WOW! Politics 2014 - Teaching & Learning Resources for the A Level Politics Classroom

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A Decline of Responsibility and Principles?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mike Simpson (Bradford Grammar School) looks at the continued decline of individual ministerial responsibility and the traditional principles of the Civil Service.

A printable version of this article appears in the latest edition of FPTP - tutor2u's digital magazine for AS & A2 Politics students.


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Reappraising the House of Lords

Michael McCartney (Bradford Grammar School) considers whether it is time to reappraise the performance and reputation of the House of Lords.

A printable version of this article appears in the latest edition of FPTP - tutor2u's digital magazine for AS & A2 Politics students.


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Parliament: the Wright Effect

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Michael McCartney (Bradford Grammar School) explains that changes to the executive-legislative dynamic in the UK that have gone largely unnoticed, but are no less important for that.

A printable version of this article appears in the latest edition of FPTP - tutor2u's digital magazine for AS & A2 Politics students.


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The Rise and Fall of the EDL - Pressure Groups in Context

Mike Simpson (Bradford Grammar School) examines pressure group influence in the UK in the context of the rise and fall of the EDL.

A printable version of this article appears in the latest edition of FPTP - tutor2u's digital magazine for AS & A2 Politics students.


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Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Happy New Year to all politics students and teachers! 2014 is a big political year with it not only being the last full year before the General Election but it is also a year of elections, referendums, ideological battlegrounds and the start of the 2015 Election campaign. By the time the year is out we will know the future of Scotland, the hopes for Obama's last two years, and we shall all be well and truly getting in gear for the Election 2015! Read on for the political excitement that awaits this year!

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Scottish Independence White Paper - Top Tips for Inclusion

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tomorrow (Tuesday 26th November) sees the publication of the Scottish Government's white paper concerning Independence. As politics students living the subject this is a great example for your Politics A Level. This issue of Scottish Independence covers all sorts of concepts from national sovereignty, political ideology, elections and referendums. Be sure you know the story inside and out and how to apply it effectively! Read on for more on how to do so.

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My Tip Top Tips for Application to University

Thursday, November 07, 2013

So you are thinking of applying for Politics at Univeristy are you? Well, Politics is as I am sure you aware a fascinating subject, it's a subject which is very much alive! Read on for more information on applying to University for Politics!

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FPTP - Making Work Pay?

Friday, November 01, 2013

With several key benefit reforms underway and the government still aiming to cut welfare spending by at least £18bn before the next general election, social security is bound to be an issue high on the party conference agenda.

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FPTP - Legislatures - The Empire Strikes Back

Analysis of the power of legislatures would tend to suggest that their relationship with executives can vary according to the constitutional arrangements in that country.

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FPTP - David Cameron, Tax Havens and the G8

David Cameron used the G8 Summit in June 2013 to try to push for action on tax avoidance. However, given Britain’s role in the global network of tax havens, some have questioned his sincerity.

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FPTP - Should Britain Arm the Syrian Rebels?

Parliament’s rejection of airstrikes on Syria last reopened the debate over whether Britain should be intervening at all in Syria’s ongoing conflict – and if so, how?

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FPTP - He Who Pays the Piper…

The decision by the trade union, the GMB, to slash its donation to the Labour party from £1.2m to £150,000 not only poses questions about Labour’s links to the unions but also about the viability of political parties and the issue of state funding for the parties.

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FPTP - The vote for (in)action over Syria – another watershed moment at Westminster?

The rebellion of 30 Tory backbenchers, together with those of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour opposition halted what appeared to be an inexorable slide towards western military involvement in Syria’s long-running and violent civil war.

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FPTP - Independence for Scotland?

A year from now, Scotland could be an independent country. Whether the prospect appeals or appals, an independent Scotland holds significant political consequences. This article seeks to consider three of those implications; the notion of sovereignty, the legitimacy of the result and the prospect of the United Kingdom collapsing altogether.

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FPTP “It is not the economy stupid!”

Given the dealignment of the electorate in many democracies, more emphasis has been placed upon the economy as a key determinant of voting behaviour. Labour lost in 2010 in the UK as did the PSOE in Spain, largely due to a failing economy after the “credit crunch” induced recession in those countries. In Australia however the incumbent Labor government was ousted from office despite an economy that boasts 22 consecutive years of economic growth and a forecast of 2.6% growth for this year. Bill Clinton campaigned on the theme of “It’s the economy stupid” in 1992 to defeat the then President G.H. Bush, yet it would seem too narrow a focus on a single factor cannot explain the outcome of elections.

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Should UK Voters Have the Right to Recall an Unwanted MP?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Would the introduction of a recall system for UK MPs provide an incentive for MPs to keep on their toes and represent their constituents better?

The expenses scandal led to suggestions the public should have the power to remove MPs between elections where constituents felt they were no longer up to the job,

The coalition proposed a system where an MP could be referred to the Parliamentary Standards Committee which would decide their fate.

But Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith said that does not go far enough, and made the case for a different kind of "recall".

He said constituents are not able to punish their current MP, whatever their behaviour, as "there is nothing literally their voters can do about it until the next general election."

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Voter Turnout in the UK General Election 2010

Monday, October 07, 2013

One key aspect that new students to Government and Politics need to have is an understanding of the nature of participation in the political process, particularly in the UK. Follow this link to see a Powerpoint stimulus exercise examining voter turnout and apathy for the UK General Election of 2010.

As well as offering statistics on turnouts in 2010 compared to previous elections and a breakdown in turnouts by the individual countries within the UK, the stimulus asks students to consider what causes voter apathy, particularly among adults between the ages of 18 and 24.

Please note: This activity will be showcased as part of the upcoming Wow Politics event (November 13th, see our website). Delegates to the event will also receive the companion spreadsheet which lists turnout by constituency, ranking each constituency in terms of the turnout percentage showing where apathy was at its worse! This data is necessary for a task within the resource which asks students to consider the causes of good, bad or indifferent turnout in the area where they live. If you wish to obtain this information yourself to use with this activity, it available from this link.

The Decline of Party Membership - Cameron’s Collapse

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This article in The Spectator highlights a dramatic fall in the membership of the Conservative Party since David Cameron became leader in 2005.

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Should a Visit to the Polling Station be Compulsory for First-Time Voters?

Monday, August 26, 2013

When we reach the next General Election (scheduled for summer 2015) it is likely that older people will once again be most likely to cast their votes. Voting is not compulsory in the UK, but the evidence suggests that older people are much more likely to exercise their right to vote compared with younger people. So, could this feature of UK election turnout be changed by making voting compulsory for a certain category of voter - the first-time voter?

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Internal Party Democracy

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The opportunity for members to have an input into party proceedings might be considered to best identified by considering three main areas:

1.  The election of leaders

2.  The role of conference and policy making

3.  The selection of candidates for elections

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Revision Update: UK Politics: A Leadership Challenge to David Cameron?

“Damn your principles! stick to your party”  So said the Victorian Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Yet it would appear that principles are being placed before party at the present time within the Conservative party.

According to Conservative rules, 46 MPS is all it takes for a leadership challenge to be launched against Cameron. 15% of Conservative MPs must ask the 1922 Committee for an election and a simple majority secures the leadership. These were the rules introduced in 1998 which led to the ousting of Iain Duncan Smith in 2003. Given the size of the vote against the government on the proposed EU referendum and House of Lords reform, it would seem that this requirement could be easily met should Conservative MPs perceive Cameron to be an electoral liability in 2015.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Are Labour the Tories Democratic Organisations?

To what extent are the Labour and Conservative parties democratic organisations?

The election of Ed Miliband was said to be due to the influence of the unions. This would suggest that the unions might wield too much power within the Labour party making it undemocratic. It should be noted however that political parties actively seek to involve their membership and seek to establish their democratic credentials.

The parties could be stated to be democratic organisations as they allow their members to choose their leaders. David Cameron was able to defeat David Davis relatively easy and Nick Clegg secured a narrow victory over Chris Huhne. Democracy can be defined as “rule of the people for the people by the people”. This is normally achieved through the direct participation of the people and in party terms through members voting their leader. Ed Miliband too was elected by a combination of the members, unions and parliamentary Labour party via an electoral college where each branch of the party gets 33.3% of the vote.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Labour as a One-Nation Party?

There was an interesting turn of events at the Labour party conference in 2012 when Ed Miliband used the term to “one nation” to describe his party. The phrase originates from as long ago as the nineteenth century when the Conservative leader, Benjamin Disraeli, sought to drag his party back from the political wilderness and to connect with the newly enfranchised working class. He warned of the dangers of two nations divided into the rich and the poor. One nation Conservatism then was used to describe a Conservative ideology which justified state intervention on paternalistic grounds to lesson income and wealth divisions. Ironically, similarities may be made with Cameron’s “compassionate Conservatism”.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Conservative Party

The dilemma the Conservatives faced after the 2005 general election was similar to that of the Labour party in the 1990s. The party, having lost successive elections, needed to change in order to get re-elected. Labour’s four defeats in 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992, assisted the development of New Labour. This “project” saw the Labour party abandon many of its traditional policies such as state ownership of the “commanding heights” of the British economy with the amendment to Clause IV of their constitution with a move to the centre right ground of British politics. The success of this move was evident with an unprecedented three successive election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

The Conservatives then had a similar need for a “makeover”, a reinvention if you will, so that they could reconnect with the British public. Their support in the elections where Labour won showed no real sign of change. Their vote “flatlined” around the 30% mark and this was in part due to the public’s perception of the Conservatives as “the nasty party” as was identified by the then party chair, Theresa May, at the 2003 party conference. This allowed the election of David Cameron in 2005 after their third election defeat on a modernising agenda. Part of his brief was to give his party a more new policies and a new image; a brief which might be called a modernising agenda.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Exemplar Answer: Functions of Political Parties

Discuss the view that parties no longer fulfil their functions?

Turnout at the recent Police Commissioners elections was at a record low level of c15%. As the candidates were based upon party labels this might suggest that political parties are failing to fulfil their function of participation. However, a quick glance at Westminster reveals that parties still remain critical to the operation of UK government and politics.

Parties no longer fulfil the function of participation. Pressure groups such as 38degrees and the RSPB have more members than all the political parties put together. The notion then that parties can aggregate the interests of the public no longer holds true. Membership of all the parties has fallen from over 1m in the 1950s to less than 200, 000 today for both the Conservatives and the Labour Party. The liberal Democrats have suffered an even greater decline since they joined the Conservatives in 2010 in the coalition government. Were it not for the backing of private donors (The City for the Conservatives and unions for Labour) and some state funding, the parties would be in terminal decline.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Exemplar Answer: MPs and their Constituents

To what extent do MPs represent their constituents?

Since the election of “Blair’s babes” in 1997, there has been an increased focus on the composition of the House of Commons (HoC) in terms of gender, age, race and class. More recently Osborne stated that “we are all in this together” but Miliband has been quick to draw attention to the privileged background of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Some argue that whilst the HoC does not mirror society, it cannot adequately represent it. Others would argue that MPs can still serve their constituents even if they come from a different background.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Exemplar Answer: Does the Executive Have Too Much Power?

DOES THE EXECUTIVE HAVE TOO MUCH POWER?

Lord Hailsham stated that the UK has an “elective dictatorship” in the sense that the executive is able to dominate the legislature. It could be said that the UK has a fusion of powers rather than a separation of powers. Whilst it could be argued that the UK system is markedly different from that of the US which is based upon the separation of powers, it should be recognised that there are limits upon the power of the executive.

The executive could be said to have too much power principally because parliament is unable to serve as an effective check. The government controls the parliamentary timetable which restricts the function of both houses. Private members bills are unlikely to be successful which caused Jack Straw to demand that the backbenchers be given more powers.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Exemplar Answer: Parliament and the Executive

Discuss how effectively parliament checks the executive

The recent government defeat over the issue of the EU budget was a rare occurrence. For the most part the executive dominates the legislature. Indeed Lord Hailsham described the relationship between the two branches of government as an “elective dictatorship”. However, whilst the separation of powers may be less obvious than in the USA, the UK parliament can still actively check the executive.

Parliament is unable to effectively check the executive due to the Westminster model of parliamentary government. This ensures that the executive has an inbuilt majority in the House of Commons and when this is allied to the exercise of strict party discipline and the limited powers of the House of Lords, it ensures that parliament can do little to check a government. This is especially the case when there has been a creation of a large majority after an election such as 1997 and 2001 with Labour majorities of 179 and 167 respectively. Majorities of 66 in 2005 and 83 with the coalition in 2010 mean that all the other parties united cannot defeat the government thus rendering Parliament relatively powerless.

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Revision Update: US / UK Politics: Exemplar Answer: A Bill of Rights?

Discuss the view that a bill of rights alone does not provide an adequate protection of rights.

The continued failure of the UK government to depart the Muslim cleric Abu Qatada would suggest that bills of rights can go a significant way to ensuring that rights are protected. However, the fact that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has suggested that the UK may opt out or derogate from the ECHR would seem to indicate that rights need more that a written statement that rights exist. 

The role of the legislature can prove critical in the defence of rights and a much needed part of the protection of rights equation. Without legislative support, a bill of rights will not provide an adequate protection of rights and liberties. The point is that Parliament could, via the mechanism of parliamentary sovereignty, ban any “freedom” they want. Two measures presently going through Parliament clearly illustrate that the ECHR does not provide an adequate protection of rights. The Justice and Security Bill can result in secret trials, the “snooper’s charter” (Communications Data bill) threatens the right to privacy.

Developments since 9/11 clearly illustrate the fragility of rights in the USA and suggest that they are not adequately protected. Most recently, the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, paved the way for indefinite detention of US citizens without trial due to alleged association with terrorist groups. There are even first amendment free speech concerns relating to journalists’ ability to criticise the government owing to the vagueness of the act. This concern was the basis for the Supreme Challenge in Hedges v Obama which decided in favour of the government in 2013.

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Revision Update: Elections: Voting Behaviour and the Next General Election

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

As a general rule one should be wary of making speculative comment about the likely outcome of the next general election. Given the volatility of the electorate and the ever changing nature of the political landscape, it is incredibly difficult to make reasoned assumptions about how people will vote in the future and the factors that are likely to be of influence. Using the rational choice model however, we are able to identify certain key developments which might play some role in the next election.

The rational choice model recognises that most voters are not strong identifiers and have no real connection with the political parties. They are essentially unaligned and consequently as Ivor Crewe once remarked “votes are up for grabs”. Voters then decide how to vote on the basis of a series of judgements made about several relevant factors. As an aid for revision, I have reduced these to the “4Ps”. These then are:

1.  Past performance

2.  Policies

3.  Personality

4.  Party Unity

This article is not the place to consider how these factors have each played out in recent elections. Suffice to say, they do provide a convincing explanation as to why certain parties won and lost elections. With regard to 2015, we can place some recent developments into a voting behaviour perspective.

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Revision Update: UK Judiciaries and Rights

Composition of the Judiciary

Despite the creation of a judicial appointments commission, there have been no significant changes to the make-up of the UK Supreme Court. Lord Neuberger, the president of the Court himself stated “We are not getting the best people as judges, because there are a whole lot of women out there who will be better than some of the men.” This was after three new appointments to the Court of twelve were all male.

New appointments: Lord Justice Hughes (64); Lord Justice Toulson (66); Lord Hodge (59)

The only female on the Court remains Lady Hale who is tipped to become deputy president when the post becomes available in May.

There is a mandatory retirement age of 70 which should allow for periodic injections of youth as evidenced above!

Given their key role in the interpretation of the law and the soon to be acquired powers in “secret courts”, such a narrow social background might be viewed as a concern. In the past, judges have been accused of being conservative and Conservative. Recruitment that resulted in a Supreme Court that looked more like UK society would help allay some of those fears. The fact that the last four appointments have been male would suggest that Judicial Appointments Commission is yet to have an impact.

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Revision Update: Parliament: Is Executive Power Checked?

The recent government defeat over the issue of the EU budget was a rare occurrence. For the most part the executive dominates the legislature. Indeed Lord Hailsham described the relationship between the two branches of government as an “elective dictatorship”. However, whilst the separation of powers may be less obvious than in the USA, the UK parliament can still actively check the executive.

Parliament is unable to effectively check the executive due to the Westminster model of parliamentary government. This ensures that the executive has an inbuilt majority in the House of Commons and when this is allied to the exercise of strict party discipline and the limited powers of the House of Lords, it ensures that parliament can do little to check a government. This is especially the case when there has been a creation of a large majority after an election such as 1997 and 2001 with Labour majorities of 179 and 167 respectively. Majorities of 66 in 2005 and 83 with the coalition in 2010 mean that all the other parties united cannot defeat the government thus rendering Parliament relatively powerless.

The work of parliament illustrates how the legislature cannot check the government effectively. This is clearly evidenced by the work of Public Bill Committees. With an inbuilt majority for the government as composition reflects the outcome of the general election on the floor of the Commons and pressure from the whips over selection and voting, opposition amendments to bills are very rarely adopted. The notion of line by line, clause by clause scrutiny of a bill is called into question when the government, through the use of the guillotine can end discussion before every clause has been considered. Butler described the process as “futile marathon” and Tony Wright as a “shocking state of affairs”.

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Revision Update: Parliament: House of Lords

THE HOUSE OF LORDS

Reform of the House of Lords (HoL) continues to be an on-going saga in British constitutional reform. With Labour’s reforms in 1999 which ended the right of most of the hereditary peers to sit in the House, and with promise of stage II to be delivered in the imminent feature, it was reasonable to assume that there would be some sort of closure to this long outstanding issue. Since then however, no progress what so ever has been made.

The government proposed a second chamber that would be:

a.  80 directly elected

b.  Serve a 15 year term with a third elected every 5 years

c.  Represent regions

d.  The number of peers to be reduced from 826 to 450

e.  The number of church of England bishops would be reduced to 12 from 26

f.  The remaining hereditary peers would be removed

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Revision Update: Parliament: Select Committees - Watchdogs Without Teeth?

DEPARTMENTAL SELECT COMMITTEES

The dominance of the executive over the legislature has long been recognised. It is to a great extent the natural consequence of the UK using the Westminster model of government. The largest party forms the government after an election. This means that the government has an inbuilt majority. When this is completed by strict party discipline, the government in effect is in an all-powerful position. It should not lose a vote provided it can keep its majority together. The need for this imbalance to be addressed resulted in the formation of departmental select committees in 1979.


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Revision Update: Parliament: Evaluation of the Legislature

RECAP: THE FUNCTIONS OF PARLIAMENT

1.  To legislate.

2.  To scrutinise the government

3.  To represent the people

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Revision Update: The Executive: Collective and Individual Ministerial Responsibility

HOW SIGNIFICANT ARE THE CONVENTIONS OF COLLECTIVE AND INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY TODAY?

Collective responsibility can be regarded as one of the corner stones of cabinet government in the UK. The convention states that any member of the government (so this extends to junior ministers as well as those within cabinet) must publically support and promote government policy. There may be disagreement in private, but everybody must “sing from the same hymn sheet” in public. If a minister is unable to do this, they must resign from the government.

The convention is needed to maintain a united public face in order to ensure confidence and public support are maintained for the government. Indeed a striking feature of the coalition government since 2010 has been its unity. The coalition agreement set out a range of policies which both parties have adhered to. The Liberal Democrats even reneged on their pre-election pledge not to raise tuition fees. The disagreements that have been evident have been relatively minor. For instance Vince Cable is rumoured to have been sceptical of certain austerity measures, however, he has maintained support for Osborne’s policies as was recently evidenced at the Lib Dem conference.

In the recent past, Clare Short and Robin Cook, both resigned from the cabinet over the Iraq war. However, the absence of notable resignations and the unity of the coalition government would tend to suggest that the convention of collective responsibility remains a significant force in government today.

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Revision Update: The Executive: Prime Ministerial Power

The constraints upon the power of the Prime Minister have been clearly evident in the past year. These constraints have come from:

1.  Within the cabinet from his own Conservative ministers

2.  Within the cabinet from Liberal Democrat ministers

3.  His own parliamentary party

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Revision Update: The Executive: Coalition: All Good Things Must Come to an End

Perhaps inevitably as the coalition enters its third year, the relationship between the partners entered a new phase. It should be remembered that the coalition is made up of two different political parties and therefore it is only natural that some divisions should appear from time to time. 

The driving force however behind this new phase is the low level of support in the opinion polls for the Liberal Democrats. Their support has been around the ten per cent mark as opposed to the 23% they secured in the 2010 general election. The Liberal Democrats need to establish their own distinct identity. As coalition partners they run the risk of being tarred with the same brush as the Conservatives. If a voter wants change, they only have the one option of voting Labour if the Lib Dems are perceived to be one and the same thing as the Conservatives.

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Revision Update: The Executive: Cabinet Reshuffle in September 2012

A cabinet reshuffle can provide a valuable insight into:

  1. The power of the Prime Minister
  2. The constraints upon the Prime Minister
  3. The policy direction of the government

The cabinet reshuffle was Cameron’s first significant change to the composition of the cabinet since the creation of the coalition in 2010. The Liberal Democrats decided not to change any of their 5 senior ministers but there were significant changes by the Conservatives.

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The Great Offices of State GOVP2

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Several key figures in the UK hold what are known as the Great Offices of State. Cameron, Osborne, May and Hague all occupy these great positions of power in the UK today. For GOVP2 or any course on the Governing of Modern Britain it is essential that you know about the secretive world that is these great offices. Whilst there is a wealth of information on the Prime Minister's Office little light is shed on the Treasury, Foreign Office or the Home Office. Thankfully the BBC has the provided a gold mine of information on these offices!

The Home Office

The Treasury

The Foreign Office

Enjoy!

A2 Students - It’s Crunch Time

Sunday, March 17, 2013

You've had results day from January. You should by now know how many points you are going to need to get the grades you want to move on from College or Sixth Form. However this last push doesn't need to be you on your own! I've complied a list of websites and sources you may want to take a look at, as well as some tricks that you can do to not only help you live the subject but also help you achieve the grades you need and deserve. This is a golden opportunity in which you can evaluate what went wrong last time or what you can do better and do it!

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Budget 2013 - Leaking left right and centre

Wednesday 20th March at 12:30 Osborne will stand at the dispatch box and deliver his fourth budget of this Parliament. He is probably hoping not to have a repeat of the 'Omnishambolic' budget which he faced last year with the now infamous 'Pasty Tax'. Before Wednesday's details are announced it may be helpful to look at what Osborne may whip out in the Commons designed to not only improve the state of the British economy but the electoral fortunes of the Conservative Party.

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Budget 2013 - Leaking left right and centre

Wednesday 20th March at 12:30 Osborne will stand at the dispatch box and deliver his fourth budget of this Parliament. He is probably hoping not to have a repeat of the 'Omnishambolic' budget which he faced last year with the now infamous 'Pasty Tax'. Before Wednesday's details are announced it may be helpful to look at what Osborne may whip out in the Commons designed to not only improve the state of the British economy but the electoral fortunes of the Conservative Party.

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Politics Quiz 29th January 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Business Studies can have the Biz Quiz, so here comes the Politics Quiz, a weekly round up of news and interesting political stories in the form of 10 questions! Helping you to live the Subject!

Launch the Politics Quiz - 29th January 2013

Download printable version (PDF)

David Cameron’s Bloomberg Europe Speech

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

David Cameron's Speech on Europe at The Bloomberg building, promises an In Out Referendum (BBC coverage here), but firstly can he keep his Coalition together, avoid more splits in The Conservative Party then win a General Election, all of which are big assumptions. Labour have to work out if their General Election campaign can really oppose a popular vote on Europe. Does it kill the UKIP fox, wait and see. If Labour won The next General Election, would Ed Miliband make sure that there is no return to Bloomberg and bust?

Tory Modernisation 2.0

Thursday, January 17, 2013

This video interview from The Economist with David Willetts provides a good introduction to the ongoing challenge of modernising the Conservative Party.

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One Nation Labour & Some Revision on GOVP1 and GOV3B

Saturday, January 12, 2013

If students of the political world were in any doubt as to Ed Miliband's thoughts towards Old and New Labour, they have certainly been ironed out, as Old and New Labour are definitely sent to the grave. This further announcement today at the historic Fabian's Society is political gold for all students sitting the Ideologies Paper next week. 

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UK Elections in November 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

Rachel Fairhead reports that the low turnout (aprox 15%)for the elections of the Police and Crime Commissioners perhaps was the headline which grabbed most attention in November’s days of elections; that and the under-performance of the Liberal Democrats.

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The Leveson Report

As Rachel Fairhead explains, the Leveson inquiry was a public, judge-led (Lord Justice Leveson) inquiry set up by David Cameron to examine the culture, practice and ethics of the press.

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An Early Political Christmas Present

Sunday, December 23, 2012

It's not long before the Exams are upon us and you are lucky as politics students to get this early Christmas Present!

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Politics - Living the Subject

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Politics is a subject which is very much alive, it's a social science because its famously unpredictable. Back in 1992 election pundits called the election in favour of Neil Kinnock and Labour, but as astute politics students I'm sure you know that wasn't the case. Election night is probably the jewel in the crown or the star on the Christmas tree for politics students as the fates of nations is in the hands of an electorate. I think that because of this unpredictability, I love the study of it!  

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Giving political votes to 16 Year Olds

Sunday, October 14, 2012

If you wanted to give your A level students something to talk about this week, why not show them this article from the BBC  about arguments for and against giving votes to 16 to 18 year old young adults.  The debate has been re-ignited by the announcement that any up-coming referendum on Scottish independence will allow 16 and 17 year old Scottish citizens to have a say as well as those who are 18 or over.  The debate may be a little one-sided if your class is dominated by strong-minded 16 and 17 year old people so it may be an opportunity (before you give out the article) to ask them to sum up the arguments for and against and see how many of their own answers they find within the responses of the commentators in this piece.

An Apology for a Party Leader

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry.  But I just couldn't resist posting this superb lampoon of Nick Clegg's heartfelt (?) apology to the nation - which has now become a viral hit. 

Of course, a promise is a promise. Clegg made a solemn promise during the 2010 General Election to oppose the introduction of higher tuition fees. He even signed a pledge. So this apology for breaking his promise and perhaps destroying for ever any trust that the student and parent population might have had in him, must have been hard to do.

But does will the public apology work? Can it rebuild trust in the Liberal Democrats? Or does it further undermine Clegg's standing? A great discussion point.

In the meantime, enjoy the video...

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Headsup - Political Debate for Young People

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Hansard Society have been in touch with us to let us know about a new project they're running this year designed to encourage and stimulate debate about key political and economic issues.

Headsup is an online forum  for under 18's to debate political issues with their peers up and down the country, and with influential decision-makers. According to the Hansard Society, Headsup is:

a safe, student-oriented space where young people become more informed about political issues, improve their discussion skills and let adults with political influence know what they think. Debate topics are chosen by the young people and have included a range of subjects, such as; immigration, crime, the NHS, climate change and international aid 

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Political Parties in the UK: The Fragmentation of the “Far Right”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Whilst the vast majority of political media coverage outside of election periods focuses on the main UK political parties, it is still worth it for students and teaching colleagues to keep track of activity on the outer fringes of the political spectrum.

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Mapping out your politics

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Where do you stand on the political spectrum? How do you work out what is left and what is right? You have read about The Right or The Left, but how do you try to differentiate between them.

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UKIP - the importance of Nigel Farage

Sunday, February 12, 2012

An analysis in this 10-minute video which examines whether UKIP is really just a one-man band, reliant on the charisma and profile of its leader Nigel Farage.

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Explaining the role of Select Committees

Thursday, February 09, 2012

This 10 minute video from the UK Parliament site provides an introduction to the role and activities of Commons Select Committees.

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UK Electoral Reform demonstrated with Lego!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A hat-tip to Nicola Morgan for spotting this terrific video from Dr Simon Usherwood (Department of Politics, University of Surrey) who uses the universal medium of Lego to help explain some core concepts in electoral reform…

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Modern Conservatism - In Thought And Action

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Conservative Party is well blessed with an independent website in Conservative Home that often provokes debate within the party and allows the outsider to see how conservatism is shaping and shifting on the current political sea.  There are two articles currently on it that are worth investigating.  One, by website editor Tim Montgomerie, discusses how a right wing party “with a heart” can position itself to govern more universally than is often perceived to be the case with the Conservatives.  Highlighting key areas of current policy, including Michael Gove’s radical education agenda, he argues the case for a modern, ‘compassionate’ conservatism that could bring electoral victory.  In so doing, he covers the ground of where the Conservative Party currently stands in a way that can certainly help any students and teachers looking to analyse what the ideology of the modern Conservative party really is.

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AS Politics: direct democracy

Monday, October 24, 2011

The debate in the Commons today on Britain’s relations with the EU was, as you are probably aware, prompted by an e-petition.

Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian writes an excellent piece in support of the e-petition process. It’s definitely one I will be looking to use with my AS students when assessing the pros and cons of direct democracy, and ways to improve the democratic system in the UK.

Here is the link.

I also include a study note below on arguments for and against direct democracy. I know pedants would argue that e-petitions are a form of consultative democracy, but for Edexcel they do fall under the direct democracy umbrella on Unit 1.

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AS parties: divide over energy prices

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A quick update to my ongoing study note about policy divides between the Conservatives and Labour.

This is taken from the Guardian:

“The government has persuaded energy suppliers to write to 8 million customers to tell them how to switch payment methods, find lower tariffs and insulate their homes to save energy.

The prime minister pledged the big six companies would be “permanently watched” and should put their shoulders to the wheel in what he called a “winter call to action”.

However, Labour said the government should have used the “bully pulpit” of government to insist the big six energy companies kept costs down.

Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary, said: “For the big six to agree with David Cameron to hold their price increases over the winter, when wholesale energy prices have been falling in recent weeks, is a complete betrayal of the public.”

Labour believes the government had a series of options, including “pressurising” the energy companies to cut prices this winter, extracting a promise of fewer, simple tariffs and giving the regulator immediate powers to open the books of energy companies.”

 

 

The state of education: more classic politics on YouTube

Monday, October 10, 2011

This scene from Yes, Prime Minister is an absolute beauty - working on so many levels.

Enjoy it here

Cat fight over Human Rights Act?

The recent ‘cat fight’ over the Human Rights Act sparked by Teresa May at the recent Tory conference and then fuelled by Ken Clarke’s response [referring to May’s assertion as “laughable child-like”] has caused something of a storm in a tea cup.  However, it does raise the issue of how well protected are our rights?  Will we see the HRA be swept aside in a simple swipe of Tory pique and excercise of parliamentary sovereignty?  Hence, the debate of whether we in fact need an entrenched Bill of Rights is again relevant. 

The most amusing reporting of the ‘cat-atrophic’ fur fetched’ tale comes from Guido Fawke’s:

Claws For Moment: It never goes well when a politician utters the words “I am not making this up”. Often it turns out they are and Theresa May’s anecdote about a man not being deported because he had a cat is no exception. Larry the Cat may have been left at No. 10, but conference suddenly went cat-tastic. It’s the purrfect story for a subdued conference, and the tabby-loids are all over this fur-fetched tail. Cameron will be fur-ious, but Guido reckons she’ll get away with it, by a whisker and she can claw back her reputation . We will now take a paws from the cat puns.

Today’s Huffington Post has an interesting follow up article “ Human Rights and Cat Fights - The Calls for Reform Must not be Silenced”, which asserts

It would be, to coin a phrase, child-like to summate the debate around the Human Rights Act as one between those in favour of protecting human rights in law, and those against doing so.

Click here for the full article.

Should Dr Fox resign?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, has come under increased pressure this weekend regarding the behaviour of his close friend Adam Werritty.

This is an opportunity to revisit the politics of ministerial resignations, a very common Unit 2 topic. I include a study note on ministerial responsibility with this story .

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The Coalition and the Conservatives

Coalition politics in the UK is well embarked, and this year’s party conferences – especially the Lib Dem and Conservative ones – provided a useful insight into how it is all progressing.  In short, the Lib Dems wanted to show how different they were from the Tories, while the Tories kept up a smooth, united face in the main hall but saw their right-wing activists in full voice on the fringe.

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Global Issues: Changing Nature of Warfare: Could the Taliban return?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The ‘10 year anniversary’ of the war in Afghanistan has put the Taliban into the spotlight oncemore, not least given recent events such as the breakdown in possible talks with the Taliban, the recent assination of a former Aghan president and the activities of the Haqqani network.  The Taliban are of interest in relation to the Global Issues course both in terms of how the character of modern conflict has changed in terms of ‘new’ wars in terms of being a non-state internal actor and the nature of insurgency itself; however, they are also of interest in terms of the rise identity politics in terms of their stress on Pushtun identity and adherence to a fundamentalist view of Islam.

Here are a few useful resources:
1. Podcaste of an interesting BBC Radio interview with Ahmed Rashid (Pakistani journalist and author of the excellent ‘Descent into Chaos’ addressing the issue of ‘Can the Taliban return?’
2. BBC - Success of the Taliban - looks at how a rag tag militia have turned into a .successful guerilla army mounting an intractable insurgency.
3.  BBC: Who are the Taliban?

Party policy divisions: human rights

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced at the weekend that she would like to repeal the Human Rights Act. This is yet another example of clear blue water between the government and the Labour opposition on party policy that has emerged during the conference season.

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Political reincarnations continued

Monday, October 03, 2011

With the Conservative Party Conference underway this week, I thought I’d post a little reminder of the speech made by the current Foreign Secretary to conference when he was a teenager.

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Global Issues: Terrorism ~ Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Of interest to Global Issues students will be the ‘targeted killing’ of the radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike.  Such measures are a part of counterterrorism strategy and operations; however, while US policy makers may tout this as a victory in the ‘war on terror’, the episode highlights controversial aspects of the expanding targeted killing policy. 

The CFR has the following comment:

‘The targeted killing of al-Awlaki eliminates an inspirational and charismatic voice of al-Qaeda, as well as someone who U.S. officials asserted was playing an increasing operational role. However, like most targeted killings, it probably will not make much difference in reducing the ability of al-Qaeda or affiliated groups in mobilizing, recruiting, and planning terrorist operations.  In addition, it calls to mind a similar targeted killing that occurred almost nine years ago, which is illustrative to remember as U.S. officials—anonymously of course—condone al-Alwaki’s death.’

Of interest may be an earlier blog post which coincided with the Yemen ‘Christmas Cargo Bombplot’:
Global Issues: Terrorism ~ Bomb Plots, Yemen and AQAP

For more on the story here are a few BBC links:
Obama: Anwar Al-Awlaki death is major blow for al-Qaeda
Obituary: Anwar al-Awlaki
Profile: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

The foreign policy think tank has a useful backrounder on the controversial and seemingly more common practice of ‘targeted killings - click here.

Politics on YouTube: political history repeating itself?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Someone once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.

Talking to a colleague the other day, she suggested this could be a YouTube feature.

To start with then we have Black Wednesday. In the 1992 election the Tories pledged that membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was at the heart of economic policy. For instance their manifesto of that year stated: “Membership of the ERM is now central to our counter-inflation discipline.” Several months later, the Chancellor Norman Lamont announced that Britain would cease to be part of it. From then on, all the way through to the 1997 election, Labour were well ahead in the polls. That the economy was powering ahead mattered little to the British electorate. Essentially the Conservative government never recovered its reputation for sound economic management until Labour then wrecked any credibility they had after the 2008 financial crisis.

What is interesting (and I am disappointed I couldn’t find a clip on YouTube of the individual standing behind Lamont on the day it was announced that interest rates would soar) is the identity of a young man acting as a special adviser to the Chancellor. Who was it? Where could he possibly be now? See if the picture below the BBC 6 o’clock news on Black Wednesday gives you any clue…

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AS intro to Politics: political parties activity

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

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Can you do better than Rory?

With party conference season in full swing I thought of a good teaching and learning exercise on political parties after watching Rory Weal’s speech in Liverpool yesterday. It is essentially a combination of student tasks that I would do on party ideologies at AS anyway, with what candidates in mock elections would be doing in school. But this year we have a standard to beat. Personally I thought Rory delivered a great speech and clearly does not merit most of the flak that he has received from the kind of obviously unhinged people who post comments on YouTube.

If you have yet to see the speech, here is the BBC clip.

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Select committees: Parliament is not dead

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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There are ongoing debates about what useful purpose Parliament serves

A recent report by the Home Affairs Select Committee criticising the government’s policy on the police once again highlights how Parliament performs an important oversight function.

According to the BBC:

“The Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism role should be given to the new National Crime Agency when it becomes operational in 2013, MPs say.

The Home Affairs Select Committee says the change would mean less intervention in the Met by the Home Secretary and its accountability would be clearer.

Its adds that uncertainty over police reforms for England and Wales could be damaging to the 43 forces.”

We can add this latest example to a study note below that I have written on how Parliament checks the executive…

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My top 9 UK politics You Tube clips

Monday, September 19, 2011

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Gordo’s famous smile didn’t quite make it

Any ideas as to what should complete the 10?

Here are my 9 so far…

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UK political parties: the Tory Party’s European problem

Deep divisions within the Conservative Party gave them troubles for years, but more recently the party has become a much more cohesive eurosceptic unit and the issue seemed to have dropped off the agenda. Not any more.

From the BBC website today, comes this report:

“A senior Conservative MP has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Mark Pritchard, the secretary of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said it had “enslaved” the country.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said EU membership was a “burdensome yoke, disfiguring Britain’s independence”.

His comments come amid growing frustration among Tory eurosceptics at the failure so far of the government to repatriate powers from Europe in the face of opposition from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Last week 120 Conservative backbenchers gathered at a private meeting in Westminster to voice their impatience at the lack of progress on the issue.”

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What is the government’s position?

“Ministers have ruled out any imminent renegotiation of European treaties.”

But as the website goes on to say: 

“Last year the government introduced a “referendum lock”, guaranteeing that no further major transfer of powers from London to Brussels could happen without first being approved by the public.

Mr Cameron, who describes himself as a “practical eurosceptic”, has said he could push for a renegotiation of existing EU rules on employment and financial regulation at an appropriate time in the future.”

Below Europe as an issue within the context of Tory intra party divisions.

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Introducing Politics: Gay Marriage and UK Democracy

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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Gay marriage is always a great classroom topic. Here we can consider pressure group success, rights and liberties, and the role of the judiciary. In a comparative sense it also brings into view the extent to which rights are better advanced in the UK or the USA.

Recent stories emanating from Whitehall put this issue firmly back on the agenda.

According to the BBC:

“The government has indicated it is committed to changing the law to allow gay marriage by 2015.

Ministers are to launch a consultation next spring on how to open up civil marriage to same-sex couples ahead of the next general election.”

Below I put this debate in the context of a study note on the extent to which Britain can be considered democratic.

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Introduction to AS: constitutional change

Thursday, September 15, 2011

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Today the House of Lords gave their assent to Coalition plans to bring the UK into line with much of the western world by fixing the date for national elections.

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Do we want more EU?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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The EU topic has been slimmed down since new AS specs came in a few years ago. Opinion was divided among teachers on whether this was desirable. In the edexcel course for instance it is subsumed within discussion of the extent to which the UK Parliament is sovereign.

But comments today from the Commission President are sure to reopen serious debate. According to today’s Indy:

“The economic crisis has turned into a “fight for European integration”, the president of the European Commission warned today.

Jose Manuel Barroso insisted that the answer to the growing threat to the euro was a more, and not less, integrated European Union.”

Essentially the question is whether we want to move to something closer to the USA, where Washington DC exerts far greater power as a central authority than most people can imagine Brussels doing.

I have included some notes below that go far beyond the demands of the current AS level (since they were written with the old one in mind, though I have tried to update them) but should provide some help in supporting your arguments about what future direction the EU should take

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West Lothian Question Redux

Monday, September 12, 2011

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Issues such as free university tuition for Scots have made devolution a controversial topic

A potential ban on non-English MPs being able to vote on matters Westminster considers English only is back on the agenda. This is a chance to revisit the old chestnut that is the West Lothian Question - for this special occasion I have also dug out a set of arguments for and against whether the issue is of any real significance.

According to the Telegraph:

“Mark Harper, the constitutional reform minister, announced yesterday that a group of non-partisan independent experts would look at how parliamentary procedures at Westminster work and whether they needed reforming to reflect the changed constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom.

He said: “The Government is clear that the commission’s primary task should be to examine how this House, and Parliament as a whole, can deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters in some or all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are lawfully and democratically the responsibility of the separate parliament or assemblies.”

He said that the commission would be made up of a small group of non-partisan experts with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise.”

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Easy intro to British Politics

Monday, September 05, 2011

I frequently get asked for an easy to understand guide to the UK political system. Until recently I lacked an adequate answer. But BBC’s Democracy Live page has a whole host of simple guides to UK institutions. Useful for citizenship, lower school PSHE (for teachers and pupils) and those new to AS looking to do a bit of home research.

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Check it out here.

In defence of the Lords, again

Thursday, September 01, 2011

If you are embarking on a UK politics course, you may start with an overview of the pros and cons of the UK system. Certainly if you are doing edexcel then unit 1 pretty much brings this into focus fairly quickly by asking students to consider how democratic Britain is.

An obvious target for criticism is one half of Britain’s bicameral legislative body, the House of Lords.

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But a little snippet of news from today’s Indy reminds us that it is not without its advantages…

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Labour versus the government on police numbers

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To follow up what I wrote about yesterday in terms of policy divides between the main parties, and how easy it is to gather examples that help illustrate points, here is a quick one from today’s Guardian.

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Labour claim the police’s job will be harder as a result of planned government cuts

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Intro to AS politics: party political divisions

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I think most students who take up politics in order to find out a bit more about how Britain works look forward to discovering what, if anything, the main political parties stand for. This initial interest does not manifest itself in terms of the topic being hugely popular come exam time, with even the judiciary appearing to attract more attempts than parties.

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There’ll be no more of this for a while

But conference season is nearly upon us and this is always a good time to look in depth at party policies. Given the surprising amount of activity that has taken place within the current government one would think that Labour would have been able to more clearly define itself, and that its leader would have laid out more of a vision. Perhaps this will begin to take shape with Ed Miliband’s keynote speach at this year’s conference.

What is interesting is a “leaked” internal Labour document reported in this week’s Observer, suggesting that the Tories are “recognisibly rightwing”.

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When is a minister not a minister? When, one hopes, he’s being an MP!

Friday, August 26, 2011

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The Guardian reported yesterday that David Willetts, the HE minister, had lobbied universities on behalf of several students with ties to his constituency who had received disappointing exam results.

This has caused a bit of a fuss because Willetts is seen as the man responsible for the squeeze on university places. Willetts argues that the fact that he is universities minister should not preclude him from carrying out his constituency duties.

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I happen to agree, but it is also worth mentioning as a good starting point for AS government when discussing the difference between backbenchers and frontbenchers. The respective roles of MPs and ministers came up as exam questions a while back and they caught a lot of students out. What makes this story worth special mention this year is that a lot of candidates are looking back at their exams and asking “Where did I go wrong?” Quite often easy marks are lost on these early questions asking students about the basic features and operations that constitute daily British political life. Below I separate out the respective roles of MPs and Ministers, although please note the list is not prescriptive or exhaustive.

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Political party membership no longer a mainstream activity

Friday, August 19, 2011

The political party conference season will soon be upon us, but it seems that fewer and fewer of us are interested in actually being a member of a political party in the UK. This BBC article examines some of the underlying reasons and what the main parties in the UK are doing about it. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12934148

I particularly like the line that “there are more members of the Caravan Club, or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, than of all Britain’s political parties put together.” A classic case of effective market segmentation based on the real interests and priorities of people?

Constitution Unit website - a great resource

Thursday, July 07, 2011

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If you are a constitutional reform anorak like me, you will probably have already been accessing the new and significantly improved site at UCL’s Constitution Unit.

In addition to the very detailed reports they publish on the constitution, it is now possible to watch videos of events held at the unit, and details of forthcoming events are laid out more clearly.

Not only can it be plundered for detailed analysis of constitutional reform, but if Politics students want to supplement their personal statements in order to show that their level of interest really does extend beyond the classroom, then making use of what’s on offer from the unit creates a much better impression than saying you like watching the BBC’s Question Time.

Here is a link to a video recording of an excellent presentation by Professor Vernon Bogdanor on the coalition and the constitution as a starting off point for investigating the site’s contents.

Being clear on the state of Scotland

Monday, July 04, 2011

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This weekend’s Guardian contained a leader suggesting that Scottish voters are delivering mixed messages at the polling booth, having swept the SNP to power at Holyrood then backing Labour at the recent Inverclyde by-election.

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Coalition collapse?

Friday, July 01, 2011

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There’s quite an interesting feature on the BBC website suggesting that there is slim hope that the current government will stay together for a full five year term. It’s a good example for students of how politics is a social science, since theories can be developed and tested to see if they hold true in the real world:

“According to new research by the University of East Anglia the chances are that it will held much earlier.

Dr Chris Hanretty from the University of East Anglia’s School of Political Studies has studied the experiences of hundreds of other coalition governments worldwide and concluded that, statistically, our present government has only a one in five chance of making it to the full five years, and one in three if the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill is passed.

He has reached this conclusion by developing a political model which analysed 479 different elections in 35 countries.”

Read the full article here

Lords: time for a change?

Monday, June 27, 2011

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Former government minister, and current member of the House of Lords, Lord Adonis has co-written an article this weekend arguing for politicians to get behind reform of the second chamber.

How do his points stand up against the usual arguments in favour of leaving things as they are, as outlined below?

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Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

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On Twitter I have been posting links to news stories that are an essential daily read for students of Politics that I have come across as part of my personal reading on the web.

This type of heads up on what is in the news is not a substitute for students doing their own reading, but I know that for many students it is the case that there is so much information freely available on the web that it is not always easy to discriminate between items in terms of their direct relevance to the syllabus. This is where the posts are supposed to fill the gap. Just a couple of links each day, and if students have time to read more then they can use these stories as a starting point for further browsing.

My students have already said they find it useful, and I hope more can.

Follow me on @bgsmacca

President Cameron

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

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I’ve just penned an article auditing Cameron’s style of premiership, and hope you will see it in the next edition of FPTP.

Here are the background articles I used.

Useful perhaps if you want students to carry out an exhibition on the power of the PM, or the Tory Party at the beginning of AS. Some, not many, require entry to the Times online via the paywall.

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US federalism

Thursday, June 16, 2011

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A good example here of how the US Constitution allows for the defence of rights and liberties.

OK, many states in the US have passed amendments or penned legislation banning same sex marriage, but it remains the case as Andrew Sullivan once pointed out in a column comparing the UK and US, that in certain states gays can do things that those in the UK can’t, i.e. tie the knot.

New York state may soon join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in allowing same sex marriage. Mass was first off the mark, allowing same sex unions in 2004.

Thus states act as laboratories of democracy (Justice Brandeis) experimenting by pioneering different laws in a way that a unitary state such as the UK cannot.

You can see video coverage of the issue from the NYT here.

The clash between Parliament and Judges

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The clash between Parliament and the Judiciary in recent weeks has raised important questions about the independence and neutrality of the judiciary.

It is important to recognise that the twin issues of independence and neutrality are distinct, but they do overlap when we consider who it is that should be making the law.

This debate is also a useful one to consider in terms of constitutional reform issues.

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AS essay tips

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

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One of the critical differentiating factors in the AS units is essay technique.

Here are a few short tips, with an example of how these tips can be applied on the topic of PM/Cabinet.

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Pressure Group Politics - The Rally Against Debt versus March for the Alternative

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The anti-cuts umbrella group, the March for the Alternative, promoted by the trade unions, provided a successful, high-profile protest on March 26th., attended by upwards of 250 million people.  But it failed to have any impact on government policy.  Yesterday, a pro-cuts umbrella group, the Rally Against Debt, promoted by pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance, organised its own protest at Westminster.  Optimistic counts put the attendance at 350, with everyone having disappeared after a couple of hours.  But the government is indeed doing what Rally Against Debt want it to - pursuing cuts.  Can these two events cast light on the success and failure of pressure group tactics?  One of the groups involved in the March 26th. event, UK Uncut, achieved fame for its Fortnums sit-in.  They are now organising another day of action on May 28th. to protest the NHS changes.  Called the ‘Emergency Operation’ they will seek to turn banks into hospitals.  It could be entertaining, may well generate much publicity, but will it change much?  Isn’t the real impact on government coming from medical insider groups?

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Impact of the Human Rights Act

Saturday, May 14, 2011

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ITV played a blinder this week with their screening of “Human Rights and Wrongs” as part of the “Tonight” series. Okay, it was a little biased in favour of the notion that the ECHR is a criminals’ charter and the presence of Shami Chakrabarti did seem a token gesture but as an access to the judiciary route for AS it was first rate.

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Unit 2 PM/Cab examples

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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Some interesting insights on powers/role of the PM, relations with Cabinet, and role of Cabinet in last night’s Dispatches.

These up-to-date examples should help strengthen answers on this, the most popular Unit 2 topic area.

Watch it here.

Have post 1997 constitutional reforms been a success?

Saturday, May 07, 2011

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Following the stunning victory in the Scottish elections by Alex Salmond’s SNP, much has been made about whether we are now closer to the break up of Britain. This debate in exam terms is subsumed into a wider debate about constitutional reform and whether (a) it has been a success (b) it has gone far enough.

In the latest edition of the exambuster I stripped out most of the lengthy analysis of devolution since it was rendered superfluous by new style questions on Edexcel Unit 2. But here is a snippet on the Scottish devolution debate.

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AV (apathy vote)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

As apathy upon wave of apathy has been heaped on the AV referendum debate, I thought I’d share with you a leader from the Times yesterday, urging voters to vote against. I don’t necessarily share the preference against, but it’s a useful addition to the compendium of material on electoral systems that teachers may have accumulated over the past several months. The strength of the argument presented, however, relates to the more glaring weaknesses in our government furniture. That said, it is likely that a wider debate on our constitution would stir up as much interest as the one focusing on this narrow feature of it.

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How Cameron is Shaping the Premiership

Sunday, April 03, 2011

David Cameron maintains a close coterie of advisers, some of whom inhabit roles once performed for Tony Blair, but has restored a higher level of order and system to the Number 10 machine than existed previously.  He holds more regular, and longer Cabinet meetings, tries to make sure that the different functions within No.10 cohere smoothly, and has one of the best relationships with his senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, than has existed between a Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary for the past twenty years.  Those are some of the conclusions of veteran No. 10 watcher Anthony Seldon in a piece for the Independent on Sunday today

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Labour and Conservative battle lines update

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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Hardly a week goes by without the two main parties having a go at each other. Yes, they might be arguing about minute policy differences more than ideological themes, but nevertheless we can see how broad differences about how society should be shaped serve to underpin policy options in most cases.

Following a quick sweep of stories over the last month or so I have made some updates to policy divisions previously identified on these pages. These are highlighted in bold and links to original sources are included for reference.

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Pressure groups in action: carry on, doctor

Thursday, March 17, 2011

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Futher to my posting yesterday about recent examples of pressure group activity, news from the BMA conference this week is worthy of note.

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Pressure groups: interesting times ahead

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

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There have been some great case studies of pressure group activity in the press this week. This is hardly surprising given the speed and scale of the government’s reforms since coming to power last year and events over the next few months should give students ample opportunity to assess both the effectiveness of different methods of pressure group activity and the extent to which they help or hinder democracy.

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European judges

Friday, February 18, 2011

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The Sunday Times carried a couple of good stories rich with examples and argument relating to the ECHR. Useful at AS when looking at judges and civil liberties, as well as consideration of parliamentary sovereignty. Also useful for OCR comparative papers when looking at the idea of legislating from the bench.

If you have paywall access, they can be found here.

Euro court creep

Trendy judges

Supreme Court documentary

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Just over 20 days left to catch More 4’s excellent behind the scenes documentary on Britain’s Supreme Court.

Here is the link.

The Big Society & Volunteering - Govt Minister Caught Short

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BBC Radio 4’s Eddie Mair has a reputation for asking left-field questions of his interviewees that go right to the heart of an issue and put the interviewee on the spot. Here is a classic example, when Mair interviewed Francis Maude (current Minister for the Cabinet Office) about a project he has to drive through government - the Big Society.  The Coalition has called for every adult to play their part in the Big Society by supporting voluntary organisations.  You can guess what the next question might be - why wasn’t Maude prepared?

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Nick’s journey

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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A couple of good articles here for students of AS Politics on stories that tend not to feature much (perhaps for good reason, in the view of some) on the main news programmes at the minute.

One by Henry Porter on the Con-Lib coalition’s plans to undo Labour’s attacks on civil liberties.

And another on the proposed elections referendum and the significance of changing the voting system from one columnist’s perspective.

A new dawn for civil liberties?

Monday, February 14, 2011

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The steady erosion of civil liberties in Britain has been cited in recent years by campaigners as evidence of weaknesses of the UK constitution, or the poor state of our democracy. It was said that Labour seemed to give with one hand, whilst taking with the other. Despite steps in the right direction as a result of the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights, through the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998, rights are still not adequately protected since they lack entrenchment in our political system. That civil liberties receive little protection was illustrated in full Technicolor by Blair’s fourfold extension of detention without trial. ASBOs have created a criminal class of innocent civilians. So what of the current government?

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Party politics: the consensus on law and order

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

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One of the main areas of consensus between the Conservatives and Labour in recent years has been on law and order policy. Essentially this has come about as Labour shifted to the right in the 1990s on the issue, following their 1992 defeat at the general election. Indeed if a Labour supporter had fallen asleep some time in the late 1980s and woken up 20 years later, he would be staggered by the transformation within his party: 28 day detention without trial, section 44 giving almost unlimited stop and searc powers to the police, a ban on protest in the vicinity of parliament, and so forth.

Among the most high profile policies was the anti-social behavioural order, or asbo.

As the Guardian stated yesterday:

“Asbos were brought in by Tony Blair as part of his Respect agenda in 1999 but they were criticised for being counterproductive because they became a “badge of honour” for some offenders.”

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, stated last summer that she wanted the government to move beyond the asbo and this was mistakenly interpreted as meaning that they would be binned.

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Where now for Balls?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I thought Larry Elliot was in top form in yesterday’s Guardian when discussing how Labour should reposition itself in response to Coalition spending cuts.

(Just don’t keep mentioning the “R” word.)

The Speaker, Controversy and Parliamentary Reform

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

John Bercow is a controversial Speaker who seems to be rather good at alienating MPs, particularly his former colleagues on the Conservative benches.  The most notorious story last week was about Conservative MP Mark Pritchard refusing to make way for him with the immortal words “You are not f**king royalty.”  This enlightening incident, and the raft of other accusations faced by Mr. Speaker Bercow, are covered in this article in the Independent by Sarah Sands.  But while much of this is entertaining, it would be foolish to ignore Bercow’s real value to both parliament and politics students, which is as a genuine and convinced reformer.  His speech yesterday to the Institute for Government covered a number of key issues about the government’s proposed parliamentary reform.

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Parliament is not dead

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The House of Commons is regarded in comparative terms as one of the weakest legislatures in the world. Moreover it is argued that plans to cut the number of MPs will weaken it further since a higher proportion of MPs will be on the government payroll (so long as the number of ministers is not cut also).

Notwithstanding this, a major development in the ability of the House of Commons to scrutinise the executive is the introduction of departmental select committees in the UK in 1979. These non-partisan bodies can call for ‘persons, papers and records’ and can be seen to have resulted in more open government and act as a useful deterrent on an over mighty executive.  Peter Riddell has argued that select committees have ‘been a major factor in the opening up of the workings of government over the past twenty years’. 

And this week, according to the BBC website:

‘The scale of health reforms being made in England has taken the NHS by “surprise” and could threaten its ability to make savings, MPs say.

The Commons health committee has criticised the “significant policy shift” of scrapping primary care trusts and passing control of budgets to GPs.’

Therefore select committees continue to be a thorn in government’s side and there is a strong argument for strengthening their powers, especially given that we have a coalition government which has drafted policies that voters of the Conservative and Lib Dem parties didn’t know they were getting (most obviously the hike in tuition fees, which the Lib Dems pledged to oppose pre-election).

Forget the broken electoral system, what about broken promises?

Monday, January 10, 2011

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We all know Polly Toynbee isn’t the most unbiased commentator around, but she has shed light this weekend on the astonishing degree to which the current Conservative led government has backtracked on many of its promises.

U-turn if you want to, this Dave is for turning.

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FPTP - A “Broken” Electoral System

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A new report from the IPPR claims that the UK’s FPTP electoral system is fundamentally broken and “is likely to produce increasingly undemocratic results in the future”.  The IPPR analysis shows that the May 2010 general election was decided in just 111 constituencies by fewer than 460,000 voters – or 1.6 per cent of the electorate.

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Excellent EU 2011 overview

Thursday, January 06, 2011

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BBC Parliament broadcasted an excellent “The Record Europe” programme over the Christmas period. It is something of s shame that the EU has been trimmed from the AS course since I think it is a fascinating political project and in the UK there is a great deal of myth and propaganda about it.

This recording is on iplayer and features the normally controversial Nigel Farage.

If there isn’t time to squeeze it into lesson delivery then I think it is worth considering as an off syllabus project as part of a Politics Society feature. It might also interest Route D followers.

Watch it here.

A real alternative?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

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As a follow up to Owen’s earlier post, here are another couple of links to the AV issue.

I have been surprised by how many people are unaware of the referendums coming up later in the year. All the more surprising considering large numbers are (a) Politics students (b) eligible to vote in either of the polls (c) both!

Guardian overview of the IPPR report.

John Kampfner arguing the case for reform of fptp

So that’s the AV vote, but what’s the other one? The clue is in the picture on this posting.  See here.

Edexcel AS Government & Politics - ExamBuster 2011

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The new, 2011 edition of our popular Edexcel AS ExamBuster is now available.  Comprehensively updated by author Mike McCartney, ExamBuster 2011 contains core material for the early questions, with comprehensive examples throughout. For the later sections of the Edexcel AS exams the guide provides the key arguments necessary to give candidates the toolkit required to construct answers to those questions posed in the exam hall.  In addition, the pack also contains important hints and tips on answer technique based on the past performance of candidates in the Edexcel examinations.  Highly recommended.

Order Edexcel AS ExamBuster 2011

Download sample pages

Pressure groups and democracy

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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The best and worst of pressure group behaviour cropped up recently in two contrasting stories. The first is about the human rights group Equal Love. the second is about the UK’s biggest union, Unite.

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No, Prime Minister: a new road map for government

Friday, December 17, 2010

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Whilst this week’s announcement that Gus O’Donnell, the UK’s most senior mandarin, we have a draft Cabinet manual in circulation doesn’t bring us any closer to codification of the constitution, it does offer lots of interesting source material on what government is and does.

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AS Politics update: internal Tory divisions

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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News of a possible rift between two of the Conservative Party’s big hitters as emerged recently, with Theresa May, the Home Sec, apparently at odds with Ken Clarke’s Justice Department and plans to cut prison numbers.

See more here

AS (and UK Issues) Politics update: Labour opposition to Tory education policy

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Political parties is often one of the most challenging parts of the UK Politics course, and with the first coalition for 70 years, a new government and opposition leader combined for the first time in 13 years parties are certainly in a state of flux (and a topic which therefore what John Reid would call “permament revisionism”).

One of the most high profile areas where the main parties are split is over education. This is a policy area which students have an obvious interest in and could form a significant chunk of material in parties answers given its especially high profile over recent times. This entry signposts some articles on policy differences between the Con-Libs and Labour.

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AS Politics update: Parliament

Monday, December 13, 2010

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A couple of recent examples from today’s paper have cropped up in respect of the relationship between the legislature and the executive.

A major development in the ability of the House of Commons to control the executive is the introduction of departmental select committees in the UK in 1979.  These non-partisan bodies can call for ‘persons, papers and records’ and can be seen to have resulted in more open government and act as a useful deterrent on an over mighty executive.  Furthermore, the Prime Minister is now called to answer questions twice a year by the Liaison Committee. Peter Riddell has argued that select committees have ‘been a major factor in the opening up of the workings of government over the past twenty years.’  Successes include:
o Blowing the whistle on the government’s Arms-to-Africa affair in 1999 by the Foreign Affairs committee
o A scathing attack on transport policy in 2002, and in 2005 the House of Commons Select Committee covering the work of the ODPM has criticised the work of the department calling it ‘ineffective’. 
o In July 2007, the constitutional affairs committee concluded that following a series of controversies the role of the Attorney General was ‘not sustainable’ and should be reformed.
o In October 2006, a report from the powerful Public Accounts Committee (which predates the 1979 committees and is traditionally headed by a member of the opposition) claimed that a shortage of high quality head teachers was to blame for at least a million children being taught in ‘second-rate’ schools.

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Rebels, rebels. The party’s a mess. AS Politics update: effectiveness of Parliament

Friday, December 10, 2010

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When considering how effectively Parliament performs its functions, it’s worth giving careful consideration to the increased independence of MPs. Yesterday’s vote on tuition fees should work as a good example for students given that it was the biggest parliamentary rebellion in Lib Dem history.

This is what I’ve written previously:

• The idea that MPs are simply lobby fodder has been challenged in recent times, and it can be argued that this picture is misleading. New research on the voting behaviour of coalition MPs suggests rebellion is at a postwar high. In the last parliament backbench rebellions began to cause government major headaches, and the party whipping system did not seem as strong as has traditionally been the case. The rebellions clearly went beyond the usual suspects given that 112 Labour backbenchers went against the government at least once – this was nearly one third of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Reporting on research by Phil Cowley at the University of Nottingham the This week the Guardian reported that Con-Lib MPs have gone against the whip on the majority of votes:
o “Backbench rebellions against the government have been more frequent in this parliament than any since the second world war, according to new research, with 59 rebellions out of the first 110 votes. This is double the rate during the last Labour government and almost nine times as frequent as the post-war average, suggesting for some MPs rebellion against the coalition is becoming a habit.”

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AS Politics: constitutional reform update

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

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Promises made by leaders in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay that the devolved governments will pay for the proposed hike in tuition fees have led some to argue that we are witnessing the development of educational apartheid.

This latest controversy gives us a chance to revisit the debate on devolution.

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Pressure groups update: students and young people

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

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The recent wave of protests over student fees and allegations of tax avoidance by some of the UK’s most famous corporations make it a good time to revisit questions about pressure groups and democracy.

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AS politics: election systems update

Sunday, December 05, 2010

“image” I’ve just been doing some research on the arguments for and against the alternative vote.

This is a summary of my initial findings. I also link to some resources.

It’s not an exhaustive account of the debate, but makes a good starting point if you are looking to integrate the potential introduction of AV for Westminster into your essays on ditching fptp.

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The price of a vote in 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

Some fascinating data here from the Electoral Commission which has published details of party expenditure on the 2010 General Election.  Taking a simple average of amounts spent divided by votes won, the campaign cost Labour an average of just 93p per vote, whereas the high-spending Tories gathered only one vote for every £1.54 they spent. The Lib Dems were particularly frugal, spending 70p per vote gained. What would be even more interesting would be to see what the “per vote gained” cost was in the key battleground marginals…

The student protests and civil liberties

Friday, November 26, 2010

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I have no doubt that blog readers have been following the student protests about the proposed tuition fee hike and plan to end the EMA closely (indeed many of you may well have taken part).

The issue raises all sorts of questions about the state of democracy in the UK.

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Essential update: differences between Labour and the Conservatives

Thursday, November 25, 2010

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Can’t put a cigarette paper between them?

Whilst we are awaiting the outcome of series of Labour internal policy reviews by their new leader, Ed Miliband, we can still identify post election differences between the parties on issues from the economy to civil liberties

Here is an overview of some of those I have identified in recent months.

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More peers than MPs? Surely some mistake

Friday, November 19, 2010

According to guardian.co.uk:

“The controversy over honours for political benefactors was reopened today with the appointment of a clutch of party donors and political apparatchiks as working peers.

The millionaire car importer Bob Edmiston, who gave £2m to the Tories, the Conservative party treasurer Stanley Fink, and the Labour donor Sir Gulam Noon were among 54 new working peers announced by Downing Street today.

Howard Flight, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, and Tina Stowell, a former deputy chief of staff to William Hague when he was opposition leader, were also on the list.”

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To AV or not AV (that is one of the questions)?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Following the defeat in the Lords this week of a plan by the opposition to kill the government’s planned twin AV and constituency resizing bill, it looks more likely that there will be a referendum next May—only the second national referendum in the country’s history.

This means that consideration of the arguments for and against what the government plans are of increased importance. Voting reform can be a bit dry to newcomers, seeming like an unfortunate blizzard of systems and figures. But ultimately it comes down to what type of government, legislators and legislature we want. There is a fine balance between voter choice, representation, accountability and ease of use. So, of course, there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system given the competing and varied strengths they possess.

But I thought I’d draw your attention to a couple of articles by the Labour peer, David Lipsey, a man who served on the Jenkins Commission and is former deputy ed of the Economist. Both worth reading.

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Lords material

Saturday, November 13, 2010

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The status of Britain’s second chamber has been the very definition of a dilemma: a choice between two contrasting options, neither of which are ideal. It is impossible to claim it is a legitimate body when over 90 of its members are there by bloodline. Contrastingly, the best kept secret in British politics is that it actually does a very good job.

It is according to statistics, the most active second chamber in the world, sitting for longer and more frequently than anywhere else. Morover, it is impossible to question the quality of its output. A case in point comes this week with the publication of a cross party report which is scathing about the consequences of the current government’s plan to equalise constitutency sizes, slash the number of MPs and hold an AV referendum.

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I predict a riot

Friday, November 12, 2010

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This blogger has been largely useless with his political crystal ball. When asked I have offered the following predictions: David Davis would win the Tory leadership contest after the 2005 election; the Labour Party would look to skip a generation and choose Ed Miliband as leader of the party when Blair stood down; the Tories would win a comfortable majority at the 2010 election. Not a great record. But back in May 2010 I gave the view that later in the year we would see the angriest public protests since the Poll Tax riots in 1990. I wasn’t in central London this week, so I can’t say for sure if the sporadic violence was worse than what I witnessed at the anti-capitalist protests in May 2000. But it does raise a number of questions about pressure group activity.

The student protests can legitimately be defined as direct action given that activity moved from a march on the street into an attack on Tory Party HQ. Is this kind of activity democratic? On the one hand we can say it isn’t since violence can never be condoned and destruction of private property is anathema to the smooth running of a free market state. Further, the students cannot claim to be legitimately representing anyone, and the NUS leadership have refused to condone their behaviour.

On the other hand, there is a strong argument to say that students are raising awareness of an important issue: that future generations will have to bear the burden of mistakes made by bankers who, while not acting illegally, almost brought the global economy down.

Take your pick. But whatever you do, don’t use the same example when trying to present two sides of an argument. I know from experience that examiners hate that tactic. Either you agree with the student protestors, or you don’t. And I suspect that most readers do!

MPs are revolting (even more)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

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The idea that MPs are simply lobby fodder has been challenged in recent times, and it can be argued that this picture is misleading. New research on the voting behaviour of coalition MPs suggests rebellion is at a postwar high.

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Should murderers have the right to vote?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

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Students often state that one of the reasons Britain is not a true democracy is because prisoners don’t have the right to vote. This is true in the majority of cases, though convicts imprisoned for non-payment of fines do retain their voting rights.

The question of giving prisoners voting rights is an old debating chestnut. See here.

Yesterday the DPM, Nick Ckegg, went to the high court to lift the ban on prisoners, but as the Guardian reported he was looking for a way to avoid giving murderers, rapists, and other serious offenders voting rights. This has all come about as a result of a ruling by the ECHR in Strasbourg in 2005 which stated that Britain’s blanket ban was unlawful. So I guess this also serves as a good example of judges protecting civil liberties also.

This is a far cry from the USA of course, where a large number of states ban ex-felons for a period following their release. And in the state of Virginia, those convicted of a felony are banned for life! Many in the US see these types of policies as racist given the disproportionately large number of black prisoners, a significant number of whom are incarcerated as a result of the ramping up of drugs laws from the 1970s onwards. There’s a good webiste on the American debate called procon.org if readers want to pursue their interest in the debate further.

And in no way am I endorsing this, but Melanie Phillips has let go on the issue too.

A fresh look at the importance of PMQs

Sunday, October 31, 2010

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There’s a really good feature on prime minister’s questions in today’s Observer.

PMQs are seen by many as the high point of the parliamentary week, allowing the opposition a chance to try and catch the PM out with surprise questions, and have often led to heated debate.Margaret Thatcher as PM in the 1980s was known to prepare fastidiously for PMQs, spending as much as eight hours getting ready for what was then a fifteen minute slot. She put this work to good effect, managing to see off the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, in 1986 when she could have been vulnerable at the time of the Westland affair.

I would argue, however, that whilst PMQs may not serve as an especially useful mechanism for scrutinising the actions of the executive (select committees are much more effective), they can help colour our perceptions of the party leaders. And if the party leaders don’t perform confidently during the contest, and there are whispers throughout Whitehall about their leadership skills, then poor displays on a regular basis can make them extremely vulnerable. Someone once described David Cameron’s attacks when in opposition against Gordon Brown as having the effect of making the PM look like a wounded bear. And I would argue that this didn’t help protect him from the internal challenges he faced during the fag end days of his government - as revelations in the run up to the general election and afterwards would corroborate.

Read on for the link, and a couple of related exercises.

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The political compass

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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I think I blogged on this previously, but here is a reminder of a neat little exercise for teachers and students. It doesn’t take long, and proved highly popular with my students last year.

Here is the link.

Half Term reading

Monday, October 25, 2010

Here is a collection of some of the most interesting and/or thought provoking material I have come across over the past few days. The autumn break is always a good time to recharge the batteries, but it is also a good opportunity for students to expose themeselves to quality writing. I have become increasingly convinced that a regular diet of good article reading is fundamental to developing a proper understanding of politics.

First off, Martin Kettle argues that the Chancellor is a One Nation Tory. Some may argue the opposite, but Kettle produces some solid evidence.

A portrait of the First Lady.

From the Economist, a good piece on the importance of states. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it sometimes comes as a surprise to students that the single individual politician who most impacts on the day to day life of US citizens in policy terms is the state governor. I wish the US Politics syllabus would acknowledge this in some way, with more attention paid to state politics. Perhaps a case study on the politics of an indvidual state, varying from exam to exam?? Anyway, here is the link.

Lexington offers a feature on Obama and blue collar whites which suggests that while overt racism in the US is pretty much a thing of the past, the country is still divided by the issue.

A heads up on Will Hutton’s latest on fairness in the UK.

Where the (our) money goes

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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The Guardian continues to publish occasionally interesting graphics relating to government spending—at a time when this is obviously a bit of hot potato (note no ‘e’ fans of Dan Quayle).

In an echo of postings on the neighbouring Economics blog, shame that there is no accompanying graphic detailing where the money (public borrowing, direct versus indirect taxation [young people pay taxes too!], etc) comes from.

Anyhoo, here is the link.

Weekend selection

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here are my choices of the best articles for class discussion from the papers on Saturday and Sunday

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Power in the central executive territory

Saturday, October 16, 2010

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Questions about the Prime Minister and Cabinet are always popular. So for students looking to distinguish themselves and move into the top end of the mark scheme, recent examples are a must. I have written previously about the lack of illustration relating to the Brown era in exam answers, and where issues such as the three attempted coups or the frosty relations between Brown and Darling were used, students were invariably well rewarded. So looking ahead, examples from the Cameron government would also impress.

There is a good article about the negotiations being held which will lead up to the spending review announcement next week. I include some questions to go with it to highlight the main points.

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Prime Ministers are not like you and me

Thursday, October 14, 2010

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In the Guardian last Friday Simon Hoggart produced a few anecdotes about recent PMs, all taken from his new book “A Long Lunch”.

What Mrs Thatcher’s Husband, Denis, says about Canada is sure to make anyone laugh.

See the link here.

A Coalition that is Built to Last!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Last night I popped over to a talk by Adam Boulton - Political Editor of Sky News - given at our school’s political society. It was a fascinating hour in the company of one of the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to the hidden wiring of British politics. Here is a collection of some of my tweets

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Ed Miliband steps into the ring, but will he land a knockout blow?

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Does Ed Miliband have the arsenal to send Cameron into the ropes?

 

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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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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

Monday, September 20, 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!

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.

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