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Reshaping Britain - an student take on post-referendum Britain

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Scottish Referendum has been and gone but the question of how the UK regions evolve politically is now a very hot topic indeed.  I was contacted by a Government and Politics student from Barnard Castle School in County Durham called Oliver Larcombe, who along with his friend Ben, have written a paper about how the UK's constitutional and electoral map could be altered to encompass the greater sense of local autonomy that is growing.

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The West Lothian question

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tam Dalyell explains the basis for the West Lothian Question

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Reappraising the House of Lords

Monday, January 13, 2014

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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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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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.

Revision Update: UK Judiciaries and Rights

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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: 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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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.

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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Introduction to AS: constitutional change

Thursday, September 15, 2011

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

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

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.


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.


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

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Constitution Unit website - a great resource

Thursday, July 07, 2011

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.

Lords: time for a change?

Monday, June 27, 2011

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


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

US federalism

Thursday, June 16, 2011

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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Impact of the Human Rights Act

Saturday, May 14, 2011

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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Have post 1997 constitutional reforms been a success?

Saturday, May 07, 2011

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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European judges

Friday, February 18, 2011

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

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

Here is the link.

Nick’s journey

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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

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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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).

A real alternative?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

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.

No, Prime Minister: a new road map for government

Friday, December 17, 2010

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: constitutional reform update

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

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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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 student protests and civil liberties

Friday, November 26, 2010

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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More peers than MPs? Surely some mistake

Friday, November 19, 2010

According to

“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

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

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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The Case Against AV and Abolishing the Lords

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010

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

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Crikey! More Boris

Friday, September 10, 2010

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

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

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Connecting between class and the media

Thursday, September 09, 2010

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

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

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Politics Classroom Posters - Devolution

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This new classroom poster set focuses on the topic of devolution and covers:

- The difference between devolution and federalism
- Origins of devolution
- Devolution - powers and responsibilities
- Devolution in action - positives and negatives
- Impact of devolution on British politics
- Future of the UK as a unitary state?
Order the Devolution Classroom Poster set here

Great resource on Con-Lib coalition so far

Monday, August 02, 2010

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.

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Referendums in the United Kingdom

Friday, May 21, 2010

The House of Lords Constitution Committee’s Twelfth Report focused on Referendums in the United Kingdom and this document provides a wealth of background information for teachers and students.

Judges and rights exam update - contains link to excellent revision source

Thursday, April 22, 2010

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.

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Trust in Politics

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The BBC iplayer has an episode on Trust in Politics by Anthony Seldon.
We’ve lost trust in politics and only major reform of the system can restore it. Political historian Anthony Seldon believes the 2010 election could mark a turning point in our democracy, a moment to overhaul the way politics works and put trust into the heart of the system.
Looking back at four critical British elections, Anthony seeks ideas and inspiration for his own manifesto to rebuild trust and positively reconnect politicians with a disenchanted public. He tests his ideas in other professions and suggests how politicians and politics might change. But democratic renewal is a two-way street and Anthony emphasises ways in which we can all play a part in this process. With the help of leading historians, those familiar with the corridors of power and ordinary citizens determined to see change, Anthony finds energy, ideas and enthusiasm to restore and rebuild trust in politics.

Beefing up the Commons

Sunday, February 14, 2010

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.

Prospects for electoral reform, and a changed electoral landscape?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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.

A simple guide to electoral reform

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

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.

More mayors

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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.

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Judges and civil liberties

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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.

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Disadvantages of direct democracy

Monday, December 28, 2009

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.

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Politics Classroom Posters - UK Constitution

Monday, November 23, 2009

Many thanks to Rachel Fairhead for writing the first in a new series of classroom poster collections for AS/A2 Government and Politics…

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Useful Politics online resources on the BBC

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

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.

Off with their heads…

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

...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.

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Lectures on the constitution

Friday, October 09, 2009

I receieved an email today reminding me of a couple of lectures from UCL’s Constitution Unit.

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Supreme Court special

Friday, October 02, 2009

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.

Bogdanor on the constitution

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I thought Professor Vernon Bogdanor was on top form last night at his Gresham lecture.

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Free lecture on Britain’s new constitution

Saturday, September 12, 2009

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.

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Labour and electoral reform

Sunday, September 06, 2009

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.

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The blog is back

Monday, August 31, 2009

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.

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The government’s DNA?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

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.

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Supreme whimper?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

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.

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10 Years of the Human Rights Act

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Guardian is running a special report on ten years of the Human Rights Act - it can be found here

Politics summer reading: book reviews

Monday, June 29, 2009

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.

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Developments in devolution

Sunday, June 14, 2009

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.

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AS: constitutional reform

Monday, June 01, 2009

The constitutional reform bandwagon rolls on, but here’s an impressive authority to quote in essays on this topic…

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Revision reading: constitutional reform

Sunday, May 31, 2009

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.

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AS Revision: Constitutional Reform

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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.

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Electing and connecting

Monday, May 25, 2009

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.

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AS revision: devolution

Thursday, May 21, 2009

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.

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The wrong of rights?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An important topic for discussion if you are looking at civil liberties, the judiciary, or constitutional reform

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A decade of devolution

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My media Monday material is drawn from the rather excellent Total Politics magazine

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Devolution turns to drink

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

This story may appear elsewhere on the tutor2u website, but the politics of it are what we are concerned with here.  I have written previously about how Scotland has poughed a tartan furrow in a number of social and welfare policy areas (tuition fees, care for the elderly, etc) and this week the Scottish government laid out radical plans to tackle alcohol abuse.

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Bogdanor comments on UK constitution

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buried in the Education section of Tuesday’s Guardian is an interview with Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at Oxford.  Bogdanor is one of the most established authorities on the constitution and some of his observations are useful when considering the impact of constitutional reforms undertaken by Labour post 1997.

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First past the post

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


The new edition of first past the post, tutor2u’s digital Politics magazine, has been posted on the site. 

Given the importance of the recent American elections, there is a bit of a US slant, but there are great articles covering UK politics, the EU, UK issues, as well as political ideologies.

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The Big Question: House of Lords reform

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A great starting point for starting study of House of Lords reform is this feature in the Independent’s Big Question series.

Retaining the House of Lords


The recent cash for influence affair has lent further weight to the argument for introducing a fully elected second chamber.  Rachel Sylvester in the Times isn’t so sure:

‘It is fashionable to use the recent allegations to make the case for an elected House of Lords. But this would be yet another step down the road of creating a professional political class - precisely the thing the voters detest. There is a danger of ending up with an Upper House stuffed full of B-division apparatchiks who had failed to get a seat in the lower one. It is, after all, the professional politicians, rather than the Lords amateurs, who have caused all the recent problems.

I would prefer to see a house of appointed experts - some retired, some not - who could serve a fixed term. There is an appealing logic to the argument for an elected senate but, if enacted, the idea would turn out to be deeply flawed. Be careful what you wish for lest it come true.’


Why no Lords reform

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Sometimes there is little to report from the weekend’s press in terms of must read British Politics stories, but this weekend is the polar opposite.

There is an excellent article by Nick Cohen about how reform is driven by short term political expedeincy rather than long term thinking about the rational basis of change.

One to cut out and keep for when covering this topic.

Devolution disaster?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


To what extent does the current budget crisis strengthen or weaken the argument for devolution?

If you are behind the curve on this, the SNP government’s £33b budget for the next fiscal year was voted down by a coalition of Labour, Lib Dem and Green MSPs.  Now the Lib Dems have committed a volte face and are apparently back in negotiations with the SNP about overcoming the impasse.  The main Lib Dem sticking point was a 2p income tax cut the party wanted that the SNP would not agree to.  The Lib Dems may now be prepared to drop that as part of the deal.

If the budget fails a second time, then the government is expected to resign and fresh elections called.

As one of the blogger pointed out on the BBC website, Scotland has gone from a coalition government, to minority government, and now small parties are determining who governs.  Is this what the Scots wanted in a devolution settlement?  Something else to consider is whether this is the kind of shenanigans we would want in the Westminster Parliament - after all this is what a post PR world would probably look like.

The world’s most powerful man?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Listening to the radio this morning I heard a report on Barack Obama’s attempt to woo over Republicans to support his economic stimulus plan.  I thought that this would make an interesting story to relate to my British Politics students who have just started the Edexcel Unit 2 paper.

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Ken and Boris radio analysis

Thursday, January 08, 2009


It may be selfish of me as a Londoner to suspect that this programme will be of interest to those who live outside the capital, but I think that the office of London Mayor is politically significant for AS students.  The new London governing arrangements (in place since 2000) can be assessed alongside Labour’s other devolution measures in terms of their positive and negative impact.  There is also some scope here to analyse their impact in terms of whether City Hall helps to close the democratic deficit in the UK.

The blurb from the BBC states:

“Ken and Boris. If you’re in the UK, you almost certainly know who I am referring to and what they have in common.

That is one example of the impact having a Mayor of London has made in the eight years since the job was established. But Ken Livingstone and Boris
Johnson were certainly not who Tony Blair had in mind when he was converted to the idea of directly-elected mayors.

I can remember preparing for an interview with Mr Blair when he was giving a speech on the subject early in his premiership.

Who should slip in to see him, but Richard Branson.

He was much closer to Mr Blair’s ideal; a successful entrepreneur, unencumbered by the tribalism of party politics.

Instead, the job has been held by two maverick partisans.”

BBC Radio 4 on 8 January 2009.  I will try to post details of the podcast if there is one.

Single transferable vote

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I bet these three words had readers salivating at the prospect of what was to come.  Probably not.  I once made the mistake of admitting that I liked electoral systems as a topic.  My colleague showed no mercy.

Anyway, on my travels through electoral reform websites I have come across some computer generated graphical explanations.  Useful teaching aids.

STV explanation one

STV explanation two


Election systems

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My notes on the mechanics of the different systems we use to elect our representatives in the UK were getting a bit out of date, so with a scan through the Electoral Reform Society website and the BBC election results I reworked the exemplars.


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PR myths download

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I’m about to start teaching electoral systems after half term and a bit of research has uncovered this excellent pdf document from the Electoral Reform Society.  With a preface by Vernon Bogdanor it is an excellent teaching tool.  Find it here.  The ERS website, by the way, has been much updated and is well worth a look.

42 day detention blocked

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The financial crisis has kept this issue of the front pages, but yesterday the Lords rejected the government’s plans to extend detention without trial by 50% for terrorist suspects.  This shows that Lords can exercise real power, but it also raises questions about the will of an unelected part of the legislature.

It is also a controversial issue from the perspective of individual versus collective freedoms.  This is the currant bun’s reaction.

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Arise Lord Mandy

Monday, October 13, 2008

During one of our Media Monday sessions this week we discussed the appointment of Peter Mandelson to the Lords

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Devolution example

Saturday, August 30, 2008

More evidence of the policy divergence and development that can emerge from devolution came yesterday from the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, on climate change

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House of Lords reform: what’s the argument?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Preparing for the new term I came across this decent bit of material for and against reform of the House of Lords.  There’s probably enough here for an AS answer.  It’s part of a campaign which is a spin off of the Charter 88 people: unlock democracy

A Bill of Rights for the UK?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

MPs and peers have published a report this week calling for a UK Bill of Rights.  This serves as a useful basis for considering the effectiveness of Parliament, as well as the case for and against a Bill of Rights

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Was Ken’s flagship policy a mistake?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

News has emerged recently that traffic speeds in London are at about the same rate as pre congestion charge.

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A tale of two (second) chambers

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Marking the synoptic paper for the Edexcel American Politics route this summer I was struck by the extent to which students apparently feel that the US Congress is a far more effective institution than the UK Parliament.  Whilst it is undeniable that the American legislature possesses far more power, it is not necessarily the case that it exercises these powers more responsibly or intelligently than its UK equivalent.

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Boris hits 100

Monday, August 04, 2008

What impact has the Boris Johnson mayoralty had, and what does it say about the pros and cons of devolution?

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Stoking the fire of the Scottish independence movement

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I would hope that the Politics blog stimulates readers sufficiently to think about politics beyond being only an A level, and that there is some consideration of the significance of current events in shaping the way we are governed.  Today’s Guardian contains an article suggesting that the devolution plans that Labour introduced for purely political reasons have backfired on them.  But does this sort of comment really add much to the debate over our constitutional future?

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Developments in devolution

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Power sharing at Stormont is no panacea.  This posting considers increased fears about terrorist activity by republicans

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Scottish independence: the long and winding road

If you read the papers online you might have missed this insightful article by Robert Hazell, the Constitution Unit’s director, on the steps that would need to be taken to usher in Scottish independence.  It is buried away in the comment is free section of the Guardian

Read it here

Scotland is not irrelevant.  But it soon might be

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Sunday Times echoes my belief that at this very moment the Union is fragmenting beneath our feet.  This article is essential background for teachers and students on the impact of devolution

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Scottish independence in a decade?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In a follow up to one of my postings earlier this week, a political commentator for the Sunday Herald newspaper has written an article in today’s Guardian suggesting that Scotland could go its own way within the next decade.  I know I might come across as a bit obsessed by this issue, but the prospect of the end of the Union is a very real one and arguably the biggest constitutional issue in the UK

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New Labour’s legacy: the path to an independent Scotland?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tristam Hunt in today’s Guardian paints a picture which suggests that the end of the Union is in sight

When historians look back on what New Labour’s major achievement was it could be long term stability in Northern Ireland or the introduction of a new rights based culture alongside a more activist judiciary.  Or it could be that Tony Blair as PM, via the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament, was responsible for paving the way to the break up of Britain.

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Naked self interest over Lords reform

Monday, July 21, 2008

Great article on the mindset of Labour backbenchers and the importance they attach to reform of the upper house

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Oh lord.  Will we ever see an elected upper house?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another plan for Lords reform has been published.  But yet again there appears to be little political will behind the idea

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hard-working world of a Westminster success story

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lord Norton of Louth - - writing in the Yorkshire Post—offers this stout defence of a rejuvenated House of Lords

“There are some very able, and some very eminent, people working away quietly in order to improve the quality of legislation and of public policy. Some may not be that well known outside the House, but what they do inside is significant – and worth commemorating.”

The rest of the article can be found here

Constitutional reform revision: freedom of information

Sunday, May 18, 2008

MPs and your right to know

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Devolution revision: differences in Scotland and Wales

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How has devolution been delivered in these two parts of the Celtic fringe?

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Devolution revision: West Lothian Question

Thursday, May 08, 2008

5 reasons why I think that this is a problem that has been overstated

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Devolution revision: the West Lothian Question

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Here we consider why the West Lothian Question can be considered a problem.  Later this week I will propose that it is perhaps an issue that has been overblown

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Electoral systems revision: outcome of London 2008

Sunday, May 04, 2008

This entry on the results of the London elections adds to previous postings examining the workings of the Supplementary Vote and Additional Member System

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Electoral systems revision: AMS in action

Friday, May 02, 2008

That the London Assembly is elected using the Additional Member System is little known or much misunderstood

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Electoral systems revision: Supplementary Vote in operation

Thursday, May 01, 2008

There is a strong possibility that in today’s London Mayor race second preference votes may well determine who gets to control City Hall for the next 4 years

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House of Straw

Monday, March 24, 2008

The front page of the Guardian today reports that the government is backing the introduction of a number of reforms to how we elect MPs.  Principal among them is the idea that the current first past the post voting system will be replaced with the alternative vote

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Should we have a fully written constitution?

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Independent yesterday ran an article and a leader on the issue of written constitutions following remarks from Justice secretary Jack Straw The main Independent article can be found here and the leader is here.

‘Bits and pieces of what comprise other countries’ national constitutions are scattered about in a host of different parliamentary Acts and legal judgments. There is no reason why they should not be assembled and condensed into a simple statement of rights, responsibilities and structures. A constitution can be seen as an integral part of being a modern state.’


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