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Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Happy New Year to all politics students and teachers! 2014 is a big political year with it not only being the last full year before the General Election but it is also a year of elections, referendums, ideological battlegrounds and the start of the 2015 Election campaign. By the time the year is out we will know the future of Scotland, the hopes for Obama's last two years, and we shall all be well and truly getting in gear for the Election 2015! Read on for the political excitement that awaits this year!

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Scottish Independence White Paper - Top Tips for Inclusion

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tomorrow (Tuesday 26th November) sees the publication of the Scottish Government's white paper concerning Independence. As politics students living the subject this is a great example for your Politics A Level. This issue of Scottish Independence covers all sorts of concepts from national sovereignty, political ideology, elections and referendums. Be sure you know the story inside and out and how to apply it effectively! Read on for more on how to do so.

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The Decline of Party Membership - Cameron’s Collapse

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This article in The Spectator highlights a dramatic fall in the membership of the Conservative Party since David Cameron became leader in 2005.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: A Leadership Challenge to David Cameron?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

“Damn your principles! stick to your party”  So said the Victorian Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Yet it would appear that principles are being placed before party at the present time within the Conservative party.

According to Conservative rules, 46 MPS is all it takes for a leadership challenge to be launched against Cameron. 15% of Conservative MPs must ask the 1922 Committee for an election and a simple majority secures the leadership. These were the rules introduced in 1998 which led to the ousting of Iain Duncan Smith in 2003. Given the size of the vote against the government on the proposed EU referendum and House of Lords reform, it would seem that this requirement could be easily met should Conservative MPs perceive Cameron to be an electoral liability in 2015.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Are Labour the Tories Democratic Organisations?

To what extent are the Labour and Conservative parties democratic organisations?

The election of Ed Miliband was said to be due to the influence of the unions. This would suggest that the unions might wield too much power within the Labour party making it undemocratic. It should be noted however that political parties actively seek to involve their membership and seek to establish their democratic credentials.

The parties could be stated to be democratic organisations as they allow their members to choose their leaders. David Cameron was able to defeat David Davis relatively easy and Nick Clegg secured a narrow victory over Chris Huhne. Democracy can be defined as “rule of the people for the people by the people”. This is normally achieved through the direct participation of the people and in party terms through members voting their leader. Ed Miliband too was elected by a combination of the members, unions and parliamentary Labour party via an electoral college where each branch of the party gets 33.3% of the vote.

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Revision Update: UK Politics: Conservative Party

The dilemma the Conservatives faced after the 2005 general election was similar to that of the Labour party in the 1990s. The party, having lost successive elections, needed to change in order to get re-elected. Labour’s four defeats in 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992, assisted the development of New Labour. This “project” saw the Labour party abandon many of its traditional policies such as state ownership of the “commanding heights” of the British economy with the amendment to Clause IV of their constitution with a move to the centre right ground of British politics. The success of this move was evident with an unprecedented three successive election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

The Conservatives then had a similar need for a “makeover”, a reinvention if you will, so that they could reconnect with the British public. Their support in the elections where Labour won showed no real sign of change. Their vote “flatlined” around the 30% mark and this was in part due to the public’s perception of the Conservatives as “the nasty party” as was identified by the then party chair, Theresa May, at the 2003 party conference. This allowed the election of David Cameron in 2005 after their third election defeat on a modernising agenda. Part of his brief was to give his party a more new policies and a new image; a brief which might be called a modernising agenda.

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Revision Update: The Executive: Coalition: All Good Things Must Come to an End

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Perhaps inevitably as the coalition enters its third year, the relationship between the partners entered a new phase. It should be remembered that the coalition is made up of two different political parties and therefore it is only natural that some divisions should appear from time to time. 

The driving force however behind this new phase is the low level of support in the opinion polls for the Liberal Democrats. Their support has been around the ten per cent mark as opposed to the 23% they secured in the 2010 general election. The Liberal Democrats need to establish their own distinct identity. As coalition partners they run the risk of being tarred with the same brush as the Conservatives. If a voter wants change, they only have the one option of voting Labour if the Lib Dems are perceived to be one and the same thing as the Conservatives.

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Revision Update: The Executive: Cabinet Reshuffle in September 2012

A cabinet reshuffle can provide a valuable insight into:

  1. The power of the Prime Minister
  2. The constraints upon the Prime Minister
  3. The policy direction of the government

The cabinet reshuffle was Cameron’s first significant change to the composition of the cabinet since the creation of the coalition in 2010. The Liberal Democrats decided not to change any of their 5 senior ministers but there were significant changes by the Conservatives.

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A2 Students - It’s Crunch Time

Sunday, March 17, 2013

You've had results day from January. You should by now know how many points you are going to need to get the grades you want to move on from College or Sixth Form. However this last push doesn't need to be you on your own! I've complied a list of websites and sources you may want to take a look at, as well as some tricks that you can do to not only help you live the subject but also help you achieve the grades you need and deserve. This is a golden opportunity in which you can evaluate what went wrong last time or what you can do better and do it!

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David Cameron’s Bloomberg Europe Speech

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

David Cameron's Speech on Europe at The Bloomberg building, promises an In Out Referendum (BBC coverage here), but firstly can he keep his Coalition together, avoid more splits in The Conservative Party then win a General Election, all of which are big assumptions. Labour have to work out if their General Election campaign can really oppose a popular vote on Europe. Does it kill the UKIP fox, wait and see. If Labour won The next General Election, would Ed Miliband make sure that there is no return to Bloomberg and bust?

Tory Modernisation 2.0

Thursday, January 17, 2013

This video interview from The Economist with David Willetts provides a good introduction to the ongoing challenge of modernising the Conservative Party.

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Modern Conservatism - In Thought And Action

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Conservative Party is well blessed with an independent website in Conservative Home that often provokes debate within the party and allows the outsider to see how conservatism is shaping and shifting on the current political sea.  There are two articles currently on it that are worth investigating.  One, by website editor Tim Montgomerie, discusses how a right wing party “with a heart” can position itself to govern more universally than is often perceived to be the case with the Conservatives.  Highlighting key areas of current policy, including Michael Gove’s radical education agenda, he argues the case for a modern, ‘compassionate’ conservatism that could bring electoral victory.  In so doing, he covers the ground of where the Conservative Party currently stands in a way that can certainly help any students and teachers looking to analyse what the ideology of the modern Conservative party really is.

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AS Politics: direct democracy

Monday, October 24, 2011

The debate in the Commons today on Britain’s relations with the EU was, as you are probably aware, prompted by an e-petition.

Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian writes an excellent piece in support of the e-petition process. It’s definitely one I will be looking to use with my AS students when assessing the pros and cons of direct democracy, and ways to improve the democratic system in the UK.

Here is the link.

I also include a study note below on arguments for and against direct democracy. I know pedants would argue that e-petitions are a form of consultative democracy, but for Edexcel they do fall under the direct democracy umbrella on Unit 1.

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AS parties: divide over energy prices

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A quick update to my ongoing study note about policy divides between the Conservatives and Labour.

This is taken from the Guardian:

“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.”

 

 

Should Dr Fox resign?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

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 .

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The Coalition and the Conservatives

Coalition politics in the UK is well embarked, and this year’s party conferences – especially the Lib Dem and Conservative ones – provided a useful insight into how it is all progressing.  In short, the Lib Dems wanted to show how different they were from the Tories, while the Tories kept up a smooth, united face in the main hall but saw their right-wing activists in full voice on the fringe.

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Party policy divisions: human rights

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

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.

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Political reincarnations continued

Monday, October 03, 2011

With the Conservative Party Conference underway this week, I thought I’d post a little reminder of the speech made by the current Foreign Secretary to conference when he was a teenager.

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Politics on YouTube: political history repeating itself?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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…

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AS intro to Politics: political parties activity

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

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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.

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My top 9 UK politics You Tube clips

Monday, September 19, 2011

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Gordo’s famous smile didn’t quite make it

Any ideas as to what should complete the 10?

Here are my 9 so far…

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UK political parties: the Tory Party’s European problem

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.”

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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.

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Introducing Politics: Gay Marriage and UK Democracy

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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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.

According to the BBC:

“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.

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West Lothian Question Redux

Monday, September 12, 2011

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Issues such as free university tuition for Scots have made devolution a controversial topic

A potential ban on non-English MPs being able to vote on matters Westminster considers English only is back on the agenda. This is a chance to revisit the old chestnut that is the West Lothian Question - for this special occasion I have also dug out a set of arguments for and against whether the issue is of any real significance.

According to the Telegraph:

“Mark Harper, the constitutional reform minister, announced yesterday that a group of non-partisan independent experts would look at how parliamentary procedures at Westminster work and whether they needed reforming to reflect the changed constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom.

He said: “The Government is clear that the commission’s primary task should be to examine how this House, and Parliament as a whole, can deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters in some or all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are lawfully and democratically the responsibility of the separate parliament or assemblies.”

He said that the commission would be made up of a small group of non-partisan experts with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise.”

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Easy intro to British Politics

Monday, September 05, 2011

I frequently get asked for an easy to understand guide to the UK political system. Until recently I lacked an adequate answer. But BBC’s Democracy Live page has a whole host of simple guides to UK institutions. Useful for citizenship, lower school PSHE (for teachers and pupils) and those new to AS looking to do a bit of home research.

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Check it out here.

Labour versus the government on police numbers

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

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.

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Labour claim the police’s job will be harder as a result of planned government cuts

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Intro to AS politics: party political divisions

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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.

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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”.

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Constitution Unit website - a great resource

Thursday, July 07, 2011

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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.

Coalition collapse?

Friday, July 01, 2011

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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.”

Read the full article here

Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

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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

President Cameron

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

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I’ve just penned an article auditing Cameron’s style of premiership, and hope you will see it in the next edition of FPTP.

Here are the background articles I used.

Useful perhaps if you want students to carry out an exhibition on the power of the PM, or the Tory Party at the beginning of AS. Some, not many, require entry to the Times online via the paywall.

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Unit 2 PM/Cab examples

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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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.

Watch it here.

Have post 1997 constitutional reforms been a success?

Saturday, May 07, 2011

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Following the stunning victory in the Scottish elections by Alex Salmond’s SNP, much has been made about whether we are now closer to the break up of Britain. This debate in exam terms is subsumed into a wider debate about constitutional reform and whether (a) it has been a success (b) it has gone far enough.

In the latest edition of the exambuster I stripped out most of the lengthy analysis of devolution since it was rendered superfluous by new style questions on Edexcel Unit 2. But here is a snippet on the Scottish devolution debate.

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AV (apathy vote)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

As apathy upon wave of apathy has been heaped on the AV referendum debate, I thought I’d share with you a leader from the Times yesterday, urging voters to vote against. I don’t necessarily share the preference against, but it’s a useful addition to the compendium of material on electoral systems that teachers may have accumulated over the past several months. The strength of the argument presented, however, relates to the more glaring weaknesses in our government furniture. That said, it is likely that a wider debate on our constitution would stir up as much interest as the one focusing on this narrow feature of it.

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Labour and Conservative battle lines update

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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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.

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The Big Society & Volunteering - Govt Minister Caught Short

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BBC Radio 4’s Eddie Mair has a reputation for asking left-field questions of his interviewees that go right to the heart of an issue and put the interviewee on the spot. Here is a classic example, when Mair interviewed Francis Maude (current Minister for the Cabinet Office) about a project he has to drive through government - the Big Society.  The Coalition has called for every adult to play their part in the Big Society by supporting voluntary organisations.  You can guess what the next question might be - why wasn’t Maude prepared?

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Nick’s journey

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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A couple of good articles here for students of AS Politics on stories that tend not to feature much (perhaps for good reason, in the view of some) on the main news programmes at the minute.

One by Henry Porter on the Con-Lib coalition’s plans to undo Labour’s attacks on civil liberties.

And another on the proposed elections referendum and the significance of changing the voting system from one columnist’s perspective.

A new dawn for civil liberties?

Monday, February 14, 2011

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The steady erosion of civil liberties in Britain has been cited in recent years by campaigners as evidence of weaknesses of the UK constitution, or the poor state of our democracy. It was said that Labour seemed to give with one hand, whilst taking with the other. Despite steps in the right direction as a result of the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights, through the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998, rights are still not adequately protected since they lack entrenchment in our political system. That civil liberties receive little protection was illustrated in full Technicolor by Blair’s fourfold extension of detention without trial. ASBOs have created a criminal class of innocent civilians. So what of the current government?

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Party politics: the consensus on law and order

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

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One of the main areas of consensus between the Conservatives and Labour in recent years has been on law and order policy. Essentially this has come about as Labour shifted to the right in the 1990s on the issue, following their 1992 defeat at the general election. Indeed if a Labour supporter had fallen asleep some time in the late 1980s and woken up 20 years later, he would be staggered by the transformation within his party: 28 day detention without trial, section 44 giving almost unlimited stop and searc powers to the police, a ban on protest in the vicinity of parliament, and so forth.

Among the most high profile policies was the anti-social behavioural order, or asbo.

As the Guardian stated yesterday:

“Asbos were brought in by Tony Blair as part of his Respect agenda in 1999 but they were criticised for being counterproductive because they became a “badge of honour” for some offenders.”

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, stated last summer that she wanted the government to move beyond the asbo and this was mistakenly interpreted as meaning that they would be binned.

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Where now for Balls?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I thought Larry Elliot was in top form in yesterday’s Guardian when discussing how Labour should reposition itself in response to Coalition spending cuts.

(Just don’t keep mentioning the “R” word.)

Parliament is not dead

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The House of Commons is regarded in comparative terms as one of the weakest legislatures in the world. Moreover it is argued that plans to cut the number of MPs will weaken it further since a higher proportion of MPs will be on the government payroll (so long as the number of ministers is not cut also).

Notwithstanding this, a major development in the ability of the House of Commons to scrutinise the executive is the introduction of departmental select committees in the UK in 1979. These non-partisan bodies can call for ‘persons, papers and records’ and can be seen to have resulted in more open government and act as a useful deterrent on an over mighty executive.  Peter Riddell has argued that select committees have ‘been a major factor in the opening up of the workings of government over the past twenty years’. 

And this week, according to the BBC website:

‘The scale of health reforms being made in England has taken the NHS by “surprise” and could threaten its ability to make savings, MPs say.

The Commons health committee has criticised the “significant policy shift” of scrapping primary care trusts and passing control of budgets to GPs.’

Therefore select committees continue to be a thorn in government’s side and there is a strong argument for strengthening their powers, especially given that we have a coalition government which has drafted policies that voters of the Conservative and Lib Dem parties didn’t know they were getting (most obviously the hike in tuition fees, which the Lib Dems pledged to oppose pre-election).

Forget the broken electoral system, what about broken promises?

Monday, January 10, 2011

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We all know Polly Toynbee isn’t the most unbiased commentator around, but she has shed light this weekend on the astonishing degree to which the current Conservative led government has backtracked on many of its promises.

U-turn if you want to, this Dave is for turning.

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A real alternative?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

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As a follow up to Owen’s earlier post, here are another couple of links to the AV issue.

I have been surprised by how many people are unaware of the referendums coming up later in the year. All the more surprising considering large numbers are (a) Politics students (b) eligible to vote in either of the polls (c) both!

Guardian overview of the IPPR report.

John Kampfner arguing the case for reform of fptp

So that’s the AV vote, but what’s the other one? The clue is in the picture on this posting.  See here.

AS Politics update: internal Tory divisions

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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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.

See more here

AS (and UK Issues) Politics update: Labour opposition to Tory education policy

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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.

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Rebels, rebels. The party’s a mess. AS Politics update: effectiveness of Parliament

Friday, December 10, 2010

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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.”

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AS Politics: constitutional reform update

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

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Promises made by leaders in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay that the devolved governments will pay for the proposed hike in tuition fees have led some to argue that we are witnessing the development of educational apartheid.

This latest controversy gives us a chance to revisit the debate on devolution.

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Pressure groups update: students and young people

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

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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.

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AS politics: election systems update

Sunday, December 05, 2010

“image” I’ve just been doing some research on the arguments for and against the alternative vote.

This is a summary of my initial findings. I also link to some resources.

It’s not an exhaustive account of the debate, but makes a good starting point if you are looking to integrate the potential introduction of AV for Westminster into your essays on ditching fptp.

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The student protests and civil liberties

Friday, November 26, 2010

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I have no doubt that blog readers have been following the student protests about the proposed tuition fee hike and plan to end the EMA closely (indeed many of you may well have taken part).

The issue raises all sorts of questions about the state of democracy in the UK.

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Essential update: differences between Labour and the Conservatives

Thursday, November 25, 2010

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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.

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More peers than MPs? Surely some mistake

Friday, November 19, 2010

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...»

To AV or not AV (that is one of the questions)?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Following the defeat in the Lords this week of a plan by the opposition to kill the government’s planned twin AV and constituency resizing bill, it looks more likely that there will be a referendum next May—only the second national referendum in the country’s history.

This means that consideration of the arguments for and against what the government plans are of increased importance. Voting reform can be a bit dry to newcomers, seeming like an unfortunate blizzard of systems and figures. But ultimately it comes down to what type of government, legislators and legislature we want. There is a fine balance between voter choice, representation, accountability and ease of use. So, of course, there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system given the competing and varied strengths they possess.

But I thought I’d draw your attention to a couple of articles by the Labour peer, David Lipsey, a man who served on the Jenkins Commission and is former deputy ed of the Economist. Both worth reading.

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Lords material

Saturday, November 13, 2010

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The status of Britain’s second chamber has been the very definition of a dilemma: a choice between two contrasting options, neither of which are ideal. It is impossible to claim it is a legitimate body when over 90 of its members are there by bloodline. Contrastingly, the best kept secret in British politics is that it actually does a very good job.

It is according to statistics, the most active second chamber in the world, sitting for longer and more frequently than anywhere else. Morover, it is impossible to question the quality of its output. A case in point comes this week with the publication of a cross party report which is scathing about the consequences of the current government’s plan to equalise constitutency sizes, slash the number of MPs and hold an AV referendum.

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MPs are revolting (even more)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

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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.

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Should murderers have the right to vote?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

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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.

A fresh look at the importance of PMQs

Sunday, October 31, 2010

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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.

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The political compass

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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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 the link.

Half Term reading

Monday, October 25, 2010

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.

A portrait of the First Lady.

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.

Where the (our) money goes

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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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.

Anyhoo, here is the link.

Power in the central executive territory

Saturday, October 16, 2010

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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.

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Prime Ministers are not like you and me

Thursday, October 14, 2010

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In the Guardian last Friday Simon Hoggart produced a few anecdotes about recent PMs, all taken from his new book “A Long Lunch”.

What Mrs Thatcher’s Husband, Denis, says about Canada is sure to make anyone laugh.

See the link here.

The Labour years: out of the wilderness

Saturday, September 25, 2010

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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?

See it here - I’ll say it again, it is one to file for future reference.

UK welfare policy: new directions?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

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If you are studying UK issues, there is an interesting feature that should prompt some class debate on a cross-party attmept to tackle Britain’s long term unemployment problem. According to the Sunday Times the government is looking to the City of London to pump investment into blighted communities as a way of relieving the burden on the state and breaking the cycle of poverty of aspiration that has blighted households across generations in some of the poorest parts of the country.

See the story here. And before you think that the Sunday Times has suddenly found a heart, note the accompanying story of an extreme case of the absent father who apparently costs UK taxpayers millions. It seems that this part of the Murdoch empire is nearly as “fair and balanced” as its Fox News counterpart in the US.

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010

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

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Crikey! More Boris

Friday, September 10, 2010

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

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

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Connecting between class and the media

Thursday, September 09, 2010

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

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

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Great resource on Con-Lib coalition so far

Monday, August 02, 2010

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A series in the Observer this week provides a rich source of material for teachers to plunder, or for students to use as part of a research exercise.

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Getting into judges

Friday, July 30, 2010

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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.

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Full Cabinet graphic

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

There’s an excellent pullout in today’s Guardian detailing the composition of government ministers.

You can also access a version online.  Click here

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

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As if recent cases by judges on civil liberties weren’t enough to convince students that the judiciary is far from the most boring topic on the AS syllabus (see my earlier posting on this), the Supreme Court yesterday did us a big favour in making one of the most controversial rulings by UK judges in recent history.

Indeed, were it not for the perfect storm that Nick Clegg seems to have found himself in I am sure this would have been much higher up the news agenda.

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Dispatches

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

An excellent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary last night on Cameron’s government. Lots of good stuff here for both Politics and Economics students, for example discussing the proposed “Office for Budget Responsibility” to introduce more independence into Treasury forecasts. There’s been lots of talk about fiscal tightening in recent months, but this program asks where exactly do the Tories want to start fiscal tightening - and the non-committal answers will have you laughing/crying*, with no Shadow Minister agreeing to a cut in their department; and the Conservative party not wanting to admit to future tax rises just before the election. It also discusses the issue of the Conservatives and their stance on Europe.
*delete as appropriate

Beefing up the Commons

Sunday, February 14, 2010

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During discussion on reforming the constitution, usually little attention is paid to reforming the powers and responsibilities of MPs.  But creating a less executive dominated lower chamber would, it can be argued, lead to more effective legislation.

Late last year a new parliamentary committee was set up on Commons reform, chaired by Tony Wright MP.  They came up with a series of recommendations, a summary of which can be found here.

According to the Guardian the main reforms are as follows: “The first is that the chairs of select committees should be elected by secret ballot of the house, and that committee members should be elected by secret ballot from within party groups. The second is that backbenchers should wrest a significant portion of the government’s power over the scheduling of business in the Commons. The third is that the public should be actively assisted to play a real part, including through the use of e-petitions, in setting the agenda for debate in parliament. All of these changes would weaken the power of the whips.”

And Henry Porter in today’s Observer reports on the arcane, but significant political battle on Standing Order 14.

Prospects for electoral reform, and a changed electoral landscape?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A little while back I penned an article for t2u’s digital politics magazine outlining the steps that would need to be taken for electoral reform to become a reality for Westminster.  In summary, these were: a possible hung parliament; a PM committed to change; a majority of Cabinet; MP support; safe passage through the Lords; and at some stage in all of this a plebiscite of the people.

Like an alignment of the stars, this seems to be taking shape.

Yesterday’s vote on a vote in the Commons on AV brings us closer to moving from simple plurality than at any stage in recent history.

The BBC has some great graphics on how a remodelled election would have played out over the past three decades.  Useful stuff for considering the merits of change.  From a personal perspective, this move by Labour continues the British tradition of tinkering with the constitution for reasons of short term political expediency.  In other words, Brown is trying to cuddle up to the Lib Dems—a horrible image for all sorts of reasons.

A simple guide to electoral reform

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

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From the BBC website.

A useful Q&A on electoral reform explaining the AV debate and providing an overview of the operation of the various systems used in the UK in plain English.

I’ll file this away for use when doing Unit 1 revision later in the year.

More mayors

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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One of the constitutional reforms that gets little attention is directly elected mayors. A report from the New Local Government Network (NLGN) champions the idea for city regions.

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Student Challenge - make their own Cameron poster

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A terrific interactive resource here.  Students have the chance to make their own version of the infamous David Cameron airbrushed, presidential campaign poster from the early weeks of Jan 2010.  Simply type in the message, the strap line and off they go.

Launch Make Your Own David Cameron Poster

Judges and civil liberties

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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The question asking about the extent to which judges protect civil liberties resurfaced this week as the European Court in Strasbourg (which is, of course, a non EU body) when judges ruled that the government’s s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was illegal.

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How adversarial is British Politics? Not very - according to this data

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A fascinating piece of analysis by Phil Cowley and Mark Stuart over at revolts.co.uk.  It suggests that, when it comes to the Conservative’s voting record on bills in the House of Commons, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have enjoyed the support of a very loyal opposition…

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Schools: did things only get better?

Monday, January 04, 2010

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Sometimes when looking for information relating to education policy with a view to route A for edexcel it’s a case of what to ignore rather than what to read.  This is a good overview from a Guardian editorial, covering the pros and cons of Labour reform post 1997.

From a personal perspective I just can’t see how massive investment in education can’t have a positive long term supply side effect.  Perhaps it will only be visible in five or ten years when the earliest cohort to benefit from the spending increases works through.

Get the link here

Pressure Groups & the NHS

Sunday, December 27, 2009

As we approach the 2010 General Election, we can expect increasing media exposure of a variety of pressure groups hoping to shape and influence the political debate.  A good example of a pressure group which has probably been beneath most people’s radar - until now - is in the Telegraph todayNurses for Reform, a right-of-centre pressure group, are reported as having had a private meeting with David Cameron.  The NHS is touchy subject for the Conservatives, as evidenced by the media storm whipped up by Daniel Hannan’s comments recently.  So a meeting with a pressure group advocating full-scale privatisation of the NHS might shake things up again…

The heat is on

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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There are a raft of useful articles on party politics in the papers at the minute, and great as a basis for any media lessons.

In the Times yesterday they focused on the forthcoming Queen’s speech and the likelihood that it will kick off a massive political tussle over the coming months.

See the features here and here.

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian at the weekend penned an article calling for Labour MPs to do the honorable thing and force GB to step aside.  There is a strong feeling in the Labour Party that the election may not be winnable with a new leader but the party is likely to suffer a crushing defeat if he remains in power.  Toynbee suggests that it’s still all to play for if a new person gets in.  See the article here.

Personally I have accepted that barring disaster David Cameron will be PM from May 2010 onwards, and that Labour should start preparing for life in opposition.  At the moment there is no sense of what will happen next and the worry is that the party will lose direction.  It’s happened before.  Think Labour after 1979, or the Tories after 1997.

The New Conservative Policy on Europe - What Really Happened

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Iain Martin has an exclusive over at the Wall Street Journal.  He has been been handed a dodgy dossier which details the Conservative leadership’s fraught decision making process as they attempted to come up with the new policy. It is based on minutes of top secret meetings held in recent months and for historians offers a rare glimpse of the inner workings of the Tory high command.

Useful Politics online resources on the BBC

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

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The BBC has launched a new online service that should make tracking politics on film easier. 

There’s also a very useful section on the various governing institutions, what powers they have, and so forth.

I also came across a section on the online archives on Mrs Thatcher.  Lots of clips and Panorama interviews that I once stored on VHS tapes.

Lectures on the constitution

Friday, October 09, 2009

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

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Tories: defining times?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

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The Sun may have switched its support this week by backing the Conservatives, but another of the News International stable is far from convinced that the Tories offer a definig vision of what they would do in government.

It is an old truism that oppositions do not win elections, governments lose them, but voters need to be given a clearer idea about how the Tories would have governed differently from Labour and what direction a Conservative government would take.  If this choice is not made clear, starting this week at the Tory conference in Manchester, we could see the gap between the two main parties close as the election battle gets more intense. 

See the leading article in the Times here.

Labour: a summary of old and new Labour policies

Friday, October 02, 2009

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Gordon Brown, in a rather desperate last ditch bid to regain some ground on the Tories, announced a blizzard of specific policy announcements at conference this week.

The Guardian on Wednesday provided a summary. I am going to use this list to update my notes on whether Labour has abandoned its traditional principles.

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Labour pains

Sunday, September 27, 2009

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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.

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The Lib Dems: a failure to fly?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

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Grandiose debates about a potential realignment in British politics seem out of place after a shoddy conference by the Liberal Democrats.

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Pick of the papers

Sunday, September 20, 2009

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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.

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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.

Let battle commence

Friday, September 18, 2009

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Steve Richards, writing in today’s Independent, suggests that it’s possibly too late in the political cycle for the main parties to change their leaders or their policies.  It’s a nice preview of how the months between now and the election will pan out.  For instance, Richards predicts that Brown will go to the country in May—the implication of this, of course, is that many blog readers could be voting in their first general election sooner than they think.

The battle over spending

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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What caught my eye in the papers this morning was a very useful feature in the Indy outlining Labour and Tory policy, as well as possible changes, on public services.

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Sunday roundup

Monday, September 14, 2009

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The most informative articles from the weekend’s papers concern Gordon Brown.

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What’s the BNP got to do with it?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

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I think that at this stage of teaching and learning in the British Politics course it is a case of looking for matches between what’s in the news and what the syllabus focuses on.  It is unlikely there will be a question on the significance of the BNP in UK parliamentary politics, but we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the news that Labour have abandoned its boycott of the far right by agreeing to appear on Question Time alongside the BNP as directly relevant to certain aspects of the course.

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Labour and electoral reform

Sunday, September 06, 2009

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I’ve noted on another posting that due to the challenges facing Barack Obama as President, it is an exciting time to be studying American Politics. Likewise on this side of the Atlantic given that we are due a General Election before the end of this academic year.

Many are predicting electoral wipe-out for the current government on the scale Labour faced in 1983 and the Tories on a similar scale in 1997. But a report in today’s Observer suggests that Gordon Brown may seriously consider promising a poll on electoral reform on the same day as the election as a means of minimising collateral electoral damage.

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Mandy at the LSE

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I’ve just received news of an exciting opportunity to hear the deputy PM in all but name speak on the electoral challenges facing his government.  Given that it’s this following Monday, It’s probably too short notice for our classes to make the trip into town given all the health and safety compliance that would need to be done.  But one would hope that readers of the blog will be able to make it.

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Read on for further details.

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A level Politics on the up?

Friday, August 21, 2009

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Details of national A level figures in today’s Telegraph suggest a recent surge of interest in study of Politics.

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Heard the one about police fighting two year old terrorists?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Should powers designed to fight terrorism in the wake of 9/11 be used on people as young as two years old?

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Tory triangulation

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Further evidence of Conservative Party modernisation came this week in a speech from George Osborne.

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Are we open to open primaries?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

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.

Brown v Cameron

Thursday, July 02, 2009

If you want to keep up with the latest phoney election war ins and outs, then Simon Carr in today’s Indpendent makes it relatively painless.

It’s the economy, stupid!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Politics Blog has taken on something of a US Politics slant, but in its defence it is a process of its contributors following not just their interests, but paralleling what they are doing in the classroom. You may be aware that blogs with a different orientation will be up on the T2u site soon, and hopefully that will help satisfy demand. But in the short term I would draw your attention to an excellent piece by the Indy’s Hamish McRae. Students often ask about whether politics or economics is more important in shaping world events, and that’s a tricky one to answer in absolute terms. At the moment, the economy is certainly driving politics. It is the downturn in the economy that have changed Gordon Brown’s fortunes, and the anger over MPs’ expenses is a manifestation of the inability of government to keep to its ridiculous end to boom and bust promise. The status of the economy also determines the rather puerile debate going on at the minute between the two main parties over projected spending beyond the end of this Parliament. The fact is that no one knows for sure how much money will be in Treasury coffers and politicians are obviously too scared to say as much.

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Politics summer reading: book reviews

Monday, June 29, 2009

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Well, maybe readers of the blog will be disinclined to splash out on these fairly expensive hardback (which may or may not be prime examples of price discrimination) versions.  But they are a pointer towards some of the best of the new releases.  And you could always urge your teacher or librarian to order them before the paperback is released.

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Developments in devolution

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Donald Dewar, the chief architect of Scottish devolution, is reported to have said that devoution is a process, not an event.  News emerging this week serves only to confirm this.

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Hague gets the Paxman treatment

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

William Hague doesnt want to answer questions about the “elephant in the room” - the tax status of Lord Ashcroft, the financier bankrolling the Conservative election campaign.  That’s despite Jeremy Paxman asking him a few times…

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AS: constitutional reform

Monday, June 01, 2009

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

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AS revision: PM power

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ben Franklin is reported to have said that two things are certain in life, death and taxes.  We could add a further certainty: if a PM/Cab questions comes up in AS exams it will be the most popular response.  Here is a quick note about GB.

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AS: revision reading

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It has been encouraging to see so many candidates employ recent events in their answers in this summer’s exam session.  Evidence has been particularly strong in questions on parties and/or democracy.  Here is a pointer to some excellent comment on the recent constitutional reform packages touted by the various party bigwigs in the past few days.

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AS Revision: Constitutional Reform

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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It seems very much like a case of if it’s Tuesday it must be Cameron’s turn.  But the Tory leader’s announcement on constitutional reforms provides a rich vein of material for those studying for the UK government papers.

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Electing and connecting

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lots of good politics in today’s papers, principally in relation to Alan Johnson’s letter to the Times about the need to hold a referendum on electoral reform alongside the vote at the next General Election.

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Andrew Mackay under the spotlight

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A must-watch video shows Conservative MP facing the media and his constituents after a meeting of party members….

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AS revision: decline of Parliament

Geoffrey Wheatcroft has penned a must read article on the role of the House of Commons in today’s Guardian

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AS revision: devolution

Thursday, May 21, 2009

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The 10th anniversary of the first round of elections to the new devolved arenas in Scotland and Wales passed by earlier this month, and the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament reconvening after a gap of nearly 300 years happens next month.

A whole clutch of news outlets have considered the impact of a decade of devolution and a browse through any of the special reports would help consolidate understanding on this topic.

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AS revision: MPs’ expenses

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I’ve had a few questions from my groups about the significance of recent events in Parliament and how important it is that they write about it in the forthcoming exams.

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AS note: no trade off in civil liberties

Monday, May 18, 2009

Official government research indicates that CCTV has made a minimal impact on crime prevention

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AS/A2 revision: Whither Parliament?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The MPs’ expenses row has thrown up a lot of intelligent comment about the purpose of MPs and the role of the legislature in the democratic process.  It is this author’s view that lots of MPs do work hard and perform an effective role, but it’s just that the good work they do does not involve legislating or (with the possible exception of some select committee work) checking the executive.  MPs do work hard in representing their constituents and often serve as a last resort for frightened and frustrated individuals.  Henry Porter in the Observer writes at length about how ineffective MPs are as legislators.  Useful reference material when considering the extent to which Parliament performs its functions effectively, or even in considering the relative effectiveness of legislatures from a synoptic perspective.

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AS revision: Parliamentary scrutiny

Friday, May 15, 2009

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In the run up to the exams, the Politics blog will seek to provide some help by uploading details of recent examples of political activity that can be used in the exam hall, or the odd revision note.

Here is a quick update on a story some of you may have noticed in the press, but may not have realised it is an important example of how Parliament can check the executive.

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AS political parties: death of new Labour?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

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It may be exaggerating matters to talk about a red flag flying over Number 11, but there is a strong argument to say that this year’s Budget is the final nail in New Labour’s coffin

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UK politics documentary heads up

Saturday, April 18, 2009

image  ‘The Westminster Gravy Train’,
Dispatches, Channel 4, Sunday 19 April 2008, 7pm, looks at MP’s expenses

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What does a spad do?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

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The Damian McBride affair has shed the spotlight on the murky world of special advisers.

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Ministerial perks

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Discussion of free accommodation available to senior members of the government crops up every year in my British Politics lessons.  The Independent’s Big Question covers it as part of the ongoing debate about MP’s expenses.  For students who want to know more, and for teachers who want to be well armed with information, read on.

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More promises of a bonfire of the quangos

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An area not covered by some Politics courses is the issue of quangos.  These non departmental public bodies are a source of great controversy since they are unelected and therefore unaccountable, and spend a great deal of public money.

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Fancy a debt of £32,000?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

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A controversial report by a bunch of university chiefs has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy on student funding.

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Rawnsley again

Sunday, March 15, 2009

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This article will probably form the basis of my Media Monday session this week, unless I come across anything on the web between now and then.  Of course, students covering UK Issues or Ideologies at A2 will have loads to discuss on the recent attacks in Northern Ireland by Irish nationalists.

Rawnsley’s article is ostensibly about the Tory leader, but acts as a useful primer on PM/Cabinet relations during the Blair and Brown premierships.

Gordomania?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

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There’s a short report in the Evening Standard tonight about Gordon Brown giving his stamp of authority to proposals the Labour Party is considering which are designed to usher in a new era of party politics.  With party membership in long term decline (although there has been a slight blip upwards for the Tories since David Cameron became leader) parties are considering new ways of connecting to supporters who may help out with campaigning.

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A new Lib-Lab pact?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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Students quite often give me quizzical looks when they see me ploughing through newspapers, scissors at the ready.  Quite simply I am looking for those nuggets of information that will hopefully find their way into a new first past the post article, or one of the tutor2u revision guides.  Here are details of one I filed this morning, which is a corker.  Vernon Bogdanor, one of the most respected authorities on British politics penned an article in The Times last week postulating the idea of a new coalition between a Brown led Labour Party and Lib-Dem rump led by Nick Clegg.  Fantasy politics?

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Reclaiming liberties?

Sunday, March 01, 2009
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The pick of the weekend’s press coverage of the latest developments in British politics has to be the focus on rights and liberties.  The current government has shown something of a split personality when it comes to civil rights.  On the one hand it has passed the Human Rights Act, but on the other has passed a raft of legislation that has been used to (deliberately or not) severely curtail liberties.  Of course, the Tories before them were not exactly guilt free.  Here we could think of death on the rock, union bans at GCHQ, Spycatcher, banning illegal raves (identified as events where “music with a repetitive beat” is played).  But people from across the political spectrum (except Labour ministers) have expressed grave concerns about erosion of rights and liberties that took years of effort to establish have been swept away by government since 1997.  This weekend a series of events launched by the Convention on Modern Liberty took place throughout the UK.  According to the Observer, the event was the biggest convention on civil liberties ever held in Britain.  Is this a sign that people are no longer satisfied to watch us sleepwalking towards a police state?

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Is it Thatcher’s fault for the state we’re in?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Like him or loathe him, Ken Livingstone is, almost, always good value-for-money with his comments. On the Andy Marr show this morning he laid the blame for the current banking crisis firmly at the feet of Margaret Thatcher and her policies of deregulation in the 1980s.

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Pick of the papers

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I would draw the attention of blog readers to two excellent comment pieces on the current state of the Conservative Party as in the eyes of many it moves closer to government.  The first is by Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer.  The second by former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo in the Sunday Times.  Both provide the kind of context and analysis that Politics students should be exposing themselves to.

Taking liberties

Friday, February 20, 2009
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According to the Independent website:

‘The full extent of state powers to detain people without charge, cover up Government errors, hold the DNA of the innocent and share personal data between public bodies has been revealed in a devastating analysis of the erosion of civil liberties in Britain over the past decade.’

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Margaret

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From the trailer this looks like a compelling production, so it’s recommended viewing for all Politics students.

26 Feb 2009, 21:00 on BBC Two

From the BBC press office:

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What do I think of local government?

Thursday, February 19, 2009
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I was asked this question by David Cameron this morning.  Or at least I received an email from some lackey at Tory central office informing of a green paper published by the party which spells out plans to give councils more power.

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UKIP leader takes time out from campaigning

Thursday, February 12, 2009
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Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party was kind enough to give up some of his time and share some of his ideas on Britain’s relations with the European Union by coming to speak to my school’s Politics Society.

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Gordon’s ‘depression’

Wednesday, February 04, 2009
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Wag economists are inclined to say that the difference between a recession and a depression is that in the former your neighbour loses his job, in the latter you lose your job.  But it seems that Gordon is doing his best to put himself out of work by lurching into depression territory in what can only be described as a Freudian slip.

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The Big Question: House of Lords reform

Tuesday, February 03, 2009
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A great starting point for starting study of House of Lords reform is this feature in the Independent’s Big Question series.

Retaining the House of Lords

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

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

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

 

Posher than John Lewis?

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New research suggests that Labour have failed in opening access to higher education and have done little in their attempt to improve social mobility.  Say the Guardian:

‘Attempts to increase the proportion of university students from low-income families and ethnic minorities have been at the heart of Labour’s higher education policies. They are linked to the government’s target to have 50% of young people in university by next year.

Universities such as Bristol have tried to shake off their reputation for elitism, with initiatives to encourage under-represented groups to apply. But the research shows that at Bristol University 3% of students come from the poorest quarter of homes, while 54% are from the richest quarter.’

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Why no Lords reform

Sunday, February 01, 2009

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

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

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

Cameron’s compassion

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I wondered when David Cameron would seek to spell out a more coherent vision for where he would like to take the nation under a Conservative government.  Like Blair in the mid-90s the Tory leader has appeared content to play a waiting game, watching the government slowly implode.  New Labour appeared like a direct continuation of Thatcherism to many and there was little on the surface to distinguish it in policy terms from the Conservatives - except perhaps the focus on modernising UK democracy in the shape of constitutional reform (which was in any case a hangover from the Kinnock/Smith days).  As Blair rather than Major was the heir to Thatcher, Cameron has presented himself as the heir to Blair and put forward a case for saying that the Tories would be more competent stewards of the nation than Gordon Brown.

This week Cameron has gone on record as saying that the free market needs to be reformed. 

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Devolution disaster?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

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

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

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

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

Prospects in 2009 for the “Do Nothing” Party?

Monday, January 05, 2009

2009 promises to be a fascinating year for UK politics watchers.  One aspect I’ll be watching closely is how David Cameron and his team try to address the accusation that they are the “do nothing” party…

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Bloody Mary

Sunday, December 14, 2008

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The economic crisis has led to clear blue water opening up between the two main political parties, but now another type of liquid has been used to help us understand how Tory and Labour policy on the looming recession differ.

In today’s Observer it states:

‘Brown abandoning prudence has, for the first time in years opened a real division between the two main parties over economic policy.

When he became Tory leader in late 2005, one of David Cameron’s key objectives was to prevent Brown ever again claiming that the Conservatives would cut spending and slash investment in public services. Resisting calls from the right to revert to type with a tax-cutting policy - and bent on rebranding the Conservatives as more modern and compassionate - Cameron insisted instead on matching Labour spending plans until 2010, and possibly beyond. The closer he stuck to Brown, the less he could be attacked for risking public services.

Brown’s uncharacteristically gung-ho reaction to the current crisis - pumping an extra £20bn into the economy, raising government borrowing well above the £100bn mark - has changed all that. He believes that the only way to keep the economy afloat is to encourage people to spend their way out the gloom. But his conversion to huge additional borrowing as the cure for recession proved a step too far for Cameron. In a speech at the London School of Economics last Tuesday, he slated Brown’s ‘reckless’ borrowing and ‘spend now, forget the future’ approach. The Tories now argue that Brown’s fiscal stimulus is ‘like taking a Bloody Mary the morning after’; it addresses the symptoms, not the causes, of the problem. The implication is that Brown is drunk on borrowing while their prescription is the sober one, rooted in grim reality.’

Blogger thinks the party’s over

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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For the past few weeks I have been trying to drum up support among students for political parties.  They are the lifeblood of democracy, I say.  The whole British political system could be considered and analysed through the prism of political parties, I plead - in a poor attempt to foster genuine enthusiasm.  As a desperate measure I put it to them that there is no better time to be studying parties than at any time since the emergence of New Labour - or, arguably, since the ideological wars of the early 1980s.

But fellow Edexcel Unit 1 examiners should expect the usual flood of responses on pressure groups and election systems.  For, I think, I have failed.  Parties just don’t do it.  But in some ways, who can blame our young charges when our political leaders shed more heat than light on the major issues facing our country today

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Saturday roundup

Saturday, November 22, 2008

There’s a raft of stories relevant to British politics students in today’s papers.

First there is a report on the government’s plans to press ahead with the controversial ID card proposal

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/nov/22/identity-cards-home-office

Then there’s a fairly thorough analysis of David Cameron’s response to Brown’s buy now, pay later plans to get the economy moving

There’s quite an interesting piece here on the BNP’s most high ranking elected official

I would also draw the attention of readers to this excellent overview of the financial crisis in the US by Larry Elliot

 

More snap election talk

Friday, November 21, 2008

There is a great deal of speculation in Westminster at the moment about whether GB will call an early election.

Peter Riddell is, as always, on the money with his comments.  He writes:

‘Forget speculation about an early general election. It is not going to happen, nor should it. Unlike 14 months ago, this chatter is not coming from the Brown circle. The official line that Gordon Brown is concentrating on the recession is obviously in part to avoid a repeat of the damaging Grand Old Duke of York act of October last year. But his caution is more than just self-righteousness. It also makes political and electoral sense.’

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Don’t give up on the parties

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A weird paradox exists in Politics at A level – or at the very least seems to exist from the perspective of a teacher and examiner – that parties as a topic is very unpopular in exams (i.e. there are relatively few responses) but students find it interesting as a topicimage

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Bullingdon Club antics don’t look too good in a recession

Sunday, October 26, 2008

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An interesting feature of the media coverage of the George Osborne sleaze scandal in the last week has been the resurrection of images from the Shadow Chancellor’s membership of the infamous Bullingdon Club - a hell-raising drinking club at Oxford…

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Yachtgate - George Osborne on the Ropes

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

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This piece from Channel 4 news introduces the story of Yachtgate, which sees Shadow Chancellor George Osborne fighting for his political life…

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Wipeout!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today’s pick of the papers is a feature in the Observer reporting on a poll conducted by PoliticsHome.com predicting that the number of Labour MPs could be cut by half at the next election

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New Labour, where art thou?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It seems like not that long ago that Blair’s New Labour cemented its postion as the new elite force in British politics.  Now serious journalists are suggesting that whilst it is too soon to pronounce the project as dead, it is on the way out.  Further, it seems intent on auto-administering a lethal injection

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