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!read more...»
So you are thinking of applying for Politics at Univeristy are you? Well, Politics is as I am sure you aware a fascinating subject, it's a subject which is very much alive! Read on for more information on applying to University for Politics!read more...»
Perhaps inevitably as the coalition enters its third year, the relationship between the partners entered a new phase. It should be remembered that the coalition is made up of two different political parties and therefore it is only natural that some divisions should appear from time to time.
The driving force however behind this new phase is the low level of support in the opinion polls for the Liberal Democrats. Their support has been around the ten per cent mark as opposed to the 23% they secured in the 2010 general election. The Liberal Democrats need to establish their own distinct identity. As coalition partners they run the risk of being tarred with the same brush as the Conservatives. If a voter wants change, they only have the one option of voting Labour if the Lib Dems are perceived to be one and the same thing as the Conservatives.read more...»
A cabinet reshuffle can provide a valuable insight into:
- The power of the Prime Minister
- The constraints upon the Prime Minister
- The policy direction of the government
The cabinet reshuffle was Cameron’s first significant change to the composition of the cabinet since the creation of the coalition in 2010. The Liberal Democrats decided not to change any of their 5 senior ministers but there were significant changes by the Conservatives.read more...»
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!read more...»
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry. But I just couldn't resist posting this superb lampoon of Nick Clegg's heartfelt (?) apology to the nation - which has now become a viral hit.
Of course, a promise is a promise. Clegg made a solemn promise during the 2010 General Election to oppose the introduction of higher tuition fees. He even signed a pledge. So this apology for breaking his promise and perhaps destroying for ever any trust that the student and parent population might have had in him, must have been hard to do.
But does will the public apology work? Can it rebuild trust in the Liberal Democrats? Or does it further undermine Clegg's standing? A great discussion point.
In the meantime, enjoy the video...read more...»
The debate in the Commons today on Britain’s relations with the EU was, as you are probably aware, prompted by an e-petition.
Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian writes an excellent piece in support of the e-petition process. It’s definitely one I will be looking to use with my AS students when assessing the pros and cons of direct democracy, and ways to improve the democratic system in the UK.
I also include a study note below on arguments for and against direct democracy. I know pedants would argue that e-petitions are a form of consultative democracy, but for Edexcel they do fall under the direct democracy umbrella on Unit 1.read more...»
Coalition politics in the UK is well embarked, and this year’s party conferences – especially the Lib Dem and Conservative ones – provided a useful insight into how it is all progressing. In short, the Lib Dems wanted to show how different they were from the Tories, while the Tories kept up a smooth, united face in the main hall but saw their right-wing activists in full voice on the fringe.read more...»
Someone once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.
Talking to a colleague the other day, she suggested this could be a YouTube feature.
To start with then we have Black Wednesday. In the 1992 election the Tories pledged that membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was at the heart of economic policy. For instance their manifesto of that year stated: “Membership of the ERM is now central to our counter-inflation discipline.” Several months later, the Chancellor Norman Lamont announced that Britain would cease to be part of it. From then on, all the way through to the 1997 election, Labour were well ahead in the polls. That the economy was powering ahead mattered little to the British electorate. Essentially the Conservative government never recovered its reputation for sound economic management until Labour then wrecked any credibility they had after the 2008 financial crisis.
What is interesting (and I am disappointed I couldn’t find a clip on YouTube of the individual standing behind Lamont on the day it was announced that interest rates would soar) is the identity of a young man acting as a special adviser to the Chancellor. Who was it? Where could he possibly be now? See if the picture below the BBC 6 o’clock news on Black Wednesday gives you any clue…read more...»
Can you do better than Rory?
With party conference season in full swing I thought of a good teaching and learning exercise on political parties after watching Rory Weal’s speech in Liverpool yesterday. It is essentially a combination of student tasks that I would do on party ideologies at AS anyway, with what candidates in mock elections would be doing in school. But this year we have a standard to beat. Personally I thought Rory delivered a great speech and clearly does not merit most of the flak that he has received from the kind of obviously unhinged people who post comments on YouTube.
If you have yet to see the speech, here is the BBC clip.read more...»
Gay marriage is always a great classroom topic. Here we can consider pressure group success, rights and liberties, and the role of the judiciary. In a comparative sense it also brings into view the extent to which rights are better advanced in the UK or the USA.
Recent stories emanating from Whitehall put this issue firmly back on the agenda.
“The government has indicated it is committed to changing the law to allow gay marriage by 2015.
Ministers are to launch a consultation next spring on how to open up civil marriage to same-sex couples ahead of the next general election.”
Below I put this debate in the context of a study note on the extent to which Britain can be considered democratic.read more...»
Issues such as free university tuition for Scots have made devolution a controversial topic
A potential ban on non-English MPs being able to vote on matters Westminster considers English only is back on the agenda. This is a chance to revisit the old chestnut that is the West Lothian Question - for this special occasion I have also dug out a set of arguments for and against whether the issue is of any real significance.
“Mark Harper, the constitutional reform minister, announced yesterday that a group of non-partisan independent experts would look at how parliamentary procedures at Westminster work and whether they needed reforming to reflect the changed constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom.
He said: “The Government is clear that the commission’s primary task should be to examine how this House, and Parliament as a whole, can deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters in some or all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are lawfully and democratically the responsibility of the separate parliament or assemblies.”
He said that the commission would be made up of a small group of non-partisan experts with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise.”read more...»
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.
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.
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
Some interesting insights on powers/role of the PM, relations with Cabinet, and role of Cabinet in last night’s Dispatches.
These up-to-date examples should help strengthen answers on this, the most popular Unit 2 topic area.
As apathy upon wave of apathy has been heaped on the AV referendum debate, I thought I’d share with you a leader from the Times yesterday, urging voters to vote against. I don’t necessarily share the preference against, but it’s a useful addition to the compendium of material on electoral systems that teachers may have accumulated over the past several months. The strength of the argument presented, however, relates to the more glaring weaknesses in our government furniture. That said, it is likely that a wider debate on our constitution would stir up as much interest as the one focusing on this narrow feature of it.read more...»
Futher to my posting yesterday about recent examples of pressure group activity, news from the BMA conference this week is worthy of note.
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.
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?
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.)
The House of Commons is regarded in comparative terms as one of the weakest legislatures in the world. Moreover it is argued that plans to cut the number of MPs will weaken it further since a higher proportion of MPs will be on the government payroll (so long as the number of ministers is not cut also).
Notwithstanding this, a major development in the ability of the House of Commons to scrutinise the executive is the introduction of departmental select committees in the UK in 1979. These non-partisan bodies can call for ‘persons, papers and records’ and can be seen to have resulted in more open government and act as a useful deterrent on an over mighty executive. Peter Riddell has argued that select committees have ‘been a major factor in the opening up of the workings of government over the past twenty years’.
And this week, according to the BBC website:
‘The scale of health reforms being made in England has taken the NHS by “surprise” and could threaten its ability to make savings, MPs say.
The Commons health committee has criticised the “significant policy shift” of scrapping primary care trusts and passing control of budgets to GPs.’
Therefore select committees continue to be a thorn in government’s side and there is a strong argument for strengthening their powers, especially given that we have a coalition government which has drafted policies that voters of the Conservative and Lib Dem parties didn’t know they were getting (most obviously the hike in tuition fees, which the Lib Dems pledged to oppose pre-election).
We all know Polly Toynbee isn’t the most unbiased commentator around, but she has shed light this weekend on the astonishing degree to which the current Conservative led government has backtracked on many of its promises.
U-turn if you want to, this Dave is for turning.read more...»
As a follow up to Owen’s earlier post, here are another couple of links to the AV issue.
I have been surprised by how many people are unaware of the referendums coming up later in the year. All the more surprising considering large numbers are (a) Politics students (b) eligible to vote in either of the polls (c) both!
So that’s the AV vote, but what’s the other one? The clue is in the picture on this posting. See here.
Political parties is often one of the most challenging parts of the UK Politics course, and with the first coalition for 70 years, a new government and opposition leader combined for the first time in 13 years parties are certainly in a state of flux (and a topic which therefore what John Reid would call “permament revisionism”).
One of the most high profile areas where the main parties are split is over education. This is a policy area which students have an obvious interest in and could form a significant chunk of material in parties answers given its especially high profile over recent times. This entry signposts some articles on policy differences between the Con-Libs and Labour.read more...»
Promises made by leaders in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay that the devolved governments will pay for the proposed hike in tuition fees have led some to argue that we are witnessing the development of educational apartheid.
This latest controversy gives us a chance to revisit the debate on devolution.read more...»
The recent wave of protests over student fees and allegations of tax avoidance by some of the UK’s most famous corporations make it a good time to revisit questions about pressure groups and democracy.
I’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.read more...»
I have no doubt that blog readers have been following the student protests about the proposed tuition fee hike and plan to end the EMA closely (indeed many of you may well have taken part).
The issue raises all sorts of questions about the state of democracy in the UK.read more...»
Can’t put a cigarette paper between them?
Whilst we are awaiting the outcome of series of Labour internal policy reviews by their new leader, Ed Miliband, we can still identify post election differences between the parties on issues from the economy to civil liberties
Here is an overview of some of those I have identified in recent months.read more...»
Following the defeat in the Lords this week of a plan by the opposition to kill the government’s planned twin AV and constituency resizing bill, it looks more likely that there will be a referendum next May—only the second national referendum in the country’s history.
This means that consideration of the arguments for and against what the government plans are of increased importance. Voting reform can be a bit dry to newcomers, seeming like an unfortunate blizzard of systems and figures. But ultimately it comes down to what type of government, legislators and legislature we want. There is a fine balance between voter choice, representation, accountability and ease of use. So, of course, there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system given the competing and varied strengths they possess.
But I thought I’d draw your attention to a couple of articles by the Labour peer, David Lipsey, a man who served on the Jenkins Commission and is former deputy ed of the Economist. Both worth reading.read more...»
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.
Students often state that one of the reasons Britain is not a true democracy is because prisoners don’t have the right to vote. This is true in the majority of cases, though convicts imprisoned for non-payment of fines do retain their voting rights.
The question of giving prisoners voting rights is an old debating chestnut. See here.
Yesterday the DPM, Nick Ckegg, went to the high court to lift the ban on prisoners, but as the Guardian reported he was looking for a way to avoid giving murderers, rapists, and other serious offenders voting rights. This has all come about as a result of a ruling by the ECHR in Strasbourg in 2005 which stated that Britain’s blanket ban was unlawful. So I guess this also serves as a good example of judges protecting civil liberties also.
This is a far cry from the USA of course, where a large number of states ban ex-felons for a period following their release. And in the state of Virginia, those convicted of a felony are banned for life! Many in the US see these types of policies as racist given the disproportionately large number of black prisoners, a significant number of whom are incarcerated as a result of the ramping up of drugs laws from the 1970s onwards. There’s a good webiste on the American debate called procon.org if readers want to pursue their interest in the debate further.
And in no way am I endorsing this, but Melanie Phillips has let go on the issue too.
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.
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.
Questions about the Prime Minister and Cabinet are always popular. So for students looking to distinguish themselves and move into the top end of the mark scheme, recent examples are a must. I have written previously about the lack of illustration relating to the Brown era in exam answers, and where issues such as the three attempted coups or the frosty relations between Brown and Darling were used, students were invariably well rewarded. So looking ahead, examples from the Cameron government would also impress.
There is a good article about the negotiations being held which will lead up to the spending review announcement next week. I include some questions to go with it to highlight the main points.read more...»
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.
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.
Accessing a quality daily is an absolute must for students new to the study of British politics. But from experience I know that students find it difficult to know what to focus on, what particularly useful articles or comment pieces look like compared to analysis that isn’t directly relevant to the course.
Here on the blog I will try to provide some direction.read more...»
A series in the Observer this week provides a rich source of material for teachers to plunder, or for students to use as part of a research exercise.
Once by far the least popular and most inaccessible topic, the judiciaryon the UK politics papers is attracting more, and better, responses.
Part of this, I am sure, is with the increasing role that judges have played in politics in recent years. It is now a much less dry topic than when I studied it at school, believe me.
Here are some further examples for students to get their teeth into.read more...»
There’s an excellent pullout in today’s Guardian detailing the composition of government ministers.
You can also access a version online. Click here
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wordle is a great way of getting at the some of the key messages in politicians speeches - assuming that key messages are got across through sheer repetition…read more...»
Grandiose debates about a potential realignment in British politics seem out of place after a shoddy conference by the Liberal Democrats.
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.
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.
I’ve noted on another posting that due to the challenges facing Barack Obama as President, it is an exciting time to be studying American Politics. Likewise on this side of the Atlantic given that we are due a General Election before the end of this academic year.
Many are predicting electoral wipe-out for the current government on the scale Labour faced in 1983 and the Tories on a similar scale in 1997. But a report in today’s Observer suggests that Gordon Brown may seriously consider promising a poll on electoral reform on the same day as the election as a means of minimising collateral electoral damage.read more...»
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.
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.
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.
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.read more...»
The constitutional reform bandwagon rolls on, but here’s an impressive authority to quote in essays on this topic…read more...»
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.read more...»
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.read more...»
Lots of good politics in today’s papers, principally in relation to Alan Johnson’s letter to the Times about the need to hold a referendum on electoral reform alongside the vote at the next General Election.read more...»
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.read more...»
I’ve had a few questions from my groups about the significance of recent events in Parliament and how important it is that they write about it in the forthcoming exams.read more...»
The MPs’ expenses row has thrown up a lot of intelligent comment about the purpose of MPs and the role of the legislature in the democratic process. It is this author’s view that lots of MPs do work hard and perform an effective role, but it’s just that the good work they do does not involve legislating or (with the possible exception of some select committee work) checking the executive. MPs do work hard in representing their constituents and often serve as a last resort for frightened and frustrated individuals. Henry Porter in the Observer writes at length about how ineffective MPs are as legislators. Useful reference material when considering the extent to which Parliament performs its functions effectively, or even in considering the relative effectiveness of legislatures from a synoptic perspective.read more...»
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.read more...»
‘The Westminster Gravy Train’,
Dispatches, Channel 4, Sunday 19 April 2008, 7pm, looks at MP’s expenses
A controversial report by a bunch of university chiefs has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy on student funding.
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.
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?
The pick of the weekend’s press coverage of the latest developments in British politics has to be the focus on rights and liberties. The current government has shown something of a split personality when it comes to civil rights. On the one hand it has passed the Human Rights Act, but on the other has passed a raft of legislation that has been used to (deliberately or not) severely curtail liberties. Of course, the Tories before them were not exactly guilt free. Here we could think of death on the rock, union bans at GCHQ, Spycatcher, banning illegal raves (identified as events where “music with a repetitive beat” is played). But people from across the political spectrum (except Labour ministers) have expressed grave concerns about erosion of rights and liberties that took years of effort to establish have been swept away by government since 1997. This weekend a series of events launched by the Convention on Modern Liberty took place throughout the UK. According to the Observer, the event was the biggest convention on civil liberties ever held in Britain. Is this a sign that people are no longer satisfied to watch us sleepwalking towards a police state?read more...»
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.
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.’read more...»
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.’read more...»
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.
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.
Sometimes I get asked by students whether there will be a relaignment of the parties, and if the Liberal Democrats have a chance of supplanting the current big two. Some Lib Dems believe that if they can break through the 100 MP barrier in the Commons then this will be a tipping point. But without a system of proportional representation this looks unlikely.
As for my penny’s worth I just don’t think that the media and the electorate consider them a serious party. Some studies suggest that many of the voters who have cast ballots in their favour have done so as a protest vote and probably would reconsider voting for them if they had a realistic chance of forming the government. Partly it is also because it is hard for us, and them, to say what they are for. Lastly, I don’t want to write anything libellous here. But type the following word combinations into any search engine:
“Paddy Ashdown adultery”
“Mark Oaten rent boy”
“Charles Kennedy alcohol”
“Lembit Opik Cheeky Girls”
So part of their problem is of their own making. Their current leader, Nick Clegg, had some explaining to do to this week after a journalist apparently overheard him laying into his front bench team. The Indy reports some of what he said:
‘...he had damning words for three of his most high-profile frontbenchers as he travelled on a 90-minute flight from London to Inverness with his chief of staff, Danny Alexander. With reporter Adam Lee-Potter eavesdropping, he reportedly said of Steve Webb, his energy and climate change spokesman: “He’s a problem. I can’t stand the man. We need a new spokesman. We have to move him. We need someone with good ideas. At the moment, they just don’t add up.” But he added: “We need to keep him in the cabinet. As a backbencher, he’d be a pain in the arse, a voice for the left. And we can’t move him before the spring.”’
Read the rest of the report here.
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