic values, yet it is easy to question whether the individuals we elect, the people to whom we give our support and legitimize, are truly the ones with power. Has power shifted away from the individuals we elect in recent years? Has power ever truly been in their hands? To effectively begin answering such questions it is vital to lay out a theoretical framework in regards to what power entails. Steven Lukes’ three-dimensional approach to power allows for an analysis of power that goes beyond the decisions made in Parliament by those we elect, as well as attempting to understand the less obvious, preference-shaping nature of power. It is important to note that whilst it is perhaps difficult to effectively gather, or identify empirical evidence for the third-dimension of power, problems similarly arise when attempting to do so for the first and second face power; however from a theoretical standing the three-dimensional approach enables a much more thorough examination of where power lies in Britain today.

The one-dimensional view of power is in Dahl’s words described as 'A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do', which Dahl later qualifies as 'a successful attempt by A to get B...'. This facet of power focuses on observable conflict; for example on decision making in Parliament. We can observe the passing of a bill as a consequence of x votes carried out by y MPs. It is proposed that such 'observable' conflict can be more easily examined and analysed; in order to examine those whom are powerful, patterns of influence in the 'decision making process', such as in Parliament, can be recorded. This view does not allow for the consideration of unobservable conflicts; however it is not without use, for example the power of party whips over parliamentary voting can be evaluated through this facet. The somewhat restricted view on power expressed by thinkers such as Dahl is expanded upon by Bachrach and Baratz in what is known as the second face of power; agenda-setting. This conception goes beyond the directly observable conflict described above and highlights the power of actors to keep certain issues out of the formal decision-making process; through influence in the corridors of power. As is also the case with the third-dimensional view on power, the two-dimensional approach builds upon previous understandings of power; "Of course power is exercised when A participates in the making of decisions that affect B. Power is also exercised when A devotes his energies to creating or reinforcing social and political values and institutional practices that limit the scope of the political process to public consideration of only those issues which are comparatively innocuous to A". In this view actors exhibit power to the extent that they remove possible areas of conflict from the arena of power depicted by the one-dimensional view; although elected individuals are able to vote upon bills, and of course propose them (thereby appearing to set the agenda), to what extent is this agenda truly set by these individuals? What influences do the media, corporations, trade unions (and the leaders of all three) or private donors have upon the agenda? The two-dimensional view on power deals with decision making and non-decision making, emphasising the need to consider the latter before examining the formal decision-making process itself, yet even this expanded view on power does not consider the even less visible process in which preferences are shaped; preferences that lead to both agenda-setting and observable decision making. In his book “Power: A Radical View” Steven Lukes puts forward a three-dimensional approach to power. This approach is useful in identifying who holds power in Britain as it allows for...
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