From Policy Advocates to Whips to Ministers, the many roles within the British Parliament are shaped not only by institutional rules but also by the individuals who fill them, yet few observers have fully appreciated this vital aspect of governing in one of the world’s oldest representative systems. Applying a new motivational role theory to materials from extensive first-hand interviews conducted during the eventful 1970s, Donald Searing deepens our understanding of how Members of Parliament understand their goals, their careers, and their impact on domestic and global issues. He explores how Westminster’s world both controls and is created by individuals, illuminating the interplay of institutional constraints and individual choice in shaping roles within the political arena.
No other book tells us so much about political life at Westminster. Searing has interviewed 521 Members of Parliament—including Conservative Ministers Margaret Thatcher, Peter Walker, and James Prior; Labour Ministers Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle, and Denis Healey; rising stars Michael Heseltine, Norman Tebbitt, David Owen, and Roy Hattersley; habitual outsiders, like Michael Foot, who eventually joined the inner circle; and former insiders, like Enoch Powell, who were shut out. Searing also gives voice to the vast number of Westminster’s backbenchers, who play a key part in shaping political roles in Parliament but are less likely to be heard in the media: trade unionists, knights of the shires, owners of small businesses, and others. In this segment of his study, women, senior backbenchers, and newcomers are well represented.
Searing adroitly blends quantitative with qualitative analysis and integrates social and economic theories about political behavior. He addresses concerns about power, duty, ambition, and representation, and skillfully joins these concerns with his critical discoveries about the desires, beliefs, and behaviors associated with roles in Parliament. Westminster’s World offers political scientists, historians, anthropologists, political commentators, and the public rich new material about the House of Commons as well as a convincing model for understanding the structure and dynamics of political roles.