This research is to find the role of political ideology in policy development through a constructivist approach to the relationship between agency and structure. Through the historical approach based on the analysis of political texts and policy documents, each government, as a political strategic actor, was found to establish a comprehensive and coherent ideology, which had a central role in the policy development of personal social services.
In the past decade, coupled with the increasing attention on ‘learning’ and ‘transfer’ of policies, there has been growing interest in the role of the ‘idea’ in policy studies. Particularly, in terms of the Thatcher and New Labour governments, many studies attempted to define their ideologies through the policies they implemented. However, the causal relationship between idea and policy has attracted little attention, even when political ideology is discussed.
In this study, the major ideologies of the governments from the 1960s to the 2000s are defined using an analytical framework with all-encompassing ideological elements including the major challenges to the contemporary society, ideological objectives, political philosophy, the role of major actors, major strategies, and the concept of citizenship. This framework was established through the review of the initial studies on New Labour, mostly based on a comparison to Old Labour and Thatcherism.
In order to define the ideology of each government on its own account, an extensive range of political texts were analysed. They included political speeches and writings of Prime Ministers not only delivered in power but also before power, since they were elected leader in opposition as well as the election manifestos of the party. In the analysis, ideological strands with a certain quality of synchronic and diachronic consistency were identified in each element of the analytical framework in order to construct the whole ideological structure of Old Labour, Thatcherism, and New Labour.
Then the policy approach of each government in personal social services was defined through the analysis of the White Papers and the Green Papers on social care with a similar framework. In the comparison of the findings of this analysis with the ideologies, the establishment of the modern personal social services of Old Labour, the community care reforms of the Conservatives, and the modernisation of social care for independence of New Labour appeared to have a significant relationship with their ideologies. Moreover, as the findings show the antecedence of the ideology to the policy, this study proves that the change of political ideologies is the central contributory factor to explain the policy development of personal social services.
Consequently, this study contributes to the understanding of the role of the idea in social policy. In addition, the defined major ideologies – Old Labour, Thatcherism, and New Labour – can be used for other studies to reveal the causal role of the ideology in other policy areas because this analysis is conducted based on political texts regardless of the particular policy field. Moreover, the finding of a historical association between ideology and social care policies will has significant implications for the ongoing discussion on the future of social care.