In 1995, a leading group of academics and policy experts came together to assess the key economic, social and constitutional policy options for Britain. The Conservative government had been in power for over 15 years, and thinkers on both left and right felt the need for an independent review of issues and options facing the UK. The project began with a three-day residential event at Nuffield College, with papers presented by leading academics, with two high profile discussants for each. Political representatives from both left (David Miliband) and right (David Willetts) were involved. Three further follow-up events were held, with extensive analysis and support provided by four Research Fellows. The conclusions were published as the acclaimed Options for Britain: a strategic policy review (Dartmouth 1996).
A decade on, much of the analysis in Options has become accepted wisdom, and many of the policy proposals have become reality. But there is also a sense of déjà vu. The Labour government has been in power for over a decade. Governments always find it difficult to refresh themselves in power, as the legacy of their own decisions build up; and oppositions do not have the research capacity to do so. It is in these historical moments that outside thinking can have a decisive influence, helping to inform the public and key commentators, and to provide a source of ideas for incoming policy-makers to mine. Options for Britain II is planned to be that mine. It will conduct an overarching review of UK economic, social and constitutional policy, by marshalling the best expertise from across the academic and policy-research community. The methodological approach will run along similar lines to the previous Options for Britain project, updated for the current context. As in 1995, representatives from the political parties will be invited to participate. While academic rigour will be strictly maintained, the project timing and active involvement of the policy-making community will be aimed at maximising impact, with media involvement in key events to ensure wider coverage.
The Principal Investigator (Iain McLean) and consultant (David Halpern) were both involved in Options I. Some years after running Options I, David entered the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, where he is currently Chief analyst and Senior Adviser (but on leave for the duration of this project). The project will build on the policy reviews that David has commissioned at PMSU, and also on the outputs from the ESRC Public Services Programme, headquartered in this department, of which it is part.
Core funding is from ESRC; supplementary funding from the Sainsbury charitable trusts has enabled us to appoint a second Research Officer and start the project before receipt of the ESRC grant letter.
Iain McLean, Professor of Politics and Official Fellow, Nuffield College
An Official Fellow of Nuffield College, Iain has many years' background in public policy research and was PPU Director until October 2007. He has twice been an elected councillor and has advised government departments and Select Committees. The Secretary of State for Wales gave Iain, among others, the credit for his 1997 decision to return money raided from the Aberfan Disaster Fund by the then government in 1970.
His research interests include public choice, electoral systems, public administration and public finance, UK government, and Enlightenment political thought.
David Halpern, Chief Analyst and Senior Adviser, Prime Minister's Strategy Unit (on leave)
OfB papers etc stored here (password required).