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.