Interpreting the world of political elites

David Richards*, Martin J. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper uses an interpretative approach to analyse the relationship between ministers and officials. It argues that generally, the relationship between ministers and civil servants is harmonious. This can be explained by the fact that both sets of actors tend to draw from the same tradition, the Westminster model. The Westminster model can be understood as the building block from which both ministers and civil servants develop narratives that shape and condition their actions. In the case of ministers, the dominant narrative drawn from the Westminster model is what we refer to as that of 'historical impact'. In the case of civil servants, their dominant narrative, again drawn from the Westminster model is conditioned by the need to provide an account that continually emphasizes how they have acted with 'constitutional propriety'. Generally, these two contrasting narratives do not lead to conflict between ministers and civil servants. However, a serious breakdown in the relationship between ministers and civil servants can occur when either one or both sets of actors draw on a tradition other than the Westminster model, or when they appeal to a different narrative within the Westminster model which shapes their subsequent behaviour and actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-800
Number of pages24
JournalPublic administration
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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