A growing body of literature, broadly referred to as the ‘new politics of the welfare state’, seeks to explain the constellation of pressures that condition how affluent societies are restructuring their broadly popular and deeply entrenched welfare states. Yet, while greatly increasing our awareness of the processes of retrenchment and, to a lesser extent, reformulation, the new politics remains overly de-politicised. With the imperatives of post¬ industrial adjustment and globalisation impelling leaders to restructure their costly social programmes and watchful electorates, entrenched interests and sticky institutions obliging them to practise modesty, welfare state restructuring has been reduced to a collision between structural necessities and institutional and political constraints. This ‘sandwiching’ of political leadership circumvents the critical role political agency can play in crafting welfare reform.