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Topical examples from the weekend's press and links to related past blogs

Mike McCartney

18th April 2022

Helpful for revision for the British Politics papers

I think there should be some sort of reserved mark for students in exams who provide relevant examples to back up their points that have taken place since they started their A Level course. Sadly, there isn't but I do think recency helps elevate answers. So here goes.

Pressure Groups

A round up of stats, demos, protests by easily the most high profile direct action group of the day, Extinction Rebellion (XR).

AsI have stated in a previous post:

"Direct action can take several forms, but at its purest it is when a group seeks to address the issue at hand directly rather than seek to influence policy makers by more traditional forms of protest such as lobbying.

An American research institute has identified a total of 198 methods of non-violent action. Wyn Grant’s typology consists of a more manageable six main forms: protest marches; boycotts; stunts; blockades, occupations and other disruption; destruction of property; violence against individuals."

Read further on XR via this link to my most recent post on XR's place in the UK political system.

And this is the Guardian article.

Bit of video here on XR activists who glued themselves to reception at Shell HQ.

Voting Behaviour

There is a good piece from Professor Robert Ford in Sunday's Observer on the importance of party leaders, and how this links to electoral outcomes.

Ford writes:

"Johnson is seen as weaker, less competent, less trustworthy and less likable that at any point pre-partygate. Police fines and further revelations will reinforce this shift. The damage done by wine fridges and lockdown discos cannot be undone.

Things may yet get worse. Public hostility to the prime minister could leach into views of his party and its policies. As Labour discovered in 2019, popular policies lose their lustre when associated with an unpopular frontman. Motives are distrusted; the ability to deliver is called into question. Good ideas cannot save bad leaders."

He adds later:

"Public scepticism of the opposition’s capacity to govern remains widespread. Amid all the encouraging signs for Labour lies one worrying precedent. In 1986, a Labour leader who had worked hard to restore his party’s credibility held a large lead over a scandal-tainted incumbent struggling with economic problems. A year later, Neil Kinnock faded and Margaret Thatcher rebounded to a third election victory. Boris Johnson may be down, but he is not yet out."

This is from a previous tutor2u blog post:

"The modern electorate are more inclined to cast their vote according the rational choice model. The twin anchors of partisan and class alignment still heavily shape decisions by voters at the polls, but they don't decide the outcome. It is decisions by the vital swing voters that ultimately determine what the colour of the door at Number 10 will be painted.

As such, it is the 3Ps that matter: past performance, the party leader, and future policies. And so, as things stand, it doesn't look too good for Boris Johnson's government."

I posted this in November of last year.

Prime Minister and Cabinet

More on how the power of the PM waxes and wanes.

Professor Tim Bale has written an excellent opinion piece on Johnson, and cleverly places it in context of what happened to his predecessors.

Bale writes:

"Boris Johnson beware. Ever since Britain first became a democracy in 1928, its prime ministers have been booted, or winkled, out of Downing Street rather than departing purely of their own free will. The only clear exception to the rule is Stanley Baldwin, who in 1937 announced his retirement, having won a massive majority two years earlier and then ridding the country of its scandal-ridden, pro-German monarch.

Every one of Baldwin’s successors, apart from Harold Wilson, who might have been able to hang on longer had he not quit before illness and exhaustion overwhelmed him, has resigned after losing a general election (Churchill, Attlee, Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Major and Brown) or losing the confidence, or at least testing the patience, of their parliamentary colleagues (Churchill, Eden, Thatcher, Blair, Cameron and May).

Given, then, that ejection from within rather than from without is by no means uncommon, Johnson surely has cause for concern. Never as stunning as many imagine, his standing with the public is not only lower than it has ever been, it is lower than that enjoyed by many – indeed, quite possibly all – of his predecessors."

And then Bale attempts to explain why the PM has not been ousted by his colleagues in the Commons. Somewhat counter-intuitively, a PM who is wounded, but not mortally, may actually serve the interests of try MPs better.

As Bale puts it:

"An[other] explanation rooted in rational choice would focus on the fact that Johnson, since he has few, if any, fixed opinions and is now severely weakened, is relatively easy to push and pull in whatever direction most suits his colleagues and the media. Planning reform that might actually see enough houses built where they’re most needed? No thanks. Additional measures to combat Covid? I don’t think so. Net zero? Not so fast. Spending enough to really sort out social care or the NHS backlog or the chronic shortfall in local authority finances or the grave blow dealt by the pandemic to children’s education? Forget about it. Any new leader, by contrast, would, by dint of being given a fresh mandate, be far less easy to manipulate."

How does this link to A Level studies? It fits neatly with analysis of the classic question as to whether the PM has become more powerful in recent years.

This is the link to my sample essay on the question here (written March 2021)

And here is my slightly amended (updated) conclusion:

"In conclusion, it seems accurate to say that PM power waxes and wanes, with some holders of the office apparently more powerful than others. The most convincing piece of analysis of this comes from George Jones, whose theory most sensibly explains why power varies between and within premierships. If we take current incumbent's changing fortunes in terms of pre-pandemic (up), the response to the pandemic (very much down), and post-vaccine (back up again), following the first details of 'partygate' coming to light (at an all-time low!). So, ultimately, PM power increasing seems very much to be a matter of style over substance.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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