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.
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.read more...»
With the GOP contest dangerously close to descending into what can only be desribed as a slanging match - e.g. see this story from the CNN website if you have not being watching the goings on closely - I have taken the opportunity to fully update my arguments for and against the primaries process.
It is important to note that these points are predicated on considerations of both their existence compared to a process of party elder selection, and ways in which the system of primaries per se could be subject to improvement.
With that caveat emptor aside, here is my updated version…read more...»
A quick update to my ongoing study note about policy divides between the Conservatives and Labour.
“The government has persuaded energy suppliers to write to 8 million customers to tell them how to switch payment methods, find lower tariffs and insulate their homes to save energy.
The prime minister pledged the big six companies would be “permanently watched” and should put their shoulders to the wheel in what he called a “winter call to action”.
However, Labour said the government should have used the “bully pulpit” of government to insist the big six energy companies kept costs down.
Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary, said: “For the big six to agree with David Cameron to hold their price increases over the winter, when wholesale energy prices have been falling in recent weeks, is a complete betrayal of the public.”
Labour believes the government had a series of options, including “pressurising” the energy companies to cut prices this winter, extracting a promise of fewer, simple tariffs and giving the regulator immediate powers to open the books of energy companies.”
I’ve come across a great article for students and teachers on the spiralling cost of US elections.
It covers most of the territory that I teach on the topic when outlining the case to suggest that while the race for the presidency is expensive, we have to place this in context: the USA is large country, the contest lasts many months, as a proportion of the GDP of the world’s richest country the cost is minimal, Americans spend as much in an annual cycle on any number of things (or far more in some case, e.g. it is estimated that the US population spends over $100b every year on fast food!), the greenback doesn’t always rule - i.e. the candidate who spends the most doesn’t always win.
Politics students may not always be avid readers of the Economist so a heads up on a feature in this week’s edition that may be of interest:
“WILL the next presidential election see Barack Obama return triumphantly to the White House for a second term as president of the world’s biggest economy? Or will a sluggish economic recovery, which has left over 14m Americans out of work, doom him to defeat in November 2012?
Models of the way economic factors affect presidential elections already exist. The best known was developed in the late 1970s by Ray Fair, an economist at Yale, who used macroeconomic indicators (such as inflation and the growth rate of income per person) to predict the vote share of the two main parties in subsequent elections. Mr Fair most recently updated his estimates at the end of July, when his model predicted a victory for Mr Obama in 2012 with 53.4% of the vote. In releasing his predictions, however, he noted that “a strong rebound results in a fairly solid Obama victory…and a double-dip recession…results in a fairly solid Republican victory.” Democratic hearts will have skipped a beat or two on hearing Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, say on October 4th that the recovery was “close to faltering”.
But is it right to focus exclusively on macroeconomic indicators?”
Interested? Read more here.
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...»
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced at the weekend that she would like to repeal the Human Rights Act. This is yet another example of clear blue water between the government and the Labour opposition on party policy that has emerged during the conference season.read more...»
Someone once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.
Talking to a colleague the other day, she suggested this could be a YouTube feature.
To start with then we have Black Wednesday. In the 1992 election the Tories pledged that membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was at the heart of economic policy. For instance their manifesto of that year stated: “Membership of the ERM is now central to our counter-inflation discipline.” Several months later, the Chancellor Norman Lamont announced that Britain would cease to be part of it. From then on, all the way through to the 1997 election, Labour were well ahead in the polls. That the economy was powering ahead mattered little to the British electorate. Essentially the Conservative government never recovered its reputation for sound economic management until Labour then wrecked any credibility they had after the 2008 financial crisis.
What is interesting (and I am disappointed I couldn’t find a clip on YouTube of the individual standing behind Lamont on the day it was announced that interest rates would soar) is the identity of a young man acting as a special adviser to the Chancellor. Who was it? Where could he possibly be now? See if the picture below the BBC 6 o’clock news on Black Wednesday gives you any clue…read more...»
Can you do better than Rory?
With party conference season in full swing I thought of a good teaching and learning exercise on political parties after watching Rory Weal’s speech in Liverpool yesterday. It is essentially a combination of student tasks that I would do on party ideologies at AS anyway, with what candidates in mock elections would be doing in school. But this year we have a standard to beat. Personally I thought Rory delivered a great speech and clearly does not merit most of the flak that he has received from the kind of obviously unhinged people who post comments on YouTube.
If you have yet to see the speech, here is the BBC clip.read more...»
There are ongoing debates about what useful purpose Parliament serves
A recent report by the Home Affairs Select Committee criticising the government’s policy on the police once again highlights how Parliament performs an important oversight function.
“The Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism role should be given to the new National Crime Agency when it becomes operational in 2013, MPs say.
The Home Affairs Select Committee says the change would mean less intervention in the Met by the Home Secretary and its accountability would be clearer.
Its adds that uncertainty over police reforms for England and Wales could be damaging to the 43 forces.”
We can add this latest example to a study note below that I have written on how Parliament checks the executive…read more...»
This is not intended to be an exhaustive journey through Barack Obama’s career, but instead to end the series on Politics via YouTube by bringing blog readers access to a step by step tour of some key points in the story of an individual with the kind of charisma and oratorical skill that comes around perhaps only once in several generations.
I have tried wherever possible to link to versions with the best combination of audio visual quality.
Put some time aside, and enjoy…read more...»
Having covered a fair amount of UK highlights, I thought I’d link to some top clips I use in US politics teaching.
These are all pre-Obama. I’m working on bringing video material on the current POTUS together for a future posting.
Happy viewing!read more...»
Intra school cooperation at its best as the Bradford Grammar Politics Department offered up these examples to the Social Science Faculty as part of my quest for more ideas on introducing British Politics via YouTube.read more...»
Gordo’s famous smile didn’t quite make it
Any ideas as to what should complete the 10?
Here are my 9 so far…read more...»
Deep divisions within the Conservative Party gave them troubles for years, but more recently the party has become a much more cohesive eurosceptic unit and the issue seemed to have dropped off the agenda. Not any more.
From the BBC website today, comes this report:
“A senior Conservative MP has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Mark Pritchard, the secretary of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said it had “enslaved” the country.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said EU membership was a “burdensome yoke, disfiguring Britain’s independence”.
His comments come amid growing frustration among Tory eurosceptics at the failure so far of the government to repatriate powers from Europe in the face of opposition from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
Last week 120 Conservative backbenchers gathered at a private meeting in Westminster to voice their impatience at the lack of progress on the issue.”
What is the government’s position?
“Ministers have ruled out any imminent renegotiation of European treaties.”
But as the website goes on to say:
“Last year the government introduced a “referendum lock”, guaranteeing that no further major transfer of powers from London to Brussels could happen without first being approved by the public.
Mr Cameron, who describes himself as a “practical eurosceptic”, has said he could push for a renegotiation of existing EU rules on employment and financial regulation at an appropriate time in the future.”
Below Europe as an issue within the context of Tory intra party divisions.read more...»
Gay marriage is always a great classroom topic. Here we can consider pressure group success, rights and liberties, and the role of the judiciary. In a comparative sense it also brings into view the extent to which rights are better advanced in the UK or the USA.
Recent stories emanating from Whitehall put this issue firmly back on the agenda.
“The government has indicated it is committed to changing the law to allow gay marriage by 2015.
Ministers are to launch a consultation next spring on how to open up civil marriage to same-sex couples ahead of the next general election.”
Below I put this debate in the context of a study note on the extent to which Britain can be considered democratic.read more...»
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.
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.
“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.”read more...»
Can images like these offer us real insight into US politics?
US parties share some characteristics with their British counterparts in the A level Politics course. Neither are very popular, but they do tend to attract a disproportionate number of high end responses.
I came across this article and thought it would act as a starting point for students to engage with the GOP primary race as a way of deepening their understanding of the fabric that holds the American political system together.
At CNN, Julian E. Zelizer a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, contends in this editorial that the Republicans should learn from history and track to the centre.read more...»
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming soon we can expect a raft of related features and documentaries, but Shoot to Kill on Channel 4 is highlighted by a number of Sunday papers as the documentary of the week…
Voter perceptions of economic performance and the link with the White House incumbent are a large driver of elections.
And a new poll by CNN says that just one in three Americans think Obama is doing a good job of handling the economy, suggesting that it is going to take a miracle between now and next November if Obama is not going to be a one term president.
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...»
To follow up what I wrote about yesterday in terms of policy divides between the main parties, and how easy it is to gather examples that help illustrate points, here is a quick one from today’s Guardian.
Labour claim the police’s job will be harder as a result of planned government cuts
I think most students who take up politics in order to find out a bit more about how Britain works look forward to discovering what, if anything, the main political parties stand for. This initial interest does not manifest itself in terms of the topic being hugely popular come exam time, with even the judiciary appearing to attract more attempts than parties.
There’ll be no more of this for a while
But conference season is nearly upon us and this is always a good time to look in depth at party policies. Given the surprising amount of activity that has taken place within the current government one would think that Labour would have been able to more clearly define itself, and that its leader would have laid out more of a vision. Perhaps this will begin to take shape with Ed Miliband’s keynote speach at this year’s conference.
What is interesting is a “leaked” internal Labour document reported in this week’s Observer, suggesting that the Tories are “recognisibly rightwing”.read more...»
The Guardian reported yesterday that David Willetts, the HE minister, had lobbied universities on behalf of several students with ties to his constituency who had received disappointing exam results.
This has caused a bit of a fuss because Willetts is seen as the man responsible for the squeeze on university places. Willetts argues that the fact that he is universities minister should not preclude him from carrying out his constituency duties.
I happen to agree, but it is also worth mentioning as a good starting point for AS government when discussing the difference between backbenchers and frontbenchers. The respective roles of MPs and ministers came up as exam questions a while back and they caught a lot of students out. What makes this story worth special mention this year is that a lot of candidates are looking back at their exams and asking “Where did I go wrong?” Quite often easy marks are lost on these early questions asking students about the basic features and operations that constitute daily British political life. Below I separate out the respective roles of MPs and Ministers, although please note the list is not prescriptive or exhaustive.read more...»
As I said recently, following the US presidential nomination and election race is a great way in for those new to American politics. There is acres of coverage on the US news sites, with reporters already getting towards fever pitch on the GOP race. The latest buzz inside the beltway is that Rick Perry has nudged ahead of Mitt Romney in a series of opinion polls.
The race for the nomination to become the challenger to Obama next year is crystallising around three main candidates in the pre-primary phase. The Ames straw poll took place recently, and the first official ballots will be cast by party supporters early next year.
Students new to American politics will find it fun and informative to keep up with the race and update examples to support arguments for and against the presidential candidate selection system. Briefly, if you are unsure how the system operates, those wishing to head the ticket for one of the American parties must first seek nomination by their party. This used to take place in smoke filled rooms by party bosses at quadrennial national party conventions, but now registered supporters (not party members as such) cast ballots for their chosen candidate with the first placed in each state taking all those votes. There are also caucuses, and sometimes a mixture of the two, but you can get to that later.
The important thing to note is that the contest for the White House 2012, i.e. well over a year away, has resulted already in some reasonably well qualified candidates dropping out due to lack of support. This can be seen as a good or a bad thing depending on the context.
Anyway, below are some links, and some basic arguments for and against the primary system…read more...»
This is essentially a posting about the virtues of the CNN app for US Politics students
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.
It often surprises people that America, a country with arguably the most dynamic market economy, possesses a political system that lends itself towards stasis. Opposing forces push and pull at each other and this is down to the numerous checks and balances the framers designed into the constitution. As one of them said, the plan was that ambition must be made to counter ambition. Constitutionally the president is granted only limited powers, but since the 1930s especially he is burdened with enormous expectations. The de jure limits on the president’s powers can only be overcome with adroit use of informal powers. As one constitutional scholar put it, the president has only the power to persuade.
One way a President can do this is by appealing directly to the people, and Obama in an hour long town hall session via Twitter is an ideal example of this. Previous incumbents of the White House have used the media to appeal directly to the people, such as FDR with his fireside chats via radio, and Reagan was known as the Great Communicator for his easy manner during television addresses to the American people. So how significant was Obama’s use of the social media service?
According to the Associated Press:
“He made little news over the course of about an hour, but that wasn’t his point.
Obama wanted to get in touch with people outside Washington, promote his agenda, prod Congress and embrace the fast-moving online conversation site that is increasingly seen as a home of national buzz.”
In other words, it’s yet another demonstration of how the President seeks to use his informal powers as the communicator in chief in his continuing battle with political opponents on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
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.”
When students write about the US Supreme Court, any responses offering high order analysis of the significance of recent cases, or the subtle shifts of voting blocs on the court really stand out.
At the end of each annual session, court watchers offer their insight into how judges have acted and they are a must for any student folder.
Here is the Washington Post’s summary of the most recent docket, detailing in particular how the Obama appointments have settled in to life in the world’s most powerful judicial body.
A good update on my posting about where camp Obama is on gay marriage.
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
A great introductory exercise for students new to US politics is to keep a close eye on the primaries, perhaps by setting aside a regular time each week for discussion. Doing so provides a number of insights into key syllabus areas, and stimulates thought, for instance, on questions such as why the US electorate has tended to favour Washington outsiders as nominees.
It’s also fascinating to see what a quite different beast the United States is, and how different the politics of the nation is compared to the UK.
For instance, here is a summary from yesterday’s Observer of the politics of Michele Bachmann:
‘Bachmann’s criticism of homosexuality is open and brutal. She has led the charge against gay marriage, even at the cost of a once-close relationship with a lesbian stepsister. In 2004 Bachmann said of gay people: “It’s a very sad life. It’s part of Satan, I think, to say that this is gay. It’s anything but gay.”
She is on record as viewing homosexuality as a “disorder” or a “sexual dysfunction” and is a staunchly anti-abortion Christian conservative. She believes Obama is “the final leap to socialism” in America, and has accused him of wanting to set up youth indoctrination camps for teenagers.
She has called for investigations into fellow congressional politicians to see if they are “anti-American”. She once claimed to know of a plan to give up half of Iraq to Iran. She is against raising America’s debt ceiling for running up its deficit, and wants to repeal healthcare reform in its entirety.
She is a firm sceptic on the dangers of global warming. She once introduced a resolution seeking to prevent the dollar being replaced by a foreign currency, despite the fact that such a move is already illegal. She has called the Environmental Protection Agency a “job-killing” organisation.’
Can you imagine a politician in the UK being taken seriously with that kind of profile?!
For full coverage check out the Washington Post 2012 page.
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.
A good example of pressure groups in action.
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...»
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.
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...»
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 great doc on Reagan is still avaliable on iplayer. The second half is strong on the strategies employed by Reagan as President in an attempt to fulfil the expectations that American people have of the POTUS.
A Californina sized hat tip to Ben on the Economics blog for highlighting the existence of this excellent graphic which compares US states to nations in terms of the size of their economies and populations.
I know this is thinking ahead, but after the AS exams any potential A2 American Politics groups I have are offered the chance to enter the post AS competition on America’s geography, demography and population - regular readers may have read about this exercise in previous postings.
I’m sure the Arizona shootings have provoked fierce debate about the rights and wrongs of gun ownership in the USA in classes this week, as they have mine.
And in case you haven’t seen it, or want to watch it again, here is Obama’s speech at a memorial in Tuscon. Arguably this is Obama’s best oration since he was inaugurated.
Both items are taken from the Guardian’s excellent US gun crime page.
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.
I penned an article for t2u’s digital Politics magazine FPTP on this topic some months back, but events in Congress this week merit revisiting the issue.
The Senate’s decision this week to overturn the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which operates in the military whereby gay soldiers are allowed to serve so long as they are not explicit about their sexuality has come as a relief to a group which was once one of the most ardent set of supporters of Barack Obama.read more...»
Reapportionment and redistricting takes place after each decennial census. Figures for the 2010 census are due to be released shortly, and this USA Today video gives a short and helpful explanation of the reapportionment process.
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 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...»
In the race relations element of Route C with Edexcel we talk a lot about synopticity and how it is important to approach questions from different perspectives. Often these are left/liberal versus right/conservative with shades of centrism in between.
So it makes good sense to argue in essays that “Those on the left would suggest race is a barrier in the USA because…”, or “Those on the right would say that affirmative action is not necessary because…” before going on to explain the competing arguments.
But it is important to note that sometimes there is overlap between the two sides on reasons why something is the way it is. And we should bear in mind that both sides accept that there may be other contributory factors. Essentially it is a question about the extent both sides agree in something, and often opponents are not completely dismissive of arguments proposed by the other side. For instance, those on the right may accept that some racism still exists in the United States, but that this does not mean that it is an insurmountable barrier. Equally, those on the left may accept that welfare dependence is a problem to a degree but that the long term effects deeply entrenched divides in US society outweigh its importance in explaining inequalities between whites and blacks in modern US society.
This brings me to an excellent article in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Read it and I hope that you will never be tempted to write that all Tea Partyists are motivated by race.
You may have thought that George W Bush’s comments, following publication of his autobiography Decision Points, about being called a racist by Kanye West being the low point of his presidency would be the last we would hear of the New Orleans saga with regards to race. Not so. There is an ongoing trial of five officers into their involvement in the killing of a suspected looter.
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!
What will Obama do?
Given the hammering the President’s party received at the 2010 midterms, the following months will provide an excellent case study in executive leadership.
Part of me wants to point students to putting half an eye on questions about the presidency in next summer’s exams. The other parts simply wants students of Politics to take note of what will surely be a fascinating period of presidential politics. Either way, what should crop up is a rich vein of material relating to the following:read more...»
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.
There’s a good interactive graphic section on WSJ site, showing the demographic breakdown for 2010 according to exit polls.
Which groups of voters vote for either the Democrats or Republicans and why has been a common short answer in the past. This site provides some useful data and analysis.
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.
It seems fair to argue that the PM dominates the central executive territory at the heart of the British political system. The PM has in recent years been accused of presidentialism, making less use of Cabinet, with important decisions been made elsewhere such as in bilaterals (the classic case is “Sofa government” under Blair), increasing the power and status of special advisers, and so forth. These are all ideas that students are familiar with, they sound fairly exciting, and invite easy discussion
And therefore it takes longer to get to grips with what Cabinet does since it is less in the public eye. But Cabinet, and yes this does depend to some extent on how the PM chooses to use the body as collective organ, does still perform some important functions, such as co-ordinating the government’s legislative timetable, dealing with political strategy, keeping ministers up-to-date with latest developments from arenas such as the UN and so on.
Another function of Cabinet is to deal with emergencies, with senior Cabinet members and relevant members of outside bodies (such as the military) in attendance. These special meetings are organised under the term “Cobra”, and one such example happened today. When I first heard about Cobra I imagined high pressured meetings taking place with a giant Cobra symbol on the wall behind the PM. Then I discovered what the acronym stood for. Very disappointing. (That’s a little bit of research for readers who don’t know.)
So, there you go, a very up-to-date example: today’s meeting on dodgy packages in cargo. If you missed the story I am referring to, see here.
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...»
This week’s edition of the Economist has a load of material that is ideal for inclusion in answers to some of the most common exam questions. These should be read now, and stored in files or folders for use later when preparing for essays or short answers.
This one on Obama covers a load of ground on presidential success and failure. Why are some presidents more successful than others? Why are second term presidencies less successful? etc. It covers Obama’s legislative and policy accomplishments and gives an objective view of why he could and should have done better. This is it here.
How important are midterms? Well, some are more important than others, and 2010 is one of the more signifcant contests. This article clearly explains why.
Why do blacks vote Democratic? Some good quotes and analysis here.
Which groups of voters vote Democratic is a common short answer question or forms part of a longer essay on voting behaviour. Groups that sway Democrat can be identified by gender, demography, race, geography, income, and age. This article looks at the importance of the youth vote.
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...»
I came across this article in the Guardian this week. Lots of fodder for class discussion or as a homework exerciseread more...»
Here is a good article for introducing the court, with some questions for discussion.read more...»
Students of US politics should be keeping a close eye on the Obama presidency as a case study on leadership stretch and the constitutional limits of the office.
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?
The US media is in a frenzy at the moment over the meaning and potential long term impact of the Tea Party movement. The UK papers this weekend have reacted to this as well and this is a development well worth discussing in a review of the latest news from the US in lesson time this week.
What conclusions, if any, can we draw from the Tea Party surge within the Republican Party?
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.
If you are a student of American politics, then this post early in the academic year could well be my most important…
These are the sites I most frequently plunder when trying to keep abreast of developments in US politics. These are also the places therefore that I suggest students of the subject try to access as much as possible when trying to get to grips with the politics of the USA. In the same way as linguists recommend immersion learning when studying a new language, getting stuck into some of the US sites really does help.read more...»
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...»
This video is strange on so many levels.
See the CNN report with subtitles (not really necessary given the depth and extent of the Palin vocab) here.
Helpful to see, though, the Sarah for Prez support team gesticulate as to how the US is bigger than Alaska. Well, I guess that’s progress.
Hail to the chief?
It is rare that a court case at a lower level than the US Supreme Court hits the headlines in America, but in a landmark ruling the California district of the US federal courts overturned Proposition 8, an initiative which banned California’s gay marriage law.
It is uncertain whether the ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger will trigger any new marriages between same sex couples in the state, but it is likely that campaigners in favour of defending traditional marriage will appeal and that the case will wind its way to the US Supreme Court.
This is the first time that federal judges have ruled on a same sex marriage case, and the outcome only affects the state of California, not the many other states that have constitutional or legal bans on gay marriage. Gay rights activists feared defeat would set back their cause for a generation, and stakes remain high on both sides of the debate, as a final ruling by judges in Washington could fundamentally alter the social topography of the United States. In the more immediate term, the issue is something of a hot potato for the November elections, with politicians from both parties expected to take sides on this issue.
More detail on the story from the washingtonpost.com website here.
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...»
There are a couple of interesting social policy issues getting a lot of attention in the US at the moment, and they act as a useful way of introducing the concept of federal-state relations.
There’s a great piece in this week’s Economist which looks ahead to the 2010 election.
Down the left hand side of this page, often newsmax ask you to vote on whether Sarah Palin would get your vote in 2012. She is the theme of this posting.
Further to my earlier posting on resources for the UK syllabus, listed below are the US books I have as desk copies.
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.
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.
I’ve just started the power of the presidency, and intend to use Obama’s address to Congress as part of delivery. Here’s the link to the video
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.
There’s a useful two page spread on Obama’s presidency one year on in today’s Independent—here is the link to the web version.
The BBC devotes a special section to the one year anniversary.
And see how you get on with the one year quiz!!!
I’m definitely going to use all the abundant material for students to do a webquest presentation on his first year. A nice way to start Unit 4C having just completed the 3C exam. Andy Lawrence has posted details of a similar exercise on Cameron the t2u Pol teachers forum.
More interesting stuff on Obama for teaching and learning. A great article on Obama and race here. Younge is a corking journalist who has written two very readable books on the US, which are suggested reading for students of America. He has also made a documentary for the World Service entitled “Opposing Obama”, first airing scheduled for the 1st of Feb. List of times is here.
Obama and me on BBC Two might not offer great academic insight, but may give you a slice of insight into modern America.
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.
Another documentary heads up
Two great articles for prompting discussion on intra and inter party rivalry in American politics.
First, Andrew Sullivan looks at the rabid right wing nativist nature of the Republicans here. This suggests therefore that there are deep partisan divides in America at present. But closer analysis of the parties also reveals divisions within the Democrats. As far as some within the party are concerned, Obama’s first year has been a let down. Read about how Obama has come under attack from the left here.
It often surprises people that America, a country with arguably the most dynamic market economy, possesses a politcal system that lends itself towards stasis. Opposing forces push and pull at each other and this is down to the numerous checks and balances the framers designed into the constitution. As one of them said, ambition must be made to counter ambition. Constitutionally the president is granted only limited powers, must since the 1930s especially he is burdened with enormous expectations. The de jure limits on the president’s powers can only be overcome with adroit use of informal powers. As one constitutional scholar put it, the president has only the power to persuade.
With Obama’s stock in the USA declining it is worth bearing in mind what the 44th incumbent of the White House has achieved.
Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Sunday Times, argues that Obama is achieving large change on an incremental basis. This is a useful article to consider when looking at the powers of the president, separation of powers, checks and balances, and the extent to which the constitution is a barrier to good government.
Only the 33rd most powerful man in Washington DC who is not called Obama or Biden.
So says GQ magazine (of all places) in their much anticipated DC power 50. Believe it or not this was one of the buzz topics in the American capital when I was over there recently. Hardly surprising in the most power obsessed city on earth. To paraphrase Michael Heseltine who was commenting on the ranking order of seats in Cabinet, everyone says it doesn’t matter to them, but of course it does. Terribly.read more...»
Readers may be aware that America operates a federal system where national and state governments are theoretically sovereign in certain spheres. In practical terms this vertical separation of power is much more blurred, but it does mean that individual states have much more individual responsibility for policy within their territories than do the devolved regions in the UK. The consequences of allowing states to essentially go it alone are mixed. A magazine article in today’s Observer looks at the current crisis in California. It is interesting, well written and contains lots of good examples for someone wishing to assess the pros and cons of America’s federal arrangements.
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s (ghostwritten) autobiography is due for release next month, and has already shot to the top of the bestseller charts.
Say the Guardian:
“News of the autobiography’s release has already prompted a string of jokes by the late night talkshow hosts reminding the wider public about Palin’s shortcomings.
“Critics say that it starts out okay, it gets really exciting and then confusing, and then the last 100 pages are blank,” said comedian Jimmy Fallon.”
I’ve been like a child with a new toy today, spending hours browsing on the Washington Post’s “Who runs gov?” pages.
The site contains up to date and interesting to read profiles of the people pulling the strings of American government. A great resource for students and teachers of American Politics.
I’ve come up with a list of 10 of the most influential politicians in the USA, some of which you will have heard of and some you won’t.read more...»
A quick posting to say that the book review pages are often a good source of political info, even for cash and time poor students with no intention of making a purchase. Details of a new publication on Clinton were in the Sunday Times at the weekend and contained some fascinating nuggets.
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.
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.
An energised and passionate President Obama delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress. Will it be enough?
Watch this report by Lyndsey Hilsum from Wednesday’s Channel 4 news.
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 a very useful section on the Guardian website which picks out the best political articles and columns.
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.
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.