Research output: Other contributionpeer-review


While the politician–bureaucrat dichotomy has been the subject of extensive research within political science, less is known about the influence of the political adviser on this relationship. Drawing on a series of Anglo-American cases (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, USA), this edited volume speaks to the growing literature that seeks to explain the impact of the political adviser on this most traditional of relationships. The contributors pay particular attention to issues of accountability, independence, transparency, and responsiveness throughout their discussions. The extensive experience of the contributors is demonstrated by their use of topical anecdotes to elucidate their observations and is indeed one of the book's great strengths. In general, the book does not explore in any great depth the ‘bureaucrat–adviser’ or ‘politician–adviser’ relationship but instead provides a concise and accessible overview of the politico-administrative environment into which the adviser has emerged within the various institutional models. The book is successful in achieving its ambition to explore how the independent variable, the political adviser, influences the dependent variable, the policy process.The editors' opening chapter situates the case studies within existing politico-administrative research before introducing each of the cases. The chapters are uniformly laid out, first providing a most useful overview of the politico-administrative arrangements, followed by the contributors' perceptions of how the adviser ‘fits’ within this process. Each chapter then looks at the emergence of the adviser and their subsequent involvement in the policy process. It is in this final objective that a disparity emerges between the chapters. While most chapters provide some data on the number of political appointees and the extent and nature of their role over time, only the New Zealand and Ireland chapters draw on survey/interview data to further substantiate their claims. While initially perceived as a weakness in the book, the remaining chapters are based on such an in-depth understanding of national country positions that they provide a most useful grounding for further research. Those interested in advancing the research will find the analysis sufficient for the generation of clear and testable hypotheses.Taking the UK case, Fawcett and Gay draw on a series of reports and reviews to substantiate their claims. They concentrate on the three themes they perceive to depict the changing nature of the UK civil service in the post-war period: they trace the number of special advisers, their career paths, and the emergence of a Prime Ministerial support office. In his analysis of political advisers within the Canadian system, Aucoin relies on existing research and reports to trace advisers' emergence and identify their influence on the policy process. He notes a significant diminution of Westminster principles and incremental progression towards the more politicized institutions of the United States.Maria Maley again draws on existing research and document analysis to generate a picture of advisers' roles and their influence on the policy process in Australia. Relying on a previous empirical study she conducted, she finds that partisan advisers have the potential to be very influential in policy-making, however the extent of this influence depends on a number of factors relating to their ministers, the portfolio, and the advisers themselves. Her analysis also incorporates a number of recent scandals involving advisers and she outlines the subsequent response of government. In her concluding remarks she submits, similar to other contributors, that partisan advisers must be accommodated by a strong, independent civil service.In a departure from the preceding chapters, Eichbaum and Shaw in their New Zealand chapter present data from surveys and interviews they conducted between 2005 and 2007 among officials, ministers, and advisers. This data allows for a more advanced understanding of how the adviser fits within the bureaucrat–politician relationship. Quantitative results are supported by interview evidence providing a most comprehensive insight into the politician–adviser–bureaucrat relationship. A survey of the activities of advisers from the perspective of officials finds no evidence that officials are being marginalized in the policy-making process. Rather, the presence of advisers provides an incentive to lift their performance and the quality of their advice (p. 138). Further, the politico-administrative relationship is defined by both formal and informal institutional factors. Their empirical evidence suggests that the relationship between ministers, officials, and advisers is more fruitful and less fraught that originally thought (p. 145).In the following chapter, Connaughton also draws on interviews with ministerial advisers to support her analysis of the rise of the political adviser in Ireland. These interviews provide a rare glimpse of the role perceptions of political advisers. Her review of the emergence of the adviser finds advisers not to be technocrats with advanced expertise in a particular area. Their role perception, she finds, is to keep the minister focused on their political priorities so as not to get distracted by officials' objectives (p. 164).In the final case study, B Guy Peters focuses on advisers within the executive branch of government in the USA, paying particular attention to the activities of advisers when their party is out of government. As with all of the contributors, he distinguishes between policy professional and political professional advisers, emphasizing the growing confluence between the two. He cautions that policy advice to the president is now more politicized, proposing that think tanks now do much of the work of the civil service. These think tanks often comprise ex-civil servants on greater salaries. The danger for the office of President he cites is that their advice must now be compatible with the political administration, leading to the conclusion that adding so many policy experts may actually reduce the policy capacity of the system (p. 198).In the concluding chapter the editors have collated the commentaries and integrated the findings of the contributors and situated them within the wider existing politico-administrative literature. This is a most worthwhile chapter embedding the case studies within principal–agent, public choice and New Public Management literature. This inductive research draws out the common themes arising from the case study analyses, focusing on why there has been an increase in political staff and the subsequent consequences this has had on the policy process. The editors maintain their focus on the primary themes of independence and responsiveness, while also addressing issues of accountability and transparency. The case studies collectively point to an accountability vacuum where the actions and knowledge of ministers are found to not always correlate with those of ministerial advisers. Further, if advisers were to be accountable, to whom would they be accountable and for what actions and activities would they be accountable? The editors therefore call for greater (appropriate) regulation of ministerial advisers.In summary, research for the volume was finalized during the latter part of 2008. While only two chapters add new primary empirical data, this does not render the remaining chapters redundant. Conversely, their narrative nature provides an exceptional insight into the politico-administrative environment, serving as an ideal introductory text for the researcher or student considering the role of political advisers within the politician–administration dichotomy. Chapters are well integrated with authors referencing other cases throughout. The book generates numerous possible research questions and is the ideal opening text for anyone interested in gaining an understanding of how political advisers fit within a variety of institutional frameworks. While also of interest to practitioners, it will come into its own as a text upon which to build testable hypotheses for further research. The extensive experience and knowledge of the contributors, together with its introductory nature, will ensure that this text provides the basis for much needed further empirical research into the role of the political adviser across time and across political systems.
Original languageEnglish
TypeBook Review
PublisherPublic Administration
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 7 Sept 2012


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