The Silent Revolution: A Political History of the Politics of Patronage and Reform

Matthew Flinders, Marc Geddes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For centuries, the capacity of British ministers to appoint individuals to positions on the boards of agencies, boards and commissions was viewed as little more than one element of the ‘spoils of war’ in a highly majoritarian polity. This article examines how the politics of patronage has evolved in recent decades and argues that it is possible to identify a silent revolution that has gradually but consistently constrained the reach and discretion enjoyed by ministers in deploying their patronage powers. What is particularly distinctive about British political history since 2007 is the introduction of a far-reaching ladder of legislative scrutiny that ranges from informal pre-appointment hearings, at one end of the ladder, to a statutory veto over the minister's preferred candidate, at the other. However, this ‘outlawing of the spoils’ has evolved in a typically British way with reforms being implemented on an ad hoc and incremental basis, that is, frequently without any advance consultation or planning but rather dependent on non-formal, informal and discretionary elements to counter problems as they arise. The result is a complex and frequently overlapping mixture of regulatory and scrutiny processes that arguably offer little in terms of principled underpinning or constitutional logic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-55
Number of pages31
JournalContemporary British History
Issue number1
Early online date13 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Politicisation
  • Patronage
  • Appointments
  • Depoliticisation
  • Parliament
  • Scrutiny
  • Accountability


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