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To what extent has the powers of the Prime Minister grown in recent years?

In recent years, it has been noticed that various Prime ministers have attempted to reduce the amount of formal powers they have, largely due to public and political pressure. Whilst formal powers derived from the Prime Minister’s prerogative have decreased, there has been a growth in prime ministers exercising their use of informal powers that give the PM undefined authority. This was particularly the case in the Blair years when he was accused of manipulating government through the use of informal powers to suit his own interests. However, these powers are subject to the limitations that appear in government at any one time, with each prime minister facing different challenges, such as growing  back bench activism, in Cameron’s case, or decreasing popularity in the case of Brown.  Read More

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Europe and the Return of Geopolitics (Audio)

The Ukraine crisis marked the return of geopolitics in Europe. Can the EU, which has been originally designed to prevent geopolitics inside its borders, act as decisive foreign policy actor outside of them? How to cope in particular with the severe and manifold crisis in its neighbourhoods?

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Is terrorism is a major threat to Global security?

 

Terrorism is the use of violence for furthering political ends; it seeks to create a climate of fear, apprehension and uncertainty. Global terrorism is aimed at inflicting damage and humiliation on a global power or at transforming global civilisational relations with the key example being 9/11 and al-Qaeda. The significance of terrorism has increased as its impact has become more threatening on global security, for instance 9/11 demonstrated how a global hegemon could still be struck by terrorism – the idea that no country is exempt from terror. However, this argument is limited, while America was attacked, it only happened once, proving that terrorism does not pose a ‘major threat’ to global security as it it is quite rare compared to other global disasters such as famine. However, it is undeniable to ignore that terrorism has acquired a truly global reach. Mass fear has been prompted by terrorism, attacks has quadrupled since 9/11. The Global Terrorist Index showed that in 2002 there were 982 separate attacks. By 2011 that had risen to 4,564. Read More

Is Combatting terrorism compatible with human rights?

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), 30 fundamental rights and freedoms were asserted by the delegates to the United Nations. In recent years, three of these rights, right to privacy, right to not be tortured and right to not be held without charge are considered to be under threat due to the policies the Bush and Obama administrations have employed in combatting terrorism. Some attempts have been made to reconcile anti-terror policies with human rights, but so far none have stood up to scrutiny.

One of the articles of the UN Declaration was a declaration of right to privacy. Attempts to combat terrorism after the 9/11 terrorist attacks have resulted in increased reliance on mass surveillance in order to catch potential terrorists. Though the American public were under the impression the NSA’s surveillance was targeted, in reality the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks revealed there was no discrimination or oversight in NSA mass surveillance, with millions of people having their right to privacy combatted for no good reason other than they may turn out to be a terrorist. Additionally, Apple have been instructed by a judge to decrypt the Iphone of one of the San Bernardino killers, an action requiring the creation of a new tool which would be used by the government at any time to decrypt anyone’s Iphone. All of the 2016 Presidential candidates in both parties stand with the judge, meaning that right to privacy is a right considered somewhat subject to compromise across the American political spectrum. Thus it is clear that, under both Bush and Obama, and whomever should succeed Obama in January 2017, Americans right to privacy is under threat primarily due to anti-terror policies.

To defend this seemingly undefendable government overreach, one would have to look to the precise wording of the UN charter. The charter said that men should be free of “attacks upon his honour and reputation”, the implicit subtext of that wording being that the right to privacy is not violated if the government does not release this information in such a way which would damage the reputation of it’s owner. Since government rarely does this,  and since the majority of the bulk-data on people’s phone records and emails is collected and never viewed, it can be argued that nobody’s right to privacy is being viole government does not release data on millions of people it releases, so arguably it is not a violation of human rights.

A more controversial right being violated is the right to be free from torture. Practices at the US detention facility at Guantanamo bay where since 2001 779 inmates have been detained have raised questions as to whether the US, the supposed arbiter of right and wrong in a unipolar world, is  fully complying with this human rights tenets. Details of the December 2014 Senate report on torture would suggest not. Waterboarding, the act of stimulating the sensation of drowning on a suspect in order to garner information, was frequently used on most serious inmates at Guantanamo bay, an act of what the otherwise hawkish Senator John Mccain and the otherwise hawkish intellectual Christopher Hitchens  both have called torture. One man close to Osama Bin Laden,  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was waterboarded 183 times in a row, leading to important intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, which led to the succesful operation in May to kill him. The fact that waterboarding was effective, and the fact that it does clearly violate the human right not to be tortured, presents a moral quandary to proponents of the War on Terror, as it is clear that waterboarding was integral to the anti-terrorism strategy of the USA under the Bush administration, and while Obama disapproved of waterboarding, much of the intelligence he used during his presidency was obtained by waterboarded inmates at Guantanamo.

However some proponents of the War on Terror, notably George W Bush have argued that waterboarding isn’t torture. The definition of torture is clear in this case- it is “the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something”. As waterboarding (if done correctly) does not inflict pain on anybody, it is not torture in the strictest sense of the term in the way electrocution or the use of blowtorches would be considered torture.  Thus, defenders of the George W Bush administration would point to waterboarding not being torture, only “enhanced interrogation”, and this does not violate international human rights law.

The final right under discussion here is the right to habeas corpus, a right to review the legality of your arrest. This right was suspended between 2002-2008 when 779 people were held in Guantanamo bay without charge or right to legal recourse. Eventually in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have constitutional rights to challenge their detention (request a writ of habeas corpus) in United States courts. While the litigator of that case, Lakhdar Boumediene, was released along with four others, standards of evidence were tightened after 2010 meaning only 8% of requests for habeas corpus submissions were won- meaning despite the Supreme Court case, the right of habeas corpus for the remaining 91 detainees in Guantanamo bay are being violated.

The simple way to counter this point is that under the international law pertaining to war, the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are “illegal enemy belligerents,” not prisoners of war with constitutional rights. This argument was mainly employed by the Bush administration in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, where rather than treating the soldiers of the Taliban as soldiers of a conventional army- they were treated as  “illegal enemy belligerents,”. Thus they forfeit rights to habeas corpus when they (allegedly) commit acts of guerilla warfare.  

In conclusion, while there have been noble attempts to defend US policy during the War on Terror, none of these defences fully stand up to scrutiny as most resort to strained or questionable reasoning. In order to justify countering-terrorism in a way compatible with human rights, scholars such as Michael Ignatieff have suggested that human rights have to generally be seen as less Universal than the Declaration of 1948 would seem to suggest.  

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To what extent is there a clash of civilisations?

In 1993 Samuel Huntington wrote an article titled “Is there a clash of civilisations” in which he disputed Francis Fukuyama’s thesis that the end of the Cold War would not herald the end of conflict but rather a conflict that would revert to cultural or “civilizational” lines. Huntingdon furthermore argued that the world was split into 9 different civilizational orders, and the West would clash with all of them, but in particular it would clash with the Islamic world, Japan and Russia. Many attempts to refute Huntingtons thesis have been made but none stand up to scrutiny, and there is very much a clash of civilisations.

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The EU referendum and the left’s dilemma

Following the EU Summit, leaders of the other 27 member nations of the EU have approved a deal which will see: a seven year term in which EU migrants in the UK will be restricted from claiming in-work benefits; child benefit payments proportionate to the cost of living for children living outside the UK for all new arrivals to the UK; ability for any single non eurozone country to force a debate among EU leaders about problematic EU laws; and an unambiguous opt-out stating in any future EU treaty references to ‘ever closer union’ are not applicable to the UK. Following the summit, the Conservative Party has been divided between those that wish to remain in the EU and those that hope for a Brexit. Read More

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EU referendum: Who’s in and who’s out?

Since the 2015 general election, the promised Tory EU referendum has been looming over our heads and the prime minister has managed to seize a deal with the other 27 leaders of the EU council which gives the UK, what David Cameron describes as “a special status” within the EU. The deal was reached when talks in Brussels ended after a planned “British breakfast” turned into a “British dinner”. The first cabinet meeting to be held on a Saturday since the Falkland war took place as the tired PM David Cameron arrived back from the negotiation table in Brussels and passed the deal by his ministers. Read More

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Video: Martin Jacques – understanding the rise of China

Speaking at a TED Salon in London, economist Martin Jacques asks: How do we in the West make sense of China and its phenomenal rise? The author of “When China Rules the World,” he examines why the West often puzzles over the growing power of the Chinese economy, and offers three building blocks for understanding what China is and will become. Read More

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To what extent is there a political participation problem in the UK?

In the UK, the level of political participation is measured by the turnout in general elections that take place every 5 years, although there are other means by which a person can be politically active. As a representative democracy, elections are the cornerstone of democracy in the UK. The level of electoral turnout must therefore be an important indication of the health of the larger democratic system. However, in recent years, the percentage of the general public voting in general elections has reached new lows since universal voting was introduced in the UK. It could be argued that the UK is suffering from a ‘political participation crisis’ where the public are becoming increasingly disengaged with UK politics. But, this diagnosis may be a little premature as the problem might not be about a decline in the overall level of political participation but instead about a shift from one kind of participation to another. Thus, it is difficult to decide whether the problem is about the apathetic nature of society or a more fundamental issue surrounding the outdated democratic system that dictates UK politics. Read More

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Is globalisation a form of ‘Americanisation’?

Globalisation is an umbrella term for a complex series of economic, social, technological and political changes seen as increasing interdependence and interaction between people and companies in disparate locations since the 1980s. This has replaced the “billiard-ball model” with a “cobweb model” as states become increasingly interdependent. There are also broader cultural, political and environmental dimensions of globalisation. Critics of globalisation say this is spreading US domination around the globe and as a result has created a global monoculture which benefits US interests. However, hyper globalists argue this has benefited multiple countries and has positively created a borderless world, supported by liberals who suggest this has improved international relations.  Read More

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Asses the different criticisms of electoral systems in the UK

There are numerous widespread criticisms of electoral systems in the UK, such as some systems such as FPTP and AV’s clear disproportionality and voter wastage, as well as the tendency towards a two party system which give the established parties too much power. However, the alternate voting systems of STV, Party list and AMS, proposed to remedy these problems also fall under criticisms because of their over proportionality, which some argue gives a chance to ‘extremist’ groups and can often lead to weak and inadequate government.

The most significant criticism of electoral systems such as FPTP and AV is that it provides a disproportionate result, which effectively doesn’t represent the will of the electorate. For example, in the 2015 general election, despite UKIP winning 12.6% of the vote (4 million) this translated into only one seat in the house of commons; clearly exemplifying that the electorates votes are being wasted, as well as a whole host of problems that are argued to all stem from the disproportionality of the system. Despite AV being proposed as an alternate electoral system meant to remedy some of FPTP’s flaws, it is only considered semi-proportional and in certain electoral conditions, such as the 2015 general election, can actually produce a more disproportionate outcome than FPTP. However, others suggest that this disproportionality is only limited and is a necessary feature of strong and stable government.

Both systems are also criticised for their tendency to cause a two party system, where smaller parties are disregarded and the established parties are given too much power. For example, throughout the entire use of FPTP there have only been two parties- the Conservatives and Labour- who have ever won an outright majority in a general election. Furthermore, a prominent example, is the same system in American which lends itself to only having the two main parties of the Democrats and the Republicans. It is argued that this is extremely flawed as it gives the established parties too much power, therefore disillusioning voters and undermining democracy. AV is also said to promote a two party rule as in a close three-way system the ‘compromise’ candidate could be defeated in the first round, even though they may be more broadly acceptable to the electorate. However, having said this preferential voting is meant to give the electorate more choice and has the ability to achieve a more proportional result than FPTP.

Despite the numerous flaws of FPTP and AV, the proposed PR systems such as STV, Party list and AMS have often been criticised for their over-proportionality, which could result in the rise of extremist parties. For example, in the 2010 general election the BNP won just over half a million votes, which in a PR system could result in a very large number of seats, giving the BNP a possibility of forming part of a coalition government and therefore of having a significant part of governing. However, the counter argument to this is that if so many of the British people voted for the BNP then they should not be marginalised and their votes should manifest themselves in UK governance.

Another major criticism of these systems it that they often lead to weak government formed by coalitions. As systems such as STV, Party List and AMS represent accurately the variety of views throughout the electorate and this often means that coalitions have to be formed which can make decision making extremely difficult. For example, in Israel, to form a coalition government the Israeli prime minister had to join a coalition that included very extremist right wing members. As these individuals differ so highly in policy it has made governing extremely difficult and weak and lead to the ability of the smaller parties to hold to ransom the larger ones. Furthermore, in Countries that use PR systems there are often very short term coalition governments that are constantly changing such as in Italy and Greece. However, these criticisms are often considered the views of the minority as England are one of the only countries in Europe who do not use a PR system and on balance the negatives of PR are not as significant as the negative implications of FPTP and AV.

One of the main criticism of electoral systems in the UK is its disproportionality highlighted by FPTP and AV, which disregard the votes of the people and lead to questions of legitimacy with minority rule. Furthermore, these two systems are often criticised for their tendency towards supporting only the two main parties, that are given too much power. However, the proposed alternative systems also fall under criticism for being over proportional as they could result in the rise of extremist parties and lead to weak unstable government. However, on balance PR systems tend to have less significant negatives than that of FPTP and AV as highlighted by the fact that the United Kingdom is one of the only countries in Europe not to use a PR system.

Lara Andrews

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To what extent do the political parties agree on ideas and policies?

 

The major political parties often disagree on many issues and one of these particular issues is tuition fees. Currently, the conservative standpoint is to maintain the £9000 a year cost. Furthermore, William Hague said the party would not rule out an increase in fees. This is very contrasting to the Labour policy which would see a decrease to £6000 a year. A reduction is the general party agreement, however, Jeremy Corbyn wishes to scrap fees entirely. The Lib Dems disagree with Labour and believe that cutting fees would be stupid. They believe in keeping the current yearly fees which partly agrees with the Tory party view. UKIP is the only party which wish to scrap uni fees entirely. Despite this, Nigel Farage wants students of the arts to still have to pay the full fees.

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Admin Editorial- Assessing strands of liberalism.

Liberalism in International Politics- Admin editorial.

(The opinions expressed in this piece reflect only those of the author and not of anyone else at alevelpolitics.com)

Liberalism, it would seem, is a way of studying international relations which has different implications based on the strand of liberalism- of which there are three. Commercial liberalism is a strand which assumes the world can be safer through international trade. Republican liberalism assumes the internal character of the state affects their foreign policy decision making. Furthermore, it is argued, democracy is the mode of government least prone to war and most prone to co-operation. Thus democracy should be spread, sometimes with force. Institutional liberalism is a school that believes the character of countries can be projected onto global supranational organisations or intergovernmental bodies. It’s absurd to claim none of these strands have any valid insights. But policy prescriptions based on the fundamental insights are riddled with fundamental errors, and very often these errors are fatal.

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The US is not a power in Decline

In the 1970’s Henry Kissinger wrote that the US had “passed its historic high point like so many earlier civilizations” and he elaborated “Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed. History is a tale of efforts that failed.” This anxiety is a common one among the US public- with 47% of Americans thinking China has or soon will surpass the US as the world’s pre-eminent power (only 48% disagreeing with the motion). However this crisis of confidence is more a reflection of rhetoric than reality. But if several problems threatening US hegemony are not resolved by US strategy makers, a decline may well ensue soon.

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Pressure groups – UK uncut

UK uncut, a movement which started in 2010, have raised awareness about tax dodging and its implications- before UK uncut tax dodging was not a central issue in British politics. UK uncut engage in non violent action, by peacefully occupying tax dodgers’ businesses and in addition bringing to light the public services which are being cut as a result of insufficient government revenue from tax. UK uncut have brought to our awareness the fact that tax avoidance by corporations and the rich cost the UK public exchequer £95bn a year – suffice to say a significant amount.
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Corbyn’s Labour Shadow Cabinet

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet is one like we’ve never seen before, comprising of MP’s from diverging ends of the left wing spectrum of politics. He has appointed a cabinet that to some extent can be viewed as a milestone for gender equality in British politics with female ministers outnumbering male ministers 16 to 15 but at the same time it has been denounced for assigning women to mediocre or ‘junior’ positions. However, despite the new found egalitarianism on the grounds of gender there remains a significant under-representation of ethnic minorities with only 3 of the 31 shadow ministers coming from black or Asian backgrounds. Corbyn’s cabinet is also far older than its predecessors, with an average age of 53 as well as consisting of more previously rebellious MPs, with Corbyn himself having defied the party whip over 500 times and John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, having done so 469 times since 1997.

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What are the implications of bipolarity on world order?

Bipolarity is a system of world order where two great powers dominate international relations. A bi-polar world emerged after 1945 when two disproportionately powerful powers developed. The USA and then the USSR had developed formidable military power, specifically atomic power and their ability to influence world events stemmed, in part, because of their willingness to utilise it to coerce global events in their favour. A bipolar world order differs from a multi-polar world, this type of world order existed prior to 1945 where a number of Great Powers vied for international supremacy. Bipolarity is seen, especially by neo-realist theorists, as a recipe for stability. Read More

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Why has the US not intervened in Syria – Realist Explanations

The Syrian Civil War is an ongoing civil war between the armed forces of the government, led by President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, and a broad range of opposition groups, from the moderate Free Syrian Army to the extremist Islamists in the Al-Nusra Front. Additionally ISIS (whose aim is to create an Islamic State combining Iraq and Syria) have taken advantage of the chaos in the region, taking control of ⅓ of Syria and most of the oil supplies. ISIS support neither the opposition nor the government. The war has created a humanitarian crisis- an estimated 200,000 people have died (roughly 1% of the population), and 7.6 million have been displaced. Recently many of these displaced people have been seeking refuge in Europe, causing chaos in the borderless Schengen area and thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. There are clear, liberal reasons to use military force to stop this civil war and end the suffering. Since the Syrian regime is unpleasant and undemocratic, the liberals would argue we should intervene to help the opposition and help them establish a new, democratic and secular government. From a realist perspective there are a number of drawbacks.

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Divisions within the Conservative Party

There is a fundamental division that exists within The Conservative party. The party leadership is dominated by the modernisers, those MPs gathered around Cameron that see the Conservative Party as the natural centre ground. Osborne is a key moderniser and his recent speech to the Tory conference was seen to be treading on traditional New Labour territory. However, the party also consists of a number of fundamentalist right wingers that believe in leaving the EU, imposing stricter regulations on immigration and moreover scrapping the Human Rights Act, which is manifesting itself in the showdown that is the EU referendum, set to be held by May 2017. Read More

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LSE Audio: Does Europe Have A Future? Professor Walt

Professor Waltz discusses the strategic challenges facing the European Union and explores the geopolitical implications of a weaker Europe for the West. Read More

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51 of the largest economies are corporations? The Misleading statistic that won’t die.

In the Year 2000 a study by Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh  made global headlines when it claimed  that “Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are now global corporations; only 49 are countries”.  This statistic has since entrenched itself into foreign policy discourse- without any critical analysis of how this statistic came to be true.

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Alevelpolitics has a podcast

Hello All

Myself, Nagina, Lola and Alfie have begun a podcast relating to A2 Global Politics. As of October 2015 we aim to upload a 15 minute discussion of issues and concepts. It will be uploaded every week on ITUNES  (Not soundcloud as previous versions of this post may indicate).

 

Link here

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/level-politics-as-uk-a2-global/id1048464125

So far we have done one podcast on the subject of the Migration crisis in the Med and another on realism in international relations. Another- on liberal international relations theory- will be available soon.

 

If you wish to get involved in the podcast please contact me (71624@woodhouse.ac.uk) or Jal Patel. No experience required!!

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What is the Iran deal and why is it controversial?

The Iran deal (or more formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is a deal on the nuclear programme of Iran signed in Vienna on the 14th July 2015. It was signed by the 5 Permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, the European Union and Iran. It requires Iran to eliminate 100% of its medium enriched uranium, 98% of its low enriched uranium and ⅔ of its centrifuges. In return America will return roughly $100 billion of frozen assets to the Iranian regime, but will continue some sanctions against Iran on the grounds of human rights. The provisions on uranium will last 10 years and those on plutonium will last 15 years. After this time period Iran will be free to pursue a potential military nuclear programme, unless another deal is reached in that time. In short this deal allows Iran to keep a small nuclear programme for civilian energy purposes, while (hopefully ensuring) it never attains a nuclear weapon. Read More