Mike Simpson (Bradford Grammar School) looks at the continued decline of individual ministerial responsibility and the traditional principles of the Civil Service.
A printable version of this article appears in the latest edition of FPTP - tutor2u's digital magazine for AS & A2 Politics students.
An imaginative way of explaining the Alternative Vote system here with an animal-themed context!read more...»
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.read more...»
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.
David Cameron's Speech on Europe at The Bloomberg building, promises an In Out Referendum (BBC coverage here), but firstly can he keep his Coalition together, avoid more splits in The Conservative Party then win a General Election, all of which are big assumptions. Labour have to work out if their General Election campaign can really oppose a popular vote on Europe. Does it kill the UKIP fox, wait and see. If Labour won The next General Election, would Ed Miliband make sure that there is no return to Bloomberg and bust?
In the flurry of excitement around the re-election of Barack Obama many of you may have not noticed that many States in the US also voted on a raft of initiatives that were put before the electorates of these States.read more...»
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.
Where do you stand on the political spectrum? How do you work out what is left and what is right? You have read about The Right or The Left, but how do you try to differentiate between them.read more...»
The recent ‘cat fight’ over the Human Rights Act sparked by Teresa May at the recent Tory conference and then fuelled by Ken Clarke’s response [referring to May’s assertion as “laughable child-like”] has caused something of a storm in a tea cup. However, it does raise the issue of how well protected are our rights? Will we see the HRA be swept aside in a simple swipe of Tory pique and excercise of parliamentary sovereignty? Hence, the debate of whether we in fact need an entrenched Bill of Rights is again relevant.
The most amusing reporting of the ‘cat-atrophic’ fur fetched’ tale comes from Guido Fawke’s:
Claws For Moment: It never goes well when a politician utters the words “I am not making this up”. Often it turns out they are and Theresa May’s anecdote about a man not being deported because he had a cat is no exception. Larry the Cat may have been left at No. 10, but conference suddenly went cat-tastic. It’s the purrfect story for a subdued conference, and the tabby-loids are all over this fur-fetched tail. Cameron will be fur-ious, but Guido reckons she’ll get away with it, by a whisker and she can claw back her reputation . We will now take a paws from the cat puns.
Today’s Huffington Post has an interesting follow up article “ Human Rights and Cat Fights - The Calls for Reform Must not be Silenced”, which asserts
It would be, to coin a phrase, child-like to summate the debate around the Human Rights Act as one between those in favour of protecting human rights in law, and those against doing so.
Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, has come under increased pressure this weekend regarding the behaviour of his close friend Adam Werritty.
This is an opportunity to revisit the politics of ministerial resignations, a very common Unit 2 topic. I include a study note on ministerial responsibility with this story .read more...»
The ‘10 year anniversary’ of the war in Afghanistan has put the Taliban into the spotlight oncemore, not least given recent events such as the breakdown in possible talks with the Taliban, the recent assination of a former Aghan president and the activities of the Haqqani network. The Taliban are of interest in relation to the Global Issues course both in terms of how the character of modern conflict has changed in terms of ‘new’ wars in terms of being a non-state internal actor and the nature of insurgency itself; however, they are also of interest in terms of the rise identity politics in terms of their stress on Pushtun identity and adherence to a fundamentalist view of Islam.
Here are a few useful resources:
1. Podcaste of an interesting BBC Radio interview with Ahmed Rashid (Pakistani journalist and author of the excellent ‘Descent into Chaos’ addressing the issue of ‘Can the Taliban return?’
2. BBC - Success of the Taliban - looks at how a rag tag militia have turned into a .successful guerilla army mounting an intractable insurgency.
3. BBC: Who are the Taliban?
Of interest to Global Issues students will be the ‘targeted killing’ of the radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike. Such measures are a part of counterterrorism strategy and operations; however, while US policy makers may tout this as a victory in the ‘war on terror’, the episode highlights controversial aspects of the expanding targeted killing policy.
The CFR has the following comment:
‘The targeted killing of al-Awlaki eliminates an inspirational and charismatic voice of al-Qaeda, as well as someone who U.S. officials asserted was playing an increasing operational role. However, like most targeted killings, it probably will not make much difference in reducing the ability of al-Qaeda or affiliated groups in mobilizing, recruiting, and planning terrorist operations. In addition, it calls to mind a similar targeted killing that occurred almost nine years ago, which is illustrative to remember as U.S. officials—anonymously of course—condone al-Alwaki’s death.’
Of interest may be an earlier blog post which coincided with the Yemen ‘Christmas Cargo Bombplot’:
Global Issues: Terrorism ~ Bomb Plots, Yemen and AQAP
For more on the story here are a few BBC links:
Obama: Anwar Al-Awlaki death is major blow for al-Qaeda
Obituary: Anwar al-Awlaki
Profile: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
The foreign policy think tank has a useful backrounder on the controversial and seemingly more common practice of ‘targeted killings - click here.
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…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
Gerrymandering during the process of redistricting that takes place every ten years has been criticised for decreasing the responsiveness of legislatures to the needs and wants of America as a whole, and instead reinforcing partisanship, and clogging up democracy.
The state of California has just enacted a new proposal whereby an independent body redraws district boundaries rather than the politicians themselves. This could open up elections to genuine competition and act as a template for other states in the US.
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.
If you are doing OCR’s comparative paper, answers on the role of judges in different political systems can be developed impressively with reference to the ECJ and ECHR. These are frequently confused and assessment of their role can lack depth.
The Charlemagne column in the Economist provides a handy overview of their place in Europe, with excellent examples and analysis.
This is a reposting of a blog entry I put up in January of 2008. The basic framework still applies, and maybe as a revision exercise students could update the arguments with a more recent example or two!
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...»
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.
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...»
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.
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 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...»
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.
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!
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.
Here are my choices of the best articles for class discussion from the papers on Saturday and Sundayread 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.
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...»
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...»
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.
This five minute discussion on the Radio4 Today programme introduces the concept of deliberative democracy - an approach to policy-making which is relatively new to the UK.
I wonder if this clip by Tim Harford will provoke debate among students about race, whether in the UK or the USA.
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.
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.
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 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...»
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.
Today marks one of the most significant points in recent US history, and an event that has largely been overlooked due to the current economic crisis.
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.
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...»
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...»
A fascinating interview with the MPs expenses scandal whistleblower from the Telegraph.read more...»
Geoffrey Wheatcroft has penned a must read article on the role of the House of Commons in today’s Guardianread 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...»
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...»
New Labour’s record on civil liberties has suffered an assault equal to what campaigners say our liberties have. Is this criticism overdone?
The tactics used by the police during the G20 demos raise important questions about the right to protestread more...»
The G20 summit in London on 2 April is likely to attract widespread protestread more...»
An important topic for discussion if you are looking at civil liberties, the judiciary, or constitutional reformread more...»
An area not covered by some Politics courses is the issue of quangos. These non departmental public bodies are a source of great controversy since they are unelected and therefore unaccountable, and spend a great deal of public money.read more...»
I’ve chosen this story as my backup for discussion for my Media Monday sessions, presuming perhaps that students may come prepared with stories about events in Ulster.
The pick of the weekend’s press coverage of the latest developments in British politics has to be the focus on rights and liberties. The current government has shown something of a split personality when it comes to civil rights. On the one hand it has passed the Human Rights Act, but on the other has passed a raft of legislation that has been used to (deliberately or not) severely curtail liberties. Of course, the Tories before them were not exactly guilt free. Here we could think of death on the rock, union bans at GCHQ, Spycatcher, banning illegal raves (identified as events where “music with a repetitive beat” is played). But people from across the political spectrum (except Labour ministers) have expressed grave concerns about erosion of rights and liberties that took years of effort to establish have been swept away by government since 1997. This weekend a series of events launched by the Convention on Modern Liberty took place throughout the UK. According to the Observer, the event was the biggest convention on civil liberties ever held in Britain. Is this a sign that people are no longer satisfied to watch us sleepwalking towards a police state?read more...»
It has been reported in the press this week that a landlord is fighting the police over their insistence that he install CCTV cameras in his pub. Elsewhere doctors have spoken out against governmennt plans to widen access to medical records to all Whitehall departments. These two events come in the week that a House of Lords committee published a damning report on the threat to liberty brought about by the development of a surveillance state. A great site for exploring the latest news on attempts by the state to erode the liberties of the people living in the oldest parliamentary democracy, the land of Locke and Mille is here.
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.read more...»
Direct action events such as the recent Heathrow airport ‘flashmob’ protests lend weight to the argument that pressure groups are instruments which reinforce democratic pluralism. However, there is a disturbing report in the Observer about the emergence of a revolving door involving former Labour government officials and the BAA.read more...»
For the past few weeks I have been trying to drum up support among students for political parties. They are the lifeblood of democracy, I say. The whole British political system could be considered and analysed through the prism of political parties, I plead - in a poor attempt to foster genuine enthusiasm. As a desperate measure I put it to them that there is no better time to be studying parties than at any time since the emergence of New Labour - or, arguably, since the ideological wars of the early 1980s.
But fellow Edexcel Unit 1 examiners should expect the usual flood of responses on pressure groups and election systems. For, I think, I have failed. Parties just don’t do it. But in some ways, who can blame our young charges when our political leaders shed more heat than light on the major issues facing our country todayread more...»
Today’s Independent has a quite horrific story on its front page about government plans to allow departments and agencies to share information on UK citizens. It starts:
‘Personal information detailing intimate aspects of the lives of every British citizen is to be handed over to government agencies under sweeping new powers. The measure, which will give ministers the right to allow all public bodies to exchange sensitive data with each other, is expected to be rushed through Parliament in a Bill to be published tomorrow.’
Given the government’s appalling record of keeping personal data safe this should be a cause of concern to us all. Further, the article suggests that some way down the line the government could plan to sell off the information to private companies without the need for Parliament’s approval. Lots of material here as part of consideration of whether Britain is a true democracy.
There’s also a good example of pressure groups, since No2ID are mentioned in the article as well.
As a follow up to an article in first past the post about the extent to which blacks have achieved political equality now that they have elected their first ever black president, I was going to do a further one about the self congratulatory state America has got itself in. How many times have we heard that only in America can any child grow up believing that they could one day be in the White House? Or that Britain could never have a black Prime Minister any time soon.
But Matt Frei, the BBC American correspondent, has done an excellent overview of the issues on the BBC blog.
Before going on to read it, I would ask readers to consider a couple of points. First, Britain elected a female premier in 1979. Second, how many African Americans will there be in the Senate after Obama is sworn in as president?
Read Frei’s article here
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.read more...»
During one of our Media Monday sessions this week we discussed the appointment of Peter Mandelson to the Lordsread more...»
It seems like not that long ago that Blair’s New Labour cemented its postion as the new elite force in British politics. Now serious journalists are suggesting that whilst it is too soon to pronounce the project as dead, it is on the way out. Further, it seems intent on auto-administering a lethal injectionread more...»
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
I am a huge fan of the Big Question series in the Independent. These articles condense the nuts and bolts of topical issues onto one page, and recent features have covered everything from illegal downloading to the history of Batman. The Indy usually throw in a few politics ones as well! Today’s considers whether human rights have improved in the run up to the Olympics in Beijing. As you will know from one of my previous blog postings, this was one of the promises of the Chinese government on winning the 2008 bid, but many human rights campaigners have been frustrated by an apparent lack of progress.read more...»
Whilst scanning the Guardian site for updates on the American election I came across a couple of fascinating reports that I think will be of interest to those who want to understand what America isread more...»
Another plan for Lords reform has been published. But yet again there appears to be little political will behind the idearead more...»
Are tales of legislative decline exaggerated?read more...»
MPs and your right to knowread more...»
This entry on the results of the London elections adds to previous postings examining the workings of the Supplementary Vote and Additional Member Systemread more...»
Today democracy was the topic of discussion at one of our school’s PSHE sessionsread more...»
It has been suggested to me that there is a gap in the AS revision guide in the shape of a section focusing on direct democracy. Here, largely on the basis of a reworking of the section on referendums in the guide, the blog fills that gap. Happy revising!read more...»