chapter  4
Executive Governance: An Interpretive Analysis R . A . W . RHODES
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Julia Gillard. Overnight, Rudd was ousted in a party-room vote that, lacking support, he did not contest (see Rhodes and Tiernan, 2014). The importance of such contingencies raises an obvious question. Which pattern of executive politics prevails? When, how, and why did it change? Focusing on the power of prime minister and cabinet is limiting whereas these questions open the possibility of explaining similarities and differences in the broader politics of the core executive (Elgie, 1997: 23, and citations). Few would have difficulty accepting both that prime ministerial predominance ebbs and flows and that the prime minister is at the heart of the core networks in the core executive (Burch and Halliday, 1996; Bennister, 2007; Heffernan, 2005). Now, we need to move beyond the increasingly stale debate about prime ministerial predominance, which is generating more heat than light (see Parliamentary Affairs, 66(3), 2013). The questions that should be of central concern focus on changes in the standing of the prime minister in central networks, and the fluctuating personnel and fortunes of those networks. The interpretive analysis of court politics necessarily addresses these questions, because it uses the ideas of beliefs, practices, narratives, dilemmas, and traditions (Bevir and Rhodes, 2003, 2006a, 2010) to explore the actions of actors in the core networks. The court, or the core network of the core executive, is the term conventionally used to refer to the interactions between a leader and his immediate entourage. Here, I use the term to focus attention on the beliefs and practices of these governing elites. Bevir and Rhodes (2006a: chapters 1 and 2) describe these elites as ‘situated agents’. Situated agents possess a creative ability to adopt beliefs or attempt actions for reasons of their own. However, their webs of belief and actions are located in inherited traditions and practices, which constrain their actions. So, to explore court politics is to explore the opportunities and constraints on the actions of governing elites. In the rest of this chapter, I argue that marrying this notion of court politics to the historical analysis of high politics opens a challenging new research agenda for executive studies. The tools of historical analysis deployed by the ‘Peterhouse School’ provide a toolkit for accessing these insights. Next, I provide a brief summary of an interpretive approach to history. I then make the case for drawing on the new political history. I sketch its distinctive features, with examples, and explain its relevance to executive studies.2 I review, with examples, the existing literature on court politics. Finally, I identify the advantages of using an interpretive approach to study court politics.