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How did Britain come to this? A century of systemic failures of governance

11 October, 2023 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm


If every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets, what is wrong with the design of the systems that govern Britain? And how have they resulted in failures in housing, privatisation, outsourcing, education and health care? In his new book How Did Britain Come To This? (LSE Press), Gwyn Bevan examines a century of varieties of systemic failures in the British state. The book begins and ends by showing how systems of governance explain scandals in NHS hospitals, and the failures and successes of the UK and Germany in responding to Covid-19 before and after vaccines became available.

The book compares geographical fault lines and inequalities in Britain with those that have developed in other European countries and argues that the causes of Britain’s entrenched inequalities are consequences of shifts in systems of governance over the past century. Clement Attlee’s postwar government aimed to remedy the failings of the prewar minimal state, while Margaret Thatcher’s governments in the 1980s in turn sought to remedy the failings of Attlee’s planned state by developing the marketised state, which morphed into the financialised state we see today.

This analysis highlights the urgent need for a new political settlement of an enabling state that tackles current systemic weaknesses from market failures and over-centralisation. This book offers an accessible, analytic account of government failures of the past century, and is essential reading for anyone who wants to make an informed contribution to what an innovative, capable state might look like in a post-pandemic world.

About the speaker

Professor Gwyn Bevan is emeritus professor of policy analysis in, and former head of, the Department of Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is an affiliate professor in the Istituto di Management of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa. He has served on advisory committees to the Inspectorate of Police and Fire Services in England and Wales, the Education Commission of the Rockefeller Foundation on research in developing countries; and governments in England on allocating resources for healthcare and public health, the reform of publicly financed legal services, and funding research into overseas aid. He was director of the Office for Healthcare Performance at the Commission for Health Improvement (2001 to 2004), which was responsible for inspections of quality of care in the NHS in England and Wales.

About the Institute for Policy Research (IPR)

The University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR) a leading public policy research institute in the UK. We seek to further the public good through undertaking and promoting high-quality and impactful research, building links with the worlds of policy and practice, and increasing public understanding of today’s most pressing policy challenges and possible responses.

This event forms part of the IPR’s 2023-24 lecture series “Challenges for Britain: Rethinking Public Policy.”


Institute for Policy Research (IPR)
LSE Press


Lecture Theatre 0.18, 10 East, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY

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