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Friday afternoon lesson (in?)activity: more power to the mob?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

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We all know lessons Friday after lunch are a necessary evil. But if this doesn’t get discussion going for students of politics…?

This November, it is widely expected that Americans will go to the polls to deliver a quasi-referendum on Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House. Though in many ways voters will equally be delivering a general anti-government protest given that the GOP is slightly more unpopular than the Democrats. But also on the same day Californians will go to the polls to deliver a verdict on whether Marijuana should effectively be decriminalised.

This is an excellent case study which can be used to toss around the for and against points in respect of direct democracy:

Are voters sufficiently well informed?
Does it lead to the tyranny of the majority - or even the tyranny of the minority, if you don’t feel that Mill’s point had any validity (and some don’t)
Can finance skew the issue?
Can complex issues be reduced to simple binary options?

And if nothing else, what about a general discussion of the legality of cannabis use? Andrew Sullivan doesn’t think a vote in favour of Prop 19 would be the worst thing that west coasters have ever done.

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Is Labour democratic?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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It is often said that parties are more democratic than pressure groups because their leadership is elected. But given that the new Labour leader Ed Miliband failed to garner most votes from party members or MPs and essentially won because he had the union vote, you have to wonder about the true state of internal democracy in the Labour Party.

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What Does Ed Miliband’s Victory Tell Us About Modern British Political Leadership?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ed Miliband’s victory as Labour leader tells us virtually nothing about the possible direction of the Labour Party, as witness the acres of disparate punditry occupying today’s press.  Is he ‘Red Ed’, or is he the pragmatist leader of a new generation?  Is he Iain Duncan Smith or Tony Blair made anew?  Other than the fact that the unions appear to have voted for him in order to reject his more obviously Blairite brother – one in the eye for a historically failing Blair there – what, really, does Ed Miliband stand for?  We don’t really know.  We don’t really know because he has been in front line politics for such a short length of time, and it is this fact as much as anything else that may be the most telling aspect of Ed Miliband’s election, as the renowned political scientist Philip Cowley comments today.

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Vulcan Political Fratricide - Ed Milliband Wins Labour Leadership Contest

Ed Milliband has won the Labour leadership contest - finally.  When the result was announced at the opening of the Labour Party conference, it was interesting to see the faces of Ed and David Milliband respectively.  They had known the result an hour before the public announcement and the ensuing theatrical embrace - Ed Milliband looked stunned grasping the magnitude of what his determined and ruthless campaign had come to and David flashed a smile betrayed by empty eyes.  Today’s media has given a spectrum of views, with comment ranging from ‘Red Ed’ Milliband, the captive of the ‘union barons’, ensuring that Labour will remain unelectable to those who argue that the Labour Party has signalled a clear break from its recent Blairite past and that a ‘new generation’ of ‘Next Labour’ is being heralded.

Here are a few hasty links to comment form today’s media:

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The Labour years: out of the wilderness

Saturday, September 25, 2010

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If you are studying UK issues or want an overview of what the Labaour government delivered in policy terms in their 13 years of power if you are new to UK political parties, then this excellent piece from today’s Guardian should fill that gap.

With Labour leaderless at least until later today, it is an extremely useful starting point when tackling party politics. Can help support answers to questions such as:

Is New Labour different from Old Labour?
To what extent is Labour still committed socialism?
Does Labour maintain its traditional goals, but look to secure them via different means?
To what extent are labour and the Tories different?
What was the Labour government’s approach to education/health/the economy/tackling poverty?

See it here - I’ll say it again, it is one to file for future reference.

The Case Against AV and Abolishing the Lords

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Philip Norton - now enobled as Lord Norton of Hull - is a renowned constitutionalist based at Hull University.  He is also a Conservative peer, and his recent defence of the status quo, published on Conservative Home here, is well worth a read.  The proposed system of the Alternative Vote is rather less fit for purpose, he suggests, than the current First Past the Post system, while the House of Lords does the job it is meant to do admirably well.  Norton’s final point is that the system isn’t broken, and doesn’t need fixing - it’s only politicians who need to change.  It is an eloquent conservative defence of the existing system, and a very useful read for students needing that articulate point of view from which to salvage a few notes.  And it’s short - well within the attention span of most AS students!

Crime and punishment in the USA

Monday, September 20, 2010

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Today’s posting is only loosely related to core material in the US government and politics syllabus, though there is a point to be made about how well America’s governing institutions protect civil liberties. But I thought I’d include this story as part of the general background and context of the USA. For many Europeans, the use of the death penalty as the toughest punishment for the most serious crimes seems somewhat barbaric. In fact, it is official EU policy to “strongly oppose the death penalty in all circumstances”. But support for the death penalty is high in America, and polls show a majority support even in cases where theoretically 1 in 10 of those executed could subsequently be found innocent.

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UK welfare policy: new directions?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

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If you are studying UK issues, there is an interesting feature that should prompt some class debate on a cross-party attmept to tackle Britain’s long term unemployment problem. According to the Sunday Times the government is looking to the City of London to pump investment into blighted communities as a way of relieving the burden on the state and breaking the cycle of poverty of aspiration that has blighted households across generations in some of the poorest parts of the country.

See the story here. And before you think that the Sunday Times has suddenly found a heart, note the accompanying story of an extreme case of the absent father who apparently costs UK taxpayers millions. It seems that this part of the Murdoch empire is nearly as “fair and balanced” as its Fox News counterpart in the US.

Tea Party round-up

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The US media is in a frenzy at the moment over the meaning and potential long term impact of the Tea Party movement. The UK papers this weekend have reacted to this as well and this is a development well worth discussing in a review of the latest news from the US in lesson time this week.

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American inequality

Saturday, September 18, 2010

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What might students of politics make of the latest economic data from the USA which points to a widening gap between rich and poor?

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A more ideologically cohesive GOP?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

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What conclusions, if any, can we draw from the Tea Party surge within the Republican Party?

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Lesson activity: weekly media sessions, with future AV poll as an example

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A good idea for encouraging students to keep up-to-date with political developments is to slot into the weekly timetable a regular media slot.

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Top venues for learning about US politics

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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If you are a student of American politics, then this post early in the academic year could well be my most important…

These are the sites I most frequently plunder when trying to keep abreast of developments in US politics. These are also the places therefore that I suggest students of the subject try to access as much as possible when trying to get to grips with the politics of the USA. In the same way as linguists recommend immersion learning when studying a new language, getting stuck into some of the US sites really does help.

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Assessing Blair - Robert Harris’ Damning Review

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Robert Harris once began his regular Sunday Times column during the dying years of the Thatcher regime with the following words: “It is a sobering thought to realise that we are being governed by someone who is mad”.  Hardly surprising that he embraced Tony Blair and New Labour with enthusiasm.  However, the man who is now one of Britain’s most popular novelists (“Fatherland”, “Lustrum”) fell out of love with New Labour, and especially its egocentric leader.  In his novel “The Ghost” he damned Tony Blair through fiction.  Now, in his Sunday Times book review, he has damned Tony Blair via the former premier’s memoirs.  If you haven’t read it in the paper (the ‘Culture’ section), it is worth the pound to read it online.  Harris is withering about Blair in every possible way.  While politics students and teachers will almost certainly want to read the book for themselves, they can get an (obviously partial) sense of it from Harris’s extraordinary critique.

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How Conservative Members Rate Coalition Cabinet Ministers

It is common lore at Westminster and beyond that David Cameron and Nick Clegg face more significant problems from their own parties than from their partners in coalition.  This is, of course, because their parties comprise committed activists who tend to be on the more aggressive (or extreme) wing, fighting for policies that are more ideologically pure than any government, coalition or not, can really produce.  One regular indicator of David Cameron’s backyard problems is the Conservative Home website, which today publishes one of its regular Cabinet ‘fan’ tables, where Conservative activists vote on who their favourite minister is.

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Crikey! More Boris

Friday, September 10, 2010

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Tonight’s London Evening Standard runs with a front page story reporting on how Boris Johnson has now officially announced he will stand for another term in 2012. This will likely mean a repeat of the 2008 contest, with a slightly rejuvenated Ken Livingstone odds on to be his opponent.

But away from the electoral politics, what can we say about the success of the office now a second man has taken the helm?

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Lesson Activity - UK Politician Bingo

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Here is a starter activity that might help get your new Politics students (and the old, experienced, cynical ones too) working well together at the start of term.

This is a series of bingo cards, each of which features a 4x5 grid of well-known UK politicians.  I say well known - but will your students know them too?

The bingo game works so simply.  At the back of the file (linked below) are a couple of call cards.  You dont have to shout them out in the order provided, so long as you tick the names off as they are called.

Call out the politician’s name from the call card.  If the student (s) recognise him/her, they can tick it off their bingo card.

First student / team to get a column of four correct can win a prize or points.  Then the first to get a completed row of five correct.  Finally, more points or prizes available for the first to complete a whole card.  There are two bingo cards on each A4 page, and 40 pages in total - so plenty to use (and they are all different). Enjoy.

If you like this resource, come over to our Facebook page and let us know.  Perhaps suggest some other politicians you’d like us to include in the next version. Perhaps suggest another list we could could use for a new image-based bingo game (e.g. international politicians, world leaders, famous political buildings or events?).

Download UK Politicians Bingo (1)

Connecting between class and the media

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Accessing a quality daily is an absolute must for students new to the study of British politics. But from experience I know that students find it difficult to know what to focus on, what particularly useful articles or comment pieces look like compared to analysis that isn’t directly relevant to the course.

Here on the blog I will try to provide some direction.

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First Past the Post (September 2010) Now Available

The September 2010 edition of FPTP is now available featuring eight great, topical articles from Rachel and her team of Politics Teachers and Examiners.  The topics covered for September 2010 are:

* Europe: Where does the coalition stand? (Julie Smith)
* 2010 Senate Primaries – insurgent versus incumbent candidates (Nicolas Graham)
* The Coalition Government- The first 100 days (Rachel Fairhead)
* Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and the mid-term elections? (Nicholas Graham)
* Are judges in the United States political? (Kevin Bloor)
* The AV Referendum (Rachel Fairhead)
* Proposition 8 in California – where now? (Nicholas Graham)
* What’s next for UKIP? The leadership contest (Rachel Fairhead)

A whole-school subscription to FPTP is just £50 and can be ordered here

Tabloids and Governments

Monday, September 06, 2010

In his fast selling memoirs, Tony Blair described his tabloid trained Head of Communications, Alastair Campbell, as a ‘genius’.  David Cameron has presumably taken that observation to heart, having appointed an even more distinguished tabloid man as his own Head of Communications.  Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World no less.  But with Coulson’s role in the News of the World’s phone-tapping scandal currently under scrutiny, the Economist’s ever reliable, and prescient, Bagehot has taken the time to offer a few observations about the nature of tabloid power and it’s place in government.

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Labour leadership campaign - who are you closest to?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Here’s a neat online survey which encourages people to match their views on a range of political issues against the stated policies and views of the Labour Party leadership campaign.

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