All posts filed under: AS Politics

Audio: Pressure Groups: Long Road to Change

A very good Radio 4 programme on the success and otherwise of modern and historical protest movements. This is very good for key contemporary pressure group examples. In an age when technology has made organising protest movements easier than ever before, journalist Zoe Williams asks why we aren’t seeing long-term results. She looks back on the global history of activism to discover the pre-conditions needed for concrete change. http://alevelpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Seriously-20170411-LongRoadToChange.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS

How important are backbenchers?

Backbenchers are Members of Parliament who do not have ministerial roles, be this in the Government or as part of the Shadow Cabinet. Their importance is highly debatable, with their potential for impact upon the legislative cycle being weighed up against the significant impact party politics, patronage and discipline has on mediating these powers. Ultimately, this essay shall conclude that backbenchers only have any real or significant importance beyond their constituency roles where they band together to produce certain outcomes, such as in backbench rebellions.

To what extent has the power of the Prime Minister increased in recent years?

In the last 50 years of British politics, a series of Prime Ministers have been seen to utilise prime ministerial powers in as increasingly independent and arguably presidential way. However, have the powers of the Prime Minister actually increased, or have a number of recent Prime Ministers simply been more bold in harnessing the powers in place and more smart in managing and tackling the political environment of the United Kingdom? The latter currently seems far more tenable for reasons that will further be discussed.

Do the main UK political parties agree or disagree on policy and ideas?

The ‘main’ political parties can be defined as The Labour Party and The Conservative Party, who have been the only political parties to gain a majority for over a hundred years. Despite other smaller parties such as UKIP, the Green Party and The Liberal Democrats building in popularity they are none of them big enough to act as a real challenger to these two. Despite Labour and Conservative being very different by definition; Labour being left wing and Conservatives right wing, in more recent years, in the terms of Tony Blair and David Cameron they have been often more similar than different both settling on centrist views trying to please the whole population. However, since the appointment of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn this has drastically changed and with Corbyn especially being so notoriously left wing the two are arguably more different now than ever. Despite this there are still surprising similarities remaining between the two.

How far do the main political parties differ on policies and ideas?

Traditionally, political parties have been characterised by very different ideologies. The policies of the three main parties were underpinned by a coherent set of ideas and beliefs, which were particular to that party. Although the three main parties still have distinct ideological traditions, they have evolved since their conception and as a result of Thatcherism and ‘New Labour’  – the once distinct policy boundaries have become blurred. All three parties now subscribe to the Thatcher concept of a free market. In recent years the parties can be said to have moderated their traditional positions as part of an effort to appeal to as wide a range of voters as possible. All three parties are now essentially social democratic in nature and are more concerned with making piecemeal changes to current arrangements as opposed to imposing an ideological model. As a result, it can be seen that there are considerable similarities in policy and the differences are usually one of approach in achieving the goal – for example, in the 2010 election, in the economic policy, …

Five Lessons from the EU Referendum

Referendums in the UK are not be legally binding, but they might as well be David Cameron strongly supported the Remain camp during the EU debate, but even with a result as close as 52% leave to 48% remain, he accepted the decision made by the British electorate. To not do so would have almost certainly resulted in intra-party and wider calls for him to be removed as the Prime-Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party, especially with many of his own MPs, such as Boris Johnson, having campaigned against him. This also comes as on 22nd February 2016, Cameron addressed Parliament and said ‘For a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would be not just wrong, but undemocratic’.

Viewpoint – “We feel that our futures were risked by the choices of people – older, often geographically distant people”

91% of our school voted to stay in the EU in our internal referendum. As one might expect, a school fiercely proud of both its ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as its political engagement, is distraught. Almost none of us could vote, and 75% of the young people who could vote, voted to Remain. For the people we know and whose views we share, it’s hard to understand that this result really happened, and often in the name of our ‘future’.

Does Parliament still remain sovereign?

Parliament is seen as the sovereign body because it has absolute and unlimited legal authority, reflected in its ability to make, amend and repeal any laws it wishes. However, there are doubts about the accuracy and continuing relevance of parliamentary sovereignty to reasons such as the joining to the EU, devolution and the implantation of the Human Rights Act.

Is the UK constitution no longer fit for its purpose?

The constitution is a set of rules by which a country is run, it establishes the distribution of power within a political system, relationships between political institutions, the limits of government jurisdiction and the rights of citizens. However, these functions have been criticised and it could now be said that the UK constitution specifically is no longer fit for its purpose.

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. 

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.

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.

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 …

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 …

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.

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.

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.

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.

Video: How effective is Prime Minister’s Question Time?

Go behind the scenes to see how Prime Minister’s Questions really works. With unprecedented access, cameras have been allowed to film in the House of Commons chamber to show what happens at the most high profile event in Parliament each week. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, tells us about his nerves before the event. We learn how an MP gets to ask a question. One way is by a ballot. Another way is by ‘bobbing’, standing up in the chamber to try and be called by the Speaker. Backbench MPs reveal how their parties try to control proceedings, including an email sent out suggesting ‘helpful’ questions. The value of Prime Minister’s Questions divides opinion inside and outside the House of Commons; is it an effective way to scrutinise the government?

Why is the power of the whips in decline?

The whips are a group of MPs who are in charge of party discipline. It is their job to make sure MPs on their side all vote with the party line. They are notoriously secretive about the way they work and have a reputation for using torture and blackmail against MPs. But here, whips from all three major parties tell us about their role and how it is changing. Labour Chief Whip Rosie Winterton tells us how they try to convince MPs of the merits of the argument. We learn through Conservative Whip Desmond Swayne that they are in charge of what office an MP gets, which can be used to persuade them. Under the coalition government, MPs in this parliament have voted against their party in record numbers. Don Foster, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, tells us how difficult it is as a whip in a coalition, where there is a natural split between the two governing parties. As their job becomes more difficult, is the power of the whips in decline?

How has the UK constitution been challenged since 2010?

How does the House of Commons respond when there is a challenge to Britain’s uncodified constitution? First we look at the prospect of Scottish Independence in September 2014. With the real chance of Scottish people voting to leave the United Kingdom, the way that the House of Commons functions might have to change. Politicians and officials throughout Westminster brace themselves for one of the biggest constitutional shifts the country has seen. The next example is a new law proposed by the government called the ‘Recall Bill’. It allows for MPs to be sacked by their constituents for serious wrongdoing. Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith thinks it doesn’t go far enough and we follow him as he tries to get enough support to challenge the government. What do his proposals mean for democracy? Does it give voters more direct influence on their MP? Or does it make MPs vulnerable to business and lobbying interests? We follow the story right up to the crucial vote in the House of Commons.

Have attempts at constitutional reforms in recent years been driven more by political considerations?

Over the recent years many attempts to reform Britain’s uncodified constitution has been motivated by political reasons, what could be termed low politics. While previous reforms can be, arguably, more aimed at creating a more democratic and codified constitution, most reforms have been nothing more than political tactics to win votes and solidify power. Blair’s Human Rights Act, judicial reform and Freedom of Information Act can be used as examples of constitutional reform aimed at creating a clearer codified constitution that outlines British citizen’s rights, creates a more independent judiciary as well as improving civil liberties. However, these reforms did not go far enough and Cameron’s proposal for boundary changes and further devolution to Northern cities are no more than political strategies to consolidate power. Therefore, attempts at constitutional reform in recent years have been driven more by political considerations than a want for genuine reform.

To what extent have government proposals to reform the constitution been controversial?

In 2011 the coalition introduced the fixed term parliament act as a result of the Coalition agreement,  which in effect meant UK elections are now fixed to the first week in May every five years. This was welcomed by the LibDems, Labour and some Conservatives as the previous system was seen as giving an advantage to the Prime Minister who could call an election at the most advantageous time for them (as was the case under Blair where he called elections in 2001 and 2005, four years into his first and second terms and famously in 2007 when Brown flinched from calling an early election which he would probably have won). The old system would also mean there was always a period of uncertainty as to when an election would be called, this was seen to be bad for economic decision making. However there has also been criticisms to the new reform, some have argued that knowing the date a long time in advance will lead to longer election campaigns, a lack of flexibility and the possibility …

Divisions in UKIP explained

There seems to be chaos in the ranks of UKIP- a scandal that started off with Farages unresignation and has extended to squabbles over public money, resignations and people denouncing those whom 2 weeks ago they would call allies. As of 17/05/15 this has culminated in Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP, calling for Nigel Farage to take a short break although no doubt there will be further developments after this article is published This chaos and confusion has only been exacerbated by a 24 hour news cycle- Thursdays episode of Question Time shedding little light on the situation. Those not fixated by pre-determined attitudes to UKIP are unable to decide whether this is a much talked about pub-brawl that will soon blow over, as most UKIP supporters believe, or a political implosion in the works-as most UKIP detractors believe. No-one really seems to know what is going on, so one will not comment on the details in particular. However, with the growing possibility that Farage will no longer be leader of UKIP soon, and with the …

How effective an electoral system is FPTP

An electoral system is a system in which voters transfer their votes into seats or positions. There are five main electoral systems which are used in the United Kingdom; first past the post (FPTP); supplementary vote (SV); single transferable vote (STV); additional member system (AMS) and closed party list. It is the First Past the Post system which is employed to elect MPs to the House of Commons and is used for local elections in England and Wales. Under first-past-the-post, the UK or local authority is divided into numerous voting areas, i.e. constituencies or wards. At a general or local election, voters put a cross (X) next to their preferred candidate on a ballot paper. The ballot papers are then counted and the candidate that has received the most votes is elected to represent the constituency or ward. Evaluating the FPTP system in terms of proportionality, one of its main criticisms is that individuals can be elected and parties can achieve a governing majority of parliamentary seats in Westminster or their local authority even though …