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Are you a secret Tory, Lib Dem, Lab, Kipper, Green or BNP voter?

Friday, January 23, 2015

The website Vote for Policies might help students and teachers in the run up to May's General Election. 

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‘Wordsnake’ Activity on recent Party Conference Speeches

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Here's a fun resource that's trickier then it sounds. 'Wordsnake' is a resource developed by our very own Graham Prior. At first glance it appears to be a wordsearch as you see a grid of what appears to be 100 random letters. However, the name of a key political figure 'snakes' around the grid rather than being up, down or diagonal as in a normal wordsearch.

Students are given a quote from a major UK political figure made at a 2014 Party Conference and their name is hidden in the grid. Just to be naughty, one of the quotes is not actually from a speech - it was a quote that was missing from a speech!

Who can be the first to spot the answer and call out its location?

If the answer is not obvious at first, the teacher can press the space bar and the letters reveal themselves one at a time. 

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Political Compass activity - test students knowledge of UK party position

Monday, September 29, 2014

Here's a challenging activity to test how much your students know about the political position of the main UK parties.  Inspired by the research and information available from The Political Compass website, it asks students to place the parties on a grid.  The horizontal axis is the usual economic left or right but the vertical axis is based upon the level of how authoritarian or libertarian the party's policies might be.

Having placed the parties on the grid (printed off from the Powerpoint resource), the teacher can then enter each team's response and give them a score out of 100 (the closer the student answers are to the positions stated by The Political Compass website, the higher their score).

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

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: Labour as a One-Nation Party?

There was an interesting turn of events at the Labour party conference in 2012 when Ed Miliband used the term to “one nation” to describe his party. The phrase originates from as long ago as the nineteenth century when the Conservative leader, Benjamin Disraeli, sought to drag his party back from the political wilderness and to connect with the newly enfranchised working class. He warned of the dangers of two nations divided into the rich and the poor. One nation Conservatism then was used to describe a Conservative ideology which justified state intervention on paternalistic grounds to lesson income and wealth divisions. Ironically, similarities may be made with Cameron’s “compassionate Conservatism”.

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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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One Nation Labour & Some Revision on GOVP1 and GOV3B

Saturday, January 12, 2013

If students of the political world were in any doubt as to Ed Miliband's thoughts towards Old and New Labour, they have certainly been ironed out, as Old and New Labour are definitely sent to the grave. This further announcement today at the historic Fabian's Society is political gold for all students sitting the Ideologies Paper next week. 

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An Early Political Christmas Present

Sunday, December 23, 2012

It's not long before the Exams are upon us and you are lucky as politics students to get this early Christmas Present!

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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.”



Cat fight over Human Rights Act?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The recent ‘cat fight’ over the Human Rights Act sparked by Teresa May at the recent Tory conference and then fuelled by Ken Clarke’s response [referring to May’s assertion as “laughable child-like”] has caused something of a storm in a tea cup.  However, it does raise the issue of how well protected are our rights?  Will we see the HRA be swept aside in a simple swipe of Tory pique and excercise of parliamentary sovereignty?  Hence, the debate of whether we in fact need an entrenched Bill of Rights is again relevant. 

The most amusing reporting of the ‘cat-atrophic’ fur fetched’ tale comes from Guido Fawke’s:

Claws For Moment: It never goes well when a politician utters the words “I am not making this up”. Often it turns out they are and Theresa May’s anecdote about a man not being deported because he had a cat is no exception. Larry the Cat may have been left at No. 10, but conference suddenly went cat-tastic. It’s the purrfect story for a subdued conference, and the tabby-loids are all over this fur-fetched tail. Cameron will be fur-ious, but Guido reckons she’ll get away with it, by a whisker and she can claw back her reputation . We will now take a paws from the cat puns.

Today’s Huffington Post has an interesting follow up article “ Human Rights and Cat Fights - The Calls for Reform Must not be Silenced”, which asserts

It would be, to coin a phrase, child-like to summate the debate around the Human Rights Act as one between those in favour of protecting human rights in law, and those against doing so.

Click here for the full article.

Global Issues: Changing Nature of Warfare: Could the Taliban return?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The ‘10 year anniversary’ of the war in Afghanistan has put the Taliban into the spotlight oncemore, not least given recent events such as the breakdown in possible talks with the Taliban, the recent assination of a former Aghan president and the activities of the Haqqani network.  The Taliban are of interest in relation to the Global Issues course both in terms of how the character of modern conflict has changed in terms of ‘new’ wars in terms of being a non-state internal actor and the nature of insurgency itself; however, they are also of interest in terms of the rise identity politics in terms of their stress on Pushtun identity and adherence to a fundamentalist view of Islam.

Here are a few useful resources:
1. Podcaste of an interesting BBC Radio interview with Ahmed Rashid (Pakistani journalist and author of the excellent ‘Descent into Chaos’ addressing the issue of ‘Can the Taliban return?’
2. BBC - Success of the Taliban - looks at how a rag tag militia have turned into a .successful guerilla army mounting an intractable insurgency.
3.  BBC: Who are the Taliban?

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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Global Issues: Terrorism ~ Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Of interest to Global Issues students will be the ‘targeted killing’ of the radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike.  Such measures are a part of counterterrorism strategy and operations; however, while US policy makers may tout this as a victory in the ‘war on terror’, the episode highlights controversial aspects of the expanding targeted killing policy. 

The CFR has the following comment:

‘The targeted killing of al-Awlaki eliminates an inspirational and charismatic voice of al-Qaeda, as well as someone who U.S. officials asserted was playing an increasing operational role. However, like most targeted killings, it probably will not make much difference in reducing the ability of al-Qaeda or affiliated groups in mobilizing, recruiting, and planning terrorist operations.  In addition, it calls to mind a similar targeted killing that occurred almost nine years ago, which is illustrative to remember as U.S. officials—anonymously of course—condone al-Alwaki’s death.’

Of interest may be an earlier blog post which coincided with the Yemen ‘Christmas Cargo Bombplot’:
Global Issues: Terrorism ~ Bomb Plots, Yemen and AQAP

For more on the story here are a few BBC links:
Obama: Anwar Al-Awlaki death is major blow for al-Qaeda
Obituary: Anwar al-Awlaki
Profile: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

The foreign policy think tank has a useful backrounder on the controversial and seemingly more common practice of ‘targeted killings - click here.

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

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

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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Introducing Politics: Gay Marriage and UK Democracy

Sunday, September 18, 2011


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

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

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

According to the Telegraph:

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

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

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

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Easy intro to British Politics

Monday, September 05, 2011

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


Check it out here.

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.

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.

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

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

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


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

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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Have post 1997 constitutional reforms been a success?

Saturday, May 07, 2011

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

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

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AV (apathy vote)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

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

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Labour and Conservative battle lines update

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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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Nick’s journey

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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

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

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

A new dawn for civil liberties?

Monday, February 14, 2011

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

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Party politics: the consensus on law and order

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

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.)

Forget the broken electoral system, what about broken promises?

Monday, January 10, 2011

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The controversy over honours for political benefactors was reopened today with the appointment of a clutch of party donors and political apparatchiks as working peers.

The millionaire car importer Bob Edmiston, who gave £2m to the Tories, the Conservative party treasurer Stanley Fink, and the Labour donor Sir Gulam Noon were among 54 new working peers announced by Downing Street today.

Howard Flight, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, and Tina Stowell, a former deputy chief of staff to William Hague when he was opposition leader, were also on the list.”

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

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

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

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

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MPs are revolting (even more)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

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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A fresh look at the importance of PMQs

Sunday, October 31, 2010

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

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.

Where the (our) money goes

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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.

Prime Ministers are not like you and me

Thursday, October 14, 2010

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.

Is Labour democratic?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It is often said that parties are more democratic than pressure groups because their leadership is elected. But given that the new Labour leader Ed Miliband failed to garner most votes from party members or MPs and essentially won because he had the union vote, you have to wonder about the true state of internal democracy in the Labour Party.

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The Labour years: out of the wilderness

Saturday, September 25, 2010

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

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

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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Connecting between class and the media

Thursday, September 09, 2010

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

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

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Labour leadership campaign - who are you closest to?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Here’s a neat online survey which encourages people to match their views on a range of political issues against the stated policies and views of the Labour Party leadership campaign.

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Great resource on Con-Lib coalition so far

Monday, August 02, 2010

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

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Getting into judges

Friday, July 30, 2010

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

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

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

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Brown’s inner circle - AS exam update

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Over the next few weeks I will try to provide important updates of examples that students can employ in exams.

First off, the always popular PM power debate.  It’s incredible to think that about two thirds of the way through the current election campaign, Gordon Brown will have been PM for longer than John Kennedy was the American President.  By my rough calculations JFK was President for 1036 days, and Brown has been in Number 10 for 1014 days.  What’s my point?  Brown often barely gets a mention in essays analysing where power lies within the core executive.

An article by Nicholas Watt in today’s Guardian got me thinking about how we can apply our wider reading in the exam hall.

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Beefing up the Commons

Sunday, February 14, 2010

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

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

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

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

Prospects for electoral reform, and a changed electoral landscape?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

A simple guide to electoral reform

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

From the BBC website.

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

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

More mayors

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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

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Judges and civil liberties

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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

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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  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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The Internet on the Great Hoon Non-Plot

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The internet political gurus have been busy in the wake of Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt’s unloved plot.  The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson said that there were German operas which lasted longer than today’s Hoon-Hewitt plot to oust Gordon Brown. He was being generous, given that the Ring cycle goes on for rather longer than the plot ever did. But comment on it - well that’s another matter entirely. The blogs and online writers have all been leaping into action to comment, presumably preceding the Dead Tree Press’s more lofty commentators on the following day.

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Schools: did things only get better?

Monday, January 04, 2010

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

The heat is on

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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.

Useful Politics online resources on the BBC

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

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

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

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

Lectures on the constitution

Friday, October 09, 2009

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

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Tories: defining times?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

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

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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Supreme Court special

The Times carried a special pullout section on the new UK Supreme Court yesterday.

The same info, including a little video, can be found here on the web version.

Labour pains

Sunday, September 27, 2009

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

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

On the UK front the papers seem to be dominated by analysis of the party political debate on tax and spending.  For instance the Observer carries a front page story suggesting that the Tory attacks on Labour spending plans may backfire.

Here a Sunday Times editorial welcomes the development of a more open debate on the issue.

When it comes to American politics, coverage of the debate about Obama and racism dominates with acres of newsprint given over to this story.

Here Paul Harris reports from South Carolina, a state at the heart of the race row.

Keith Richburg, in an editorial piece, argues that Obama’s election victory is not proof of a post racial America.

Andrew Sullivan takes an in depth look at the race debate and outlines its significance for the Republicans.

Let battle commence

Friday, September 18, 2009

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.

Bogdanor on the constitution

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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

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The battle over spending

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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

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

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Pressure group power

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pressure groups is always a popular topic on Politics papers, most probably the number one topic on the syllabus when it comes to which question students will attempt in the examinations.  One question to be considered is the extent to which these organisations have become more important in recent years.  In tackling this question there is a worrying tendency for students to uncritically accept that their power is greater now than on the past, citing evidence such as a rise in membership of groups such as the RSPB.

But on the other side of the coin there has been a clear decline in power of the trade unions.  Gone are the days when union barons would dictate industrial policy or bring the country to a halt (ok, Bob Crow’s RMT can bring parts of London to its knees but this is exceptionally rare and localised).  When have you ever heard of the RSPB crippling the UK economy?  Or when was the last time Britain was called the sick man of Europe because F4J members had refused to turn up for work?

There’s an excellent editorial piece in today’s Guardian which could act as a useful case study on pg power.  Access it here.

What’s the BNP got to do with it?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

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

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.


Read on for further details.

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A level Politics on the up?

Friday, August 21, 2009

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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Cabinet unshuffle

Monday, August 17, 2009

There’s an interesting example in The Times about PM/Cab relations that I’ll be using when covering this topic later in the academic year.

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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

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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Has Gordon got it?

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I know many blog users will feel that they have left British politics behind with the end of the AS exams, but I would hope that studying the subject has left them with a long term interest in the politics of the country and they have not viewed the course in purely utilitarian terms, i.e. as the path of least resistance towards a decent examination grade.  As one of my students said when I informed a class that the A2 course we are studying is purely American, “So we’ve stopped doing British politics just when it was getting interesting!”.  Well, the story I’ve come across today is too good to put to one side since it gives the lie to the idea that the office of the Prime Minister has become one where the occupant is somehow all powerful.

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Developments in devolution

Sunday, June 14, 2009

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

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AS last minute updates

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I’m a Cabinet minister get me out of here!  She fell before she was pushed.  Is this the most desperate act in the dying days of the Labour government?  You decide!

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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

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

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Electing and connecting

Monday, May 25, 2009

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

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AS revision: decline of Parliament

Saturday, May 23, 2009

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

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: Ministerial responsibility


Continuing a theme for this week, here is a quick revision note and reference to a recent example on Individual Ministerial Responsibility

The MPs’ expenses scandal has led to Shahid Malik stepping down as Justice Minister.  He has not made a mistake in his ministerial role per se but the Ministerial Code of Conduct that all members of government are expected to abide by has been breached - the code dictates that minsiters must not use their position for financial advantage. 

Personally there is something ironic about Malik here.  A couple of weeks ago I heard him defend the many hardworking MPs who did not engage in expenses fiddling at a conference on democratic engagement.  Anyway, back to where this fits into the Politics syllabus…

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AS revision: Parliamentary scrutiny

Friday, May 15, 2009


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

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


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

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Are liberals wrong on rights?

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Labour’s record on civil liberties has suffered an assault equal to what campaigners say our liberties have.  Is this criticism overdone?

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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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Yes, minister?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When I read the headline to this story in today’s Indy I was expecting a tale of government will being frustrated by administrative won’t.  Reading the article I was disappointed to find that there was little evidence of senior mandarins deliberately frustrating government ministers.  But it does serve as a useful piece on the role of a minster - a frequently confusing area for students of UK Politics.

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Fancy a debt of £32,000?

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

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.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

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

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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The Comeback Kid

Sunday, March 08, 2009


As we are about to start on the Core Executive and the role of Cabinet Ministers, I thought it would be an opportune moment to look at the latest governmental incarnation of Peter Mandelson.

Now a Lord, with the title Baron Mandelson of Foy, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform still to me embodies the essence of the New Labour ‘project’. The era of ‘on message’, ‘spin’ and pagers with messages telling interviewees what to say originated under the strict dominance of the Labour hierarchy from 1994 of which Mandelson was an integral part. Indeed, he was the co-author of The Blair Revolution alongside Roger Liddle.  This book outlined why and how Labour under Blair would transform traditional party politics and was revisited in 2004 with a new, and updated, edition.

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Reclaiming liberties?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

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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Brown and the first PM

Monday, February 23, 2009

Nick Robinson has written an excellent blog piece about comparisons between the first ever Prime Minister and the current one.  Details of his related BBC Radio4 programme are here as well.

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


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

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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UKIP leader takes time out from campaigning

Thursday, February 12, 2009

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

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

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

Retaining the House of Lords


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

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

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


Posher than John Lewis?


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


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


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


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.

Bloody Mary

Sunday, December 14, 2008


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


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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Can work, won’t work

Monday, December 08, 2008


After having just finished ploughing through a mountain of marking, I have had time to quickly look through the weekend’s press and review the latest poliitcs on TV.  And it got me thinking, what if you had fallen asleep in 1979 and woken up nearly thirty years later to find a Labour minister on TV talking about unemployment?  You might expect them to say that unemployment was unacceptable, that everyone had the right to a job since this was part of what made them human, and so on. 

You might not expect them to say, however, that receipt of state support would be dependent on meeting certain conditions and that recipients had to give something for something.

This was what was reported in the Sunday Times:

‘Almost all benefit claimants will be forced either to look for a job or prepare for work if they want to continue to receive state handouts, under a shake-up of the welfare state.

Single mothers of children as young as one and people registered unfit for work will be compelled to go on training courses and work experience or risk cuts to their benefits.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, said: “Virtually everyone will be doing something in return for their benefits.”

The welfare reform white paper, to be published this week, is set to provoke anger from rebel Labour MPs and campaign groups who believe such measures are unfair in a period of rising unemployment.’

Watch Purnell here on the Andrew Marr show.

Expecting single mothers simultaneously prepare themselves for the world of work and look after young children.  Who said New Labour was dead?

Friday focus

Friday, December 05, 2008


As chance would have it, all my A level groups are doing a mock today and our weekly Friday focus sessions will not take place.  But I thought I’d share a couple of articles that would make excellent discussion pieces on two of the most popular Politics topics. 

First up is an excellent feature on the impact Peter Mandelson has had on Gordon Brown’s premiership.  Students will be familiar about the debate on PM power and that it is more or less common knowledge that the PM is more intimate with some Ministers than others.  Scholars have variously referred to this phenomenon as a kitchen Cabinet, or spheres of influence.  The article in today’s Independent suggests that Peter Mandelson has penetrated Gordon Brown’s inner circle and he carries as much weight as either Alistair Darling or Ed Balls.  Interesting

Over in the Economist there is great piece on Barack Obama and race relations.  Racial inequality and the debate over measures used to try to overcome it always stimulate student interest.  The key thing is to develop an intelligent appreciation of arguments on both sides.  I think this article will help students in this respect.

Big Brother

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Today’s Independent has a quite horrific story on its front page about government plans to allow departments and agencies to share information on UK citizens.  It starts:

‘Personal information detailing intimate aspects of the lives of every British citizen is to be handed over to government agencies under sweeping new powers. The measure, which will give ministers the right to allow all public bodies to exchange sensitive data with each other, is expected to be rushed through Parliament in a Bill to be published tomorrow.’

Given the government’s appalling record of keeping personal data safe this should be a cause of concern to us all.  Further, the article suggests that some way down the line the government could plan to sell off the information to private companies without the need for Parliament’s approval.  Lots of material here as part of consideration of whether Britain is a true democracy.

There’s also a good example of pressure groups, since No2ID are mentioned in the article as well.

(Not so many) developments in devolution

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

According to the Herald:

‘The “informal” relationship between the Scottish Government and Westminster cannot last and needs to change, a body examining the devolution set-up today found.

The Calman Commission has identified broadcasting, energy policy, animal health, firearms and mis-use of drugs among a range of areas which could see further powers given to Holyrood, in an interim report out today.

But it has rejected the prospect of full fiscal autonomy for Scotland under devolution.’

Interestingly a new book by the Constitution Unit concludes in its section on devolution that failure to cede more fiscal autonomy to north of the border is likely to result in increased tension between Westminster and Holyrood.

Death of New Labour

To help key students keep up to date with current affairs (and be successful in tutor2u’s Question Time!), the BBC website hosts a whole range of clips from its political programming.

Here for instance is a short clip from the programme that can be used in lessons on political parties.  Personally I think its important that I keep persevering with this topic even though my students have told me today (yet again) that they are unlikely to answer a question on it in the exam.  This is one of the most exciting times in years to be studying politics given the current economic backdrop.

See the clip here image

New Labour is not dead, and other parrots

Thursday, November 27, 2008

So says one part of the triangle that created it.  Lord Mandelson gave a speech to the Institute of Directors last night which responded to criticisms of the supposedly socialist measures put in place dealing with the recent economic difficulties.

A great vein of material for those considering whether Labour has ejected its traditional principles.  Ideal, of course, for any weekly Politics discussion group.

Since writing the above posting this week’s Economist has come out with a leader article on the death of New Labour.  Woe betide anyone who turns up for Media Monday without a story from this week’s news.

See the BBC report here“image”

Old Labour v New Labour

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The fallout from the economic crisis will impact on a whole host of parts of the politics course.  In this morning’s Indy there is a great article for anyone studying the Old Labour v New Labour debate.

Essential reading on this old chestnutimage

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.’

Read the rest of the article here image

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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Missing answer

Monday, November 03, 2008

Today the Independent writes that “An investigation is underway after a memory stick with user names and passwords for a government computer system was found in a pub car park, leading to the shutting down of the website as a security precaution

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today’s pick of the papers is a feature in the Observer reporting on a poll conducted by 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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Just another Media Monday

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Regular readers of the blog will be familiar with the ‘Media Monday’ sessions I conduct with my AS groups.  Supplementing class work with wider reading is a key component of planning for success in Politics

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Unelected Prime Ministers: the political and constitutional importance

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I was delighted to meet the Times columnist Peter Riddell recently at the tutor2u Politics Teacher Conference.  He is unarguably the journalist with his finger most closely on the Westminster pulse.  Today he turns his focus to the political and constitutional status of unelected Prime Ministers.

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