The Role of Political Ideologies in Determining the Direction of Leisure and Tourism of Great Britain

Categories: Political Ideology


For this essay I want to focus on policies of leisure from an ideological context. I will be looking at policies that have been created over the years and the views of different political ideologies on them. Different ideologies have different views on subjects related to leisure policy and public policy in general. Firstly I will look at different theories of the State, which might reflect the British State at different stages in its development.

To analyse the ideologies behind leisure policies I will use Lowi’s (1972: cited in Henry 2001) method.

He outlines four types or categories of public policy; distributive policies – benefiting all or most of the citizens indiscriminately; redistributive policies-generally favouring a segment of the population at the cost of the other segments; constituent policies- which define procedures in a democratic society such as election laws; and finally, regulative policies- controlling the behaviour of the members of the community (Henry 2001). Leisure policies take predominantly one of three forms.

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They can be intended to be distributive, redistributive or regulative policies. I will try to incorporate these forms whenever analysing leisure policies from an ideological perspective. What will follow is a general discussion. At the end of this discussion I will aim to find out whether leisure policies really influenced by political ideologies or not.

Marxist Theories

These have never been terribly popular in British politics and policy debates as positive solutions, but they do serve as a rich source of criticisms. This work provides us with some backing for a very common suspicion — that the State is really on the side of ruling class groups, that it somehow represents the powerful groups against the rest of us.

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Most Marxists seem to agree about is that the State pursues its own agendas most of the time, but simply needs our consent now and then through an election every four years or so, or even a referendum (Best 2002). In between times, the State uses a whole range of their organs and apparatuses, using both force and persuasion, to gain our consent to its policies. Policies of leisure, or more generally culture, can be seen as part of this attempt to gain consent, perhaps most obviously in the Victorian policies of ‘rational recreation’. Marxists are predominantly interested in the regulative policies of the state; these policies are seen as ideological state apparatus (ISA) by the likes of Althusser and Bourdieu (Henry 2001).

Conservative Theories

Conservative theory assumes that the State represents the nation itself, our society in a general sense and the British people. It is clear that these terms do not refer to the actual society that we see in front of us, but to some ideal version of it, to the best of Britain, to the great traditions of Britain, to what we are really like, at our best. It is not surprising that the group that becomes closest to representing these ideal qualities tend to be social elites, above all the British Royal Family, or sometimes the aristocracy. Such elites specialise in the magical representation of British culture at its best. The role of government is to attempt to preserve these precious elite qualities, the best of our cultural traditions, and to safeguard those elites, particularly against the threats offered by modernization.

It might be possible to see these notions in the preservation of particular traditions and of traditional institutions, ranging from the defence of the Civil List (the money paid to the royal family from the State), the preservation of grammar schools, or, in leisure, the defence of traditional field sports or British games such as cricket. As I have indicated above, both major parties in Britain have turned away from this traditionalism in recent years in their eagerness to modernise, although conservatives can be found in both parties as well.

Liberal Theories

During the mid 19th Century Liberalism was closely associated with the concept of Laissez-faire (Jones et al 1994). The late 19th Century saw the decline of laissez-faire and the shift towards welfare utopian socialism. 

Liberal ideas are probably the dominant ones in policy debates, and it is possible to see party political differences as arguments about different aspects of liberal views. These views were developed first by some classical early Victorian liberal theorists such as Bentham, T.H. Green and J. S. Mill (Jones et al 1994).

Bentham favoured a fairly minimal State, whose main role was a military or a civil regulatory one. The institutions of most importance where those found in civil society, these were the new emerging forms of organisations such as market forces, where rational individuals could meet freely to pursue their own individual happiness. Since individuals were the best judge of their own happiness, there was not much need for the State to do anything more than administer and defend civil society. Where it did act Bentham believed that the State should be subjected to periodic evaluation — things like annual elections, or the right to determine the salaries of civil servants according to their performance (Jones et al 1994).

As a result, I could not find a policy for leisure in Bentham at all, apart from a general belief in using one’s free time to improve one’s standards and become a more civilised person. Liberals like Friedman and Hayek who follow Bentham’s ideas might well be inclined to keep the State away from leisure policy and to leave it as a matter for private enterprise. One might argue that some of the reforming Conservative governments seem to have also believed that individuals are the ones who should decide for themselves how to spend their leisure time.

Later due to the decline of laissez-faire liberal theorists took quite a different view; a more socialist utopian view one would say. T.H Green (1836-82) is as an example. Green was writing some 60 or 70 years after Bentham, and by that time, it was obvious that substantial inequalities had emerged in British society, as a result of unrestrained trade and industry. Markets may be good at encouraging innovation, and following trends, but there were no good at ensuring social inequality. They had become rapidly dominated by powerful enterprises who were unable to act in their own interests, against the interests of both workers and consumers. There had already been some legislation to prevent such abuses — such as various Factory Acts 1847 to prevent the exploitation of child workers. Green was able to see an expanded role for the State in such legislation to protect us against powerful interests. He was able to argue that the State was the only organ that was genuinely capable of responding to social needs and social interests, unlike markets. Green advocated, in effect, the beginnings of the welfare state and the Liberals key shift towards paternalism.

Applying These Theories

I hope we will be able to refer to these theories when considering a number of specific policy debates, as suggested above: the general theories provide us with some kind of agenda, as it were.

Staying on the general level of leisure policy for a moment, let us take his review of the stages through which the British State has passed, for example. They are four main ones which we can summarise quickly:

  • Social control: Here the State pursued a number of policies to regulate dangerous forms of leisure and to encourage rational’ alternatives instead. Example of such regulative policy is the Suppression of Bloodsports Act 1833; this aimed to control and suppress disruptive leisure forms. Analysis of this type of state involvement in leisure traditionally received considerable attention from neo-Marxists such as Hall and Jefferson (Henry 2001). Marxists see regulative social policies as a means of promoting capitalist ideologies and maintaining the state hegemony.
  • National prestige: This one is still around, of course, but gained its strength from a recognition after the Second World War, that national prestige was associated with sporting attainment. This led to a great interest in national involvement in the Olympics, the establishment of national sports schools and so on.
  • Access to sporting activity became a big issue from the 1950s to the 1970s – it was felt that market forces alone simply would not provide the nation with the athletic talent that it needed, so the State decided to play a role. It often did so speaking in the name of all of us, in the national interest. A number of experts advised State policy here, by predicting the social benefits of sporting involvement — lower crime rates, or a healthier population. Eventually, State provision had to justify itself in terms of offering value for money.
  • Value for money. This policy is associated with the period of Conservative dominance 1979 – 96. A turn towards Conservatism of this kind affected policies not only in Britain but in America and Germany too. It was associated with problems arising from a maximal State. The State had become a huge and expensive collection of mechanisms. It proved to be not very good at regulating the economy, especially since the emergence of multinational capitalism, and the decline of international regulation of things like exchange rates. The State was not very sensitive to new or individual needs, and social science had proved itself incapable of offering sound advice. A huge State like this provided an enormous burden for taxpayers, and it tended to simply take people’s initiative and enterprise away. The answer was to release market forces again (to turn back to the other option offered by liberalism, in my terms). Managers and entrepreneurs were consulted about the national interest rather than social scientists and other experts, the market, or a simulation of it, were to replace the bureaucratic mechanisms of the State.

In Britain, we saw detailed policies such as CCT (compulsory competitive tendering) which had to be applied to leisure provision — the State, or its local variant, had to show that it could compete in markets. We also saw privatisation and commercialisation, shown very well in the pros and cons of commercial sponsorship or ownership of major football clubs are. We saw the great growth in commercial and private leisure — indicated best, perhaps, in the growth of electronic games, or in commercial sportswear for the under 15s.

Of course, with New Labour, we have changed policies again. In leisure policy, CCT has been replaced with value for money’, which is allegedly less favourable to commercial entrepreneurs. However, New Labour shows few signs of wanting to return to the maximal State of the 1970s. Its critics say it has no new solution, but can only carry on with milder versions of Conservative policies, including private finance initiatives, the inclusion of corporate management as the only experts, and so on.


Having looked at different ideologies and policies there are two main points to consider at the end:

  1. It is debatable what ideologies a particular policy derives from – policies are made by politicians and not by theorists. Policies offer strange mixtures of ideas and plans as a result, never pure examples of a theory applied to practice. Some of the more specific topics in this series illustrate this –for example, the State regulates us tightly in some areas, while pursuing a lighter regime in others. Certain markets are still heavily controlled, for example, especially those for recreational drugs and sex. In these areas, politicians seem to be much more pragmatic, mixing and matching policies probably to meet the demands of various constituencies, rather than attempting to define and meet ‘the national interest’. Sometimes, the activities of theorists will be important, but more often, the activities of pressure groups, or the need to win an election will come to the front.

In the real world, every solution has its problems as well. This is clear by looking at the past – the Liberal market-driven solutions seemed appropriate at an early stage of development, but they then produced substantial social divisions and inequalities; the Utopian Socialist State driven solutions seemed able to regulate the worst excesses of markets, but soon ran into problems of their own, involving stagnation, bureaucracy, and inefficiency. At the end what we see is that ideological dominance does exist in creation of public policy as history shows all Liberal views, Conservative and Socialist ideals have all been represented in the creation of leisure policies. Marxists have merely provided a critique of these ideals and hence have the least influential ideologies in British politics that have been presented (Best 2002).


  1. Best, S. (2002) Introduction to Politics and Society: Sage Publications, London
  2. Henry lan, P. (2001) The Politics of Leisure Policy 2nd Edition: Palgrave, London 
  3. Jones, B et al. (1994) Politics UK 2nd Edition: Harvester Wheatsheaf, Great Britain


  1. Collins, M. (1996) Leisure in Industrial and Post-Industrial Societies: LSA, Brighton, England
  2. Critcher, C et al. (1995) Sociology of Leisure – A Reader: E & EN Spon, London
  3. Hargreaves, J. (1986) Sport, Power and Culture: Polity Press, Cambridge
  4. McGuigan, J. (1996) Culture and the Public Sphere: Routledge, London
  5. Williams, A. (1995) UK Government and Politics: Heinemann Educational Publishers, Oxford, England

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The Role of Political Ideologies in Determining the Direction of Leisure and Tourism of Great Britain. (2021, Sep 27). Retrieved from

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