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.
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.
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.”
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?read more...»
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
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.read more...»
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.
A good example of pressure groups in action.
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
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.
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.
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
Futher to my posting yesterday about recent examples of pressure group activity, news from the BMA conference this week is worthy of note.
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.
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.
Just over 20 days left to catch More 4’s excellent behind the scenes documentary on Britain’s Supreme Court.
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.
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?
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.read more...»
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 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).
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.read more...»
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.
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!
So that’s the AV vote, but what’s the other one? The clue is in the picture on this posting. See here.
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.
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.
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.read more...»
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.
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.”
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.read more...»
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.
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
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.”read more...»
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.read more...»
Here is a post script to my previous entry on this site.
Forget slanging matches on the BBC’s Question Time, and questions about SC’s latest dress combo. Politics is about the efficacy of government and the inter-relationship and dynamics of the the structures it has in place.
Will DC’s plans to cut the number of MPs and also increase the number of Lords decrease the ability of Parliament to do its job effectively? And a piece from the same paper, but written by someone who knows a thing or two (!) about government and politics.
Here are links to two articles that say not. A piece from the Observer staff.
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.read more...»
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!
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.
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.
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.read more...»
A heads up on a great site for checking up on the ballot measures at next week’s polls (what one commentator is calling indecision day).
Interesting stuff. You probably know Californians will decide on marijuana use, but what about states considering a ban on affirmative action?
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 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.
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.
It would be natural to expect a posting about the CRS, but on backreading some copies of the Economist on my return to Blighty I have come across a Bagehot on the judiciary and thought I’d share it with you. It’s a good starting point for introducing what has traditionally been one of the darkest corners of the British politics syllabus.
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.
Here are my choices of the best articles for class discussion from the papers on Saturday and Sundayread more...»
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
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.
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?
Tonight’s London Evening Standard runs with a front page story reporting on how Boris Johnson has now officially announced he will stand for another term in 2012. This will likely mean a repeat of the 2008 contest, with a slightly rejuvenated Ken Livingstone odds on to be his opponent.
But away from the electoral politics, what can we say about the success of the office now a second man has taken the helm?read more...»
Accessing a quality daily is an absolute must for students new to the study of British politics. But from experience I know that students find it difficult to know what to focus on, what particularly useful articles or comment pieces look like compared to analysis that isn’t directly relevant to the course.
Here on the blog I will try to provide some direction.read more...»
A series in the Observer this week provides a rich source of material for teachers to plunder, or for students to use as part of a research exercise.
Once by far the least popular and most inaccessible topic, the judiciaryon the UK politics papers is attracting more, and better, responses.
Part of this, I am sure, is with the increasing role that judges have played in politics in recent years. It is now a much less dry topic than when I studied it at school, believe me.
Here are some further examples for students to get their teeth into.read more...»
If you are on the look out for resources, here is a list of British politics text books I found useful in teaching.
What does yesterday’s ruling by the High Court against Unite’s plans for a strike by British Airways workers tell us about judicial neutrality?read more...»
There’s an excellent pullout in today’s Guardian detailing the composition of government ministers.
You can also access a version online. Click here
As if recent cases by judges on civil liberties weren’t enough to convince students that the judiciary is far from the most boring topic on the AS syllabus (see my earlier posting on this), the Supreme Court yesterday did us a big favour in making one of the most controversial rulings by UK judges in recent history.
Indeed, were it not for the perfect storm that Nick Clegg seems to have found himself in I am sure this would have been much higher up the news agenda.read more...»
Further evidence that the judiciary can be engaging topic and one ripe for debate has cropped up just a few hours ago with news that Labour ministers and their counterparts on the opposition benches have turned DNA retention by the police into a political football.
You may remember that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in late 2008 that keeping the DNA details of innocent suspects was in breach of Article 8 of the rights convention, covering the right to privacy. In one sense this shows how the judiciary has sought to protect the rights of citizens, but the judiciary, of course, had no police force, and the government appealed whilst not altering policy. Hardly, therefore, very good protection.read more...»
Over the next few weeks I will try to provide important updates of examples that students can employ in exams.
First off, the always popular PM power debate. It’s incredible to think that about two thirds of the way through the current election campaign, Gordon Brown will have been PM for longer than John Kennedy was the American President. By my rough calculations JFK was President for 1036 days, and Brown has been in Number 10 for 1014 days. What’s my point? Brown often barely gets a mention in essays analysing where power lies within the core executive.
An article by Nicholas Watt in today’s Guardian got me thinking about how we can apply our wider reading in the exam hall.read more...»
During discussion on reforming the constitution, usually little attention is paid to reforming the powers and responsibilities of MPs. But creating a less executive dominated lower chamber would, it can be argued, lead to more effective legislation.
Late last year a new parliamentary committee was set up on Commons reform, chaired by Tony Wright MP. They came up with a series of recommendations, a summary of which can be found here.
According to the Guardian the main reforms are as follows: “The first is that the chairs of select committees should be elected by secret ballot of the house, and that committee members should be elected by secret ballot from within party groups. The second is that backbenchers should wrest a significant portion of the government’s power over the scheduling of business in the Commons. The third is that the public should be actively assisted to play a real part, including through the use of e-petitions, in setting the agenda for debate in parliament. All of these changes would weaken the power of the whips.”
And Henry Porter in today’s Observer reports on the arcane, but significant political battle on Standing Order 14.
The first in a three part series on the great departments of state kicked off on BBC4 last night. You can catch this one on the Home Office for the next 21 days on iplayer here. It really was a fascinating insight into the internal politics of Whitehall.
Next week’s is on the Foreign Office, it should be equally fascinating. Michael Cockerill is a great documentary maker.
A little while back I penned an article for t2u’s digital politics magazine outlining the steps that would need to be taken for electoral reform to become a reality for Westminster. In summary, these were: a possible hung parliament; a PM committed to change; a majority of Cabinet; MP support; safe passage through the Lords; and at some stage in all of this a plebiscite of the people.
Like an alignment of the stars, this seems to be taking shape.
Yesterday’s vote on a vote in the Commons on AV brings us closer to moving from simple plurality than at any stage in recent history.
The BBC has some great graphics on how a remodelled election would have played out over the past three decades. Useful stuff for considering the merits of change. From a personal perspective, this move by Labour continues the British tradition of tinkering with the constitution for reasons of short term political expediency. In other words, Brown is trying to cuddle up to the Lib Dems—a horrible image for all sorts of reasons.
I’m sure teachers of American Politics won’t need reminding about the virtues of watching the Daily Show, but students may need a gentle reminder.
The episode broadcast in the UK last night contained a hilarious analysis of Sarah Palin’s major speech at the Tea Party conference in Nashville. Palin is a phenomenon and never quite manages to steer herself away from unintended controversy. If you’re not sure what I’m on about watch a replay from the Channel 4 website. Of course, Jon Stewart is presenting from a left wing perspective and I share many of his personal biases, so it may not be to everyone’s taste!!
How successful has Obama been in delaing with Congress?
Listen to this audio clip from national public radio to find out!
From the BBC website.
A useful Q&A on electoral reform explaining the AV debate and providing an overview of the operation of the various systems used in the UK in plain English.
I’ll file this away for use when doing Unit 1 revision later in the year.
One of the constitutional reforms that gets little attention is directly elected mayors. A report from the New Local Government Network (NLGN) champions the idea for city regions.
More topical material on aspects of the UK judiciary this week as the first crown court trial without a jury goes ahead. As far as the government of the Uk is concerned, students could successfully use this as an example illustrating how judges fail to uphold civil liberties. Equally of credit would be a point to show that despite trial without jury justice is still being done.
The question asking about the extent to which judges protect civil liberties resurfaced this week as the European Court in Strasbourg (which is, of course, a non EU body) when judges ruled that the government’s s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was illegal.
There’s a great article in the xmas double issue of the Economist on the perils of direct democracy. A useful source of arguments and examples for those covering the UK and US participation in politics modules.
One of the main arguments against reform of Westminster’s electoral reform is that it would result in minority government, and this would lead to instability and breakdown. Well, Scotland has had a minority administration since 2007 so what has gone on there?
There are a raft of useful articles on party politics in the papers at the minute, and great as a basis for any media lessons.
In the Times yesterday they focused on the forthcoming Queen’s speech and the likelihood that it will kick off a massive political tussle over the coming months.
Polly Toynbee in the Guardian at the weekend penned an article calling for Labour MPs to do the honorable thing and force GB to step aside. There is a strong feeling in the Labour Party that the election may not be winnable with a new leader but the party is likely to suffer a crushing defeat if he remains in power. Toynbee suggests that it’s still all to play for if a new person gets in. See the article here.
Personally I have accepted that barring disaster David Cameron will be PM from May 2010 onwards, and that Labour should start preparing for life in opposition. At the moment there is no sense of what will happen next and the worry is that the party will lose direction. It’s happened before. Think Labour after 1979, or the Tories after 1997.
The BBC has launched a new online service that should make tracking politics on film easier.
There’s also a very useful section on the various governing institutions, what powers they have, and so forth.
I also came across a section on the online archives on Mrs Thatcher. Lots of clips and Panorama interviews that I once stored on VHS tapes.
...but keep the body.
Well that seems to be the message in relation to the House of Lords by the former judge Thomas Bingham in the Jan Grodecki lecture.
In short, Bingham argues that a way out of the constitutional impasse is to change the powers of the Lords so that it acts merely as a revising rather than reforming chamber.
The idea has some merit, I think. But perhaps only as a short term measure until Parliament can come to some sort of agreement about how to get the thing elected. A sort of Stage 2 as it were.read more...»
I receieved an email today reminding me of a couple of lectures from UCL’s Constitution Unit.
The Sun may have switched its support this week by backing the Conservatives, but another of the News International stable is far from convinced that the Tories offer a definig vision of what they would do in government.
It is an old truism that oppositions do not win elections, governments lose them, but voters need to be given a clearer idea about how the Tories would have governed differently from Labour and what direction a Conservative government would take. If this choice is not made clear, starting this week at the Tory conference in Manchester, we could see the gap between the two main parties close as the election battle gets more intense.
Gordon Brown, in a rather desperate last ditch bid to regain some ground on the Tories, announced a blizzard of specific policy announcements at conference this week.
The Guardian on Wednesday provided a summary. I am going to use this list to update my notes on whether Labour has abandoned its traditional principles.read more...»
The Times carried a special pullout section on the new UK Supreme Court yesterday.
The same info, including a little video, can be found here on the web version.
Unsurprisingly the papers have been dominated by reports linked to Labour’s conference in Brighton. For many activists and journos 2009 carries echoes of the Tories circa 1997 or Labour 1979 (though in both cases, no-one knew how bad it was to become) as the current government stare down the barrel of defeat and quite possibly years out of power that will be measured in double digits.
Grandiose debates about a potential realignment in British politics seem out of place after a shoddy conference by the Liberal Democrats.
The CBI’s report on funding of higher education throws up an array of possibilities as a teaching tool
On the UK front the papers seem to be dominated by analysis of the party political debate on tax and spending. For instance the Observer carries a front page story suggesting that the Tory attacks on Labour spending plans may backfire.
Here a Sunday Times editorial welcomes the development of a more open debate on the issue.
When it comes to American politics, coverage of the debate about Obama and racism dominates with acres of newsprint given over to this story.
Here Paul Harris reports from South Carolina, a state at the heart of the race row.
Keith Richburg, in an editorial piece, argues that Obama’s election victory is not proof of a post racial America.
Andrew Sullivan takes an in depth look at the race debate and outlines its significance for the Republicans.
Steve Richards, writing in today’s Independent, suggests that it’s possibly too late in the political cycle for the main parties to change their leaders or their policies. It’s a nice preview of how the months between now and the election will pan out. For instance, Richards predicts that Brown will go to the country in May—the implication of this, of course, is that many blog readers could be voting in their first general election sooner than they think.
I thought Professor Vernon Bogdanor was on top form last night at his Gresham lecture.
What caught my eye in the papers this morning was a very useful feature in the Indy outlining Labour and Tory policy, as well as possible changes, on public services.
The most informative articles from the weekend’s papers concern Gordon Brown.
Coming up this week in central London is a lecture by Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Politics at Oxford, and author of a new book assessing the impact and significance of the huge raft of reforms to our country’s constitution that have taken place in recent years.
This lecture forms part of the series of events taking place as part of the free public lectures programme from Gresham College.read more...»
Pressure groups is always a popular topic on Politics papers, most probably the number one topic on the syllabus when it comes to which question students will attempt in the examinations. One question to be considered is the extent to which these organisations have become more important in recent years. In tackling this question there is a worrying tendency for students to uncritically accept that their power is greater now than on the past, citing evidence such as a rise in membership of groups such as the RSPB.
But on the other side of the coin there has been a clear decline in power of the trade unions. Gone are the days when union barons would dictate industrial policy or bring the country to a halt (ok, Bob Crow’s RMT can bring parts of London to its knees but this is exceptionally rare and localised). When have you ever heard of the RSPB crippling the UK economy? Or when was the last time Britain was called the sick man of Europe because F4J members had refused to turn up for work?
There’s an excellent editorial piece in today’s Guardian which could act as a useful case study on pg power. Access it here.
I think that at this stage of teaching and learning in the British Politics course it is a case of looking for matches between what’s in the news and what the syllabus focuses on. It is unlikely there will be a question on the significance of the BNP in UK parliamentary politics, but we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the news that Labour have abandoned its boycott of the far right by agreeing to appear on Question Time alongside the BNP as directly relevant to certain aspects of the course.
I’ve noted on another posting that due to the challenges facing Barack Obama as President, it is an exciting time to be studying American Politics. Likewise on this side of the Atlantic given that we are due a General Election before the end of this academic year.
Many are predicting electoral wipe-out for the current government on the scale Labour faced in 1983 and the Tories on a similar scale in 1997. But a report in today’s Observer suggests that Gordon Brown may seriously consider promising a poll on electoral reform on the same day as the election as a means of minimising collateral electoral damage.read more...»
There’s lots of writing in today’s Guardian which overlaps with the kind of stuff that has been cropping up in discussion in my introductory lessons.
Here Michael White delivers a forensic, but short, analysis of what the future holds for the Green Party.
There’s a very useful section on the Guardian website which picks out the best political articles and columns.
I’ve just received news of an exciting opportunity to hear the deputy PM in all but name speak on the electoral challenges facing his government. Given that it’s this following Monday, It’s probably too short notice for our classes to make the trip into town given all the health and safety compliance that would need to be done. But one would hope that readers of the blog will be able to make it.
Read on for further details.read more...»
After a refreshing summer rest, the Politics blog will be back to daily postings of the latest updates relating to teaching and learning Politics.
First up is the Guardian’s take on a key topic in the Governing the UK papers at AS level, House of Lords reform.read more...»
A string of high profile civil servants have delivered evidence to a parliamentary committee that confirms what we have suspected for some time: decision making at the heart of government is no longer a collective process.
Details of national A level figures in today’s Telegraph suggest a recent surge of interest in study of Politics.
Should powers designed to fight terrorism in the wake of 9/11 be used on people as young as two years old?read more...»
There’s an interesting example in The Times about PM/Cab relations that I’ll be using when covering this topic later in the academic year.
Further evidence of Conservative Party modernisation came this week in a speech from George Osborne.read more...»
There is more quite worrying evidence of the draconian approach taken by the British state with regard to individual civil liberties in today’s Guardian. It’s a shame the judiciary is not a more popular topic on UK Politics papers since it is such a rich vein of material on the battle between the state and the individual.read more...»
The selection of the Tory candidate for Totnes has caused a bit of a stir since she was chosen by a novel system, an open ballot of all voters in the constituency. It has been argued that the American election process is more open and democratic since candidates are chosen away from smoke filled rooms by party bosses, and instead by a vote by registered voters.
Quite a few candidates at AS level have suggested this system as a means of improving UK democracy, but I have always been a bit sceptical since in UK parliamentary elections we vote for a party rather than candidate. Moreover, academic research suggests that people don’t want more involvement in politics. Ok, some do, but the majority are content to cast their ballot every few years so long as politicians can be trusted to work for the interests of the country rather than personal/professional gain.
So Sarah Wollaston’s victory has got political commentators quite excited and an editorial in the Times is enthusiastic about extending peoplr power in this way.
Peter Riddell is on board as well, and adds intelligent comment in his column.
Perhaps it is time to move away from formal, membership based parties to a system where people can register as supporters. This alongside extension of the primaries idea might be a shot in the arm for democracy at a time when trust in politicians is at its lowest possible ebb. And if it doesn’t work, e.g. if turns out that the novelty wears off for voters after a couple of ballots and the usual party hardcore wrestle back control, then at least there was an attempt to do something.
Ditto for the idea of televised debates by the party leaders, and the same goes for economics, and even home affairs.
Will economic downturn act as a catalyst for the UK to rethink its world role? Certainly that’s what a contentious piece in this week’s Newsweek contends.
Stryker Mcguire, who coined the phrase “Cool Britannia” in the mid nineties writes:
“Even in the decades after it lost its empire, Britain strode the world like a pocket superpower. Its economic strength and cultural heft, its nuclear-backed military might, its extraordinary relationship with America—all these things helped this small island nation to punch well above its weight class. Now all that is changing as the bills come due on Britain’s role in last year’s financial meltdown, the rescue of the banks, and the ensuing recession. Suddenly, the sun that once never set on the British Empire is casting long shadows over what’s left of Britain’s imperial ambitions, and the country is having to rethink its role in the world—perhaps as Little Britain, certainly as a lesser Britain.”
This topic doesn’t bolt onto the Politics syllabus in any way, but it is a thought provoking article and should be considered by those who want to extend their politics knowledge.
There are obviously no lessons at the minute since we are bang in the middle of the summer break, but I thought I’d draw your attention to a piece that would be surefire favourite for the Media Monday sessions. It is packed full of detail and analysis on the factors that determine the success of a presidency. I intend to put it to one side until it comes to teaching this topic later in the year.
Constitutional reform was very much a first term project for New Labour, testament to the fact that Tony Blair had inherited much of the reform package from his predecessors as Labour leader. But soon we shall witness one of the changes to the furniture of government that will bring the UK into line with many other liberal democracies, when the highest court in the land is finally divorced from the legislature.
One of the more arcane methods MPs can use to scrutinise the government are Early Day Motions. The BBC’s World at One did a great piece recently on the campaign to scrap them.
Further to an earlier posting, I have details of the report I set for my post AS groups entitled “A political introduction to America”. Participation was voluntary and the quality of entries was high.
Congratulations to Rebecca Salkeld, who in 2,000 words produced an excellent piece that is as good as could be expected from a candidate who has only been studying US Politics for a couple of weeks.
Rebecca’s submission is posted below, and the Amazon vouchers will be winging their way to her email account soon.read more...»
If you want to keep up with the latest phoney election war ins and outs, then Simon Carr in today’s Indpendent makes it relatively painless.
The Politics Blog has taken on something of a US Politics slant, but in its defence it is a process of its contributors following not just their interests, but paralleling what they are doing in the classroom. You may be aware that blogs with a different orientation will be up on the T2u site soon, and hopefully that will help satisfy demand. But in the short term I would draw your attention to an excellent piece by the Indy’s Hamish McRae. Students often ask about whether politics or economics is more important in shaping world events, and that’s a tricky one to answer in absolute terms. At the moment, the economy is certainly driving politics. It is the downturn in the economy that have changed Gordon Brown’s fortunes, and the anger over MPs’ expenses is a manifestation of the inability of government to keep to its ridiculous end to boom and bust promise. The status of the economy also determines the rather puerile debate going on at the minute between the two main parties over projected spending beyond the end of this Parliament. The fact is that no one knows for sure how much money will be in Treasury coffers and politicians are obviously too scared to say as much.read more...»
Well, maybe readers of the blog will be disinclined to splash out on these fairly expensive hardback (which may or may not be prime examples of price discrimination) versions. But they are a pointer towards some of the best of the new releases. And you could always urge your teacher or librarian to order them before the paperback is released.
I picked up a copy of Justin Webb’s “Have a Nice Day” at the weekend, which lays out a forceful and intense case for what can be considered positives about the modern USA.
I know many blog users will feel that they have left British politics behind with the end of the AS exams, but I would hope that studying the subject has left them with a long term interest in the politics of the country and they have not viewed the course in purely utilitarian terms, i.e. as the path of least resistance towards a decent examination grade. As one of my students said when I informed a class that the A2 course we are studying is purely American, “So we’ve stopped doing British politics just when it was getting interesting!”. Well, the story I’ve come across today is too good to put to one side since it gives the lie to the idea that the office of the Prime Minister has become one where the occupant is somehow all powerful.read more...»
I have come across a useful page on the BBC containing a series of short videos on the challenges facing Obama as President.read more...»
In an echo of the MPs’ expenses scandal I have been swamped with requests by students about how reports about Obama’s health care plans can be rolled into US politics exam answers.
I’ve put together a list of resources on President Obama. This could be accessed by students or teachers for a host of purposes.read more...»
Donald Dewar, the chief architect of Scottish devolution, is reported to have said that devoution is a process, not an event. News emerging this week serves only to confirm this.read more...»
Friday’s Guardian has a double page wallchart of the new government. It is also available as a pdf - looks nice slotted into student folders.
I’m a Cabinet minister get me out of here! She fell before she was pushed. Is this the most desperate act in the dying days of the Labour government? You decide!read more...»
The constitutional reform bandwagon rolls on, but here’s an impressive authority to quote in essays on this topic…read more...»
There is lots of good writing about at the minute on this topic and reading these articles makes a welcome break from the revision process. Many of these articles will be plundered for future editions of tutor2u’s exambuster and one of them will become a staple feature of future lessons.read more...»
Ben Franklin is reported to have said that two things are certain in life, death and taxes. We could add a further certainty: if a PM/Cab questions comes up in AS exams it will be the most popular response. Here is a quick note about GB.read more...»
How helpful of Barack Obama to nominate his first Supreme Court appointee and thereby dominating the US political news agenda at a time when so many students on this of the Atlantic are likely to be revising the topic for their exams.read more...»
It has been encouraging to see so many candidates employ recent events in their answers in this summer’s exam session. Evidence has been particularly strong in questions on parties and/or democracy. Here is a pointer to some excellent comment on the recent constitutional reform packages touted by the various party bigwigs in the past few days.read more...»
It seems very much like a case of if it’s Tuesday it must be Cameron’s turn. But the Tory leader’s announcement on constitutional reforms provides a rich vein of material for those studying for the UK government papers.
Lots of good politics in today’s papers, principally in relation to Alan Johnson’s letter to the Times about the need to hold a referendum on electoral reform alongside the vote at the next General Election.read more...»
Geoffrey Wheatcroft has penned a must read article on the role of the House of Commons in today’s Guardianread more...»
Barack Obama’s worst defeat so far as President is a perfect illustration of the separation of powers and checks and balances in action.
The 10th anniversary of the first round of elections to the new devolved arenas in Scotland and Wales passed by earlier this month, and the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament reconvening after a gap of nearly 300 years happens next month.
A whole clutch of news outlets have considered the impact of a decade of devolution and a browse through any of the special reports would help consolidate understanding on this topic.read more...»
I’ve had a few questions from my groups about the significance of recent events in Parliament and how important it is that they write about it in the forthcoming exams.read more...»
This posting draws your attention to a new story about how the HRA has been employed by judges to strengthen rights protection. There is also a lengthy revision note about how the HRA has impacted on the judiciary.read more...»
Official government research indicates that CCTV has made a minimal impact on crime preventionread more...»
Fathers4Justice is a student favourite when it comes to pressure groups, and they are often highlighted (wrongly) as an example of the effectiveness of direct action. This form of activity is inevitably a sign of weakness rather than strength and there is no evidence of F4J having changed the law on access fathers are granted in custodial disputes.
Pressure groups are said to boost democracy by having an educative effect and raising awareness about important issues. But here F4J may in fact be guilty of distorting the democratic process…read more...»
The MPs’ expenses row has thrown up a lot of intelligent comment about the purpose of MPs and the role of the legislature in the democratic process. It is this author’s view that lots of MPs do work hard and perform an effective role, but it’s just that the good work they do does not involve legislating or (with the possible exception of some select committee work) checking the executive. MPs do work hard in representing their constituents and often serve as a last resort for frightened and frustrated individuals. Henry Porter in the Observer writes at length about how ineffective MPs are as legislators. Useful reference material when considering the extent to which Parliament performs its functions effectively, or even in considering the relative effectiveness of legislatures from a synoptic perspective.read more...»
Continuing a theme for this week, here is a quick revision note and reference to a recent example on Individual Ministerial Responsibility.
The MPs’ expenses scandal has led to Shahid Malik stepping down as Justice Minister. He has not made a mistake in his ministerial role per se but the Ministerial Code of Conduct that all members of government are expected to abide by has been breached - the code dictates that minsiters must not use their position for financial advantage.
Personally there is something ironic about Malik here. A couple of weeks ago I heard him defend the many hardworking MPs who did not engage in expenses fiddling at a conference on democratic engagement. Anyway, back to where this fits into the Politics syllabus…read more...»
In the run up to the exams, the Politics blog will seek to provide some help by uploading details of recent examples of political activity that can be used in the exam hall, or the odd revision note.
Here is a quick update on a story some of you may have noticed in the press, but may not have realised it is an important example of how Parliament can check the executive.read more...»
It may be exaggerating matters to talk about a red flag flying over Number 11, but there is a strong argument to say that this year’s Budget is the final nail in New Labour’s coffin
By my calculation Obama’s 100 days will occur next Wednesday. In the run up a number of publications are analysing his policies. In today’s Independent Rupert Cornwell (arguably one of the most informed sources on US politics writing for a UK source) takes a lokk at his foreign policy. Lots of useful content for students and teachers covering presidents and foreign policy for the summer.read more...»
They are both high profile victors in cases involving the Human Rights Act
‘The Westminster Gravy Train’,
Dispatches, Channel 4, Sunday 19 April 2008, 7pm, looks at MP’s expenses
What is the ex-Prez up to these days?
Two great columnists sure to widen and deepen your knowledge of inside the beltway politicsread more...»
The Damian McBride affair has shed the spotlight on the murky world of special advisers.read more...»
Many students write that American parties are catch-all or umbrella organisations
New Labour’s record on civil liberties has suffered an assault equal to what campaigners say our liberties have. Is this criticism overdone?