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Interpreting the Unexpected: The Case of AIDS Policy Making in Britain

Patricia Day and Rudolf Klein
Journal of Public Policy
Vol. 9, No. 3, Signals for Steering Government (Jul. - Sep., 1989), pp. 337-353
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4007443
Page Count: 17
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Interpreting the Unexpected: The Case of AIDS Policy Making in Britain
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Abstract

This paper analyses the reactions of a government faced with an unpredictable and unexpected crisis with possible catastrophic long-term effects: the AIDS epidemic in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. First, the AIDS epidemic is defined as a case study of government forced to cope with uncertainty, moral ambiguity and the knowledge that there are no solutions, only ways of limiting the damage. Second, it examines the evolution of policy of British ministers, who initially preferred to ignore evidence of AIDS but were forced to act by signals threatening a popular backlash. They did so by creating a programme of action based on the advice and values of the medical profession and public health experts. The conclusion argues that this kind of policy response may be generalisable. When societies are faced with problems that do not appear to be soluble but which may imperil social cohesion they seek to create an elite consensus to treat them as technical matters, so insulating the policy process from possible disruptive populist pressures.

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