The comparative ‘court politics’ of Covid-19: explaining government responses to the pandemic

John Boswell, Jack Corbett, R. A.W. Rhodes, Heidi Houlberg Salomonsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


What has shaped the different responses to COVID-19? The orthodoxy in the crisis management literature holds that the response to events like COVID-19 is primarily shaped by a decentralized group of actors on the ground. In this paper, we argue that a top-down explanation, focused on the actions and intentions of the core executive, is an essential complement to this bottom-up emphasis on a distributed network. Specifically, we advance a ‘court politics’ understanding of how governing elites have taken advice and made decisions, and sketch out the impact this has had in framing and constraining crisis response efforts. The argument uses an interpretive framework centred on the dilemmas that governing elites face in managing crisis. We illustrate the underlying ‘court politics’ which has driven responses to COVID-19 in England and Denmark. We show that pathologies and dysfunctions in Johnson’s court have filtered through into inertia and indecisiveness, while the centralization of authority in Frederiksen’s court has enabled swift and decisive intervention. Our analysis shows that a top-down emphasis on executive government–and the ‘court politics’ therein–offers a fruitful agenda for understanding and comparing COVID-19 crisis response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1258-1277
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • core executive
  • court politics
  • COVID-19
  • Denmark
  • interpretivism
  • UK

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