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Navigating three faces of decentred leadership in the UK Parliament

Mark Bennister (School of Social and Political Science, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 11 March 2021

Issue publication date: 14 July 2021




The Westminster Parliament is multifaceted, lacks cohesion and collective direction, appearing at times to challenge the very notion of a structured public institution itself. Within an environment with little collective identity, understanding who leads in the UK Parliament is challenging; there are multiple, contestable sites of leadership and governance. The purpose of this article is to explore the understudied concept of legislative leadership, to better understand what goes on inside the legislature. The author presents a decentred and nuanced disaggregation of “leadership as practice” in parliament, examining three faces of legislative leadership.


Interpretive approaches to studying legislatures have presented new impetus to research in this area and the author utilises such anti-foundationalism. The article draws on ethnographic research into “everyday practices”, conducted during an academic fellowship in the UK Parliament from 2016 to 2019, which involved privileged access to the parliamentary estate. The data used include observations, shadowing and elite interviews collected during the fellowship.


By looking at the legislature from the inside, the author can better understand elite behaviour. This helps to explain motives, daily pressures and performative skills deployed in displays of autonomous, decentred leadership. The legislative leadership the author observed was atomised and could be stretched to accommodate the incumbent office holder. There were multiple relationships both formally constituted and informally constructed, but little collaborative or consensus leadership.


This article fulfils an identified need to study leadership in legislatures – and in particular key elites – from the inside.



The author would like to thank all those who were kind enough to give their time for research purposes and facilitate the fellowship in the House of Commons from 2016 until 2019 supported by the Political Studies Association. The author would also like to thank the two reviewers and the participants in the Decentring Local Leadership workshop at the Center for British Studies (CBS), University of California, Berkeley, in September 2019, for their helpful comments in improving this article. The author retains full responsibility for the views published here and the errors contained within.


Bennister, M. (2021), "Navigating three faces of decentred leadership in the UK Parliament", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 265-282.



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