To be or not to be…

In 2010 TV debates entered the world of the British General Election. The debates which have featured in American politics for fifty years were a new addition to the electoral landscape in the UK.
They were proposed in the 1980s and again in 1997 but both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in turn refused to take part- however after popular support from both Nick Clegg and David Cameron and with Gordon Brown taking the view that things couldn’t really get any worse – a series of debates went ahead. The now rather clichéd line of ‘I agree with Nick’ became synonymous with the event.

To most voters and those in the media it seemed obvious that these popular spectacles should be replayed in 2015. However when the format of the debate was announced several weeks ago- Ofcom stated that only the major parties should take part, the only parties they classified as major were the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. For Nigel Farage this was a moment of potential triumph being classified as the political equal of the PM, the Deputy PM and the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. However David Cameron’s response to this was a refusal to participate unless the Greens were also allowed a place at the podium. The refusal of the incumbent PM to take part initially looked as though it would scupper the 2015 edition of the TV debates.

In public Cameron’s argument was that the Greens should be treated as the equal of UKIP and the Lib Dems. With 1 MP and polling figures and membership figures in the region of the Liberal Democrats Cameron felt they too deserved a space on the podium. However, most observers were not convinced by Cameron’s apparent show of solidarity with the Greens. It was well known that Lynton Crosby (Conservative Electoral Strategist) and George Osborne both felt that David Cameron should not take part in the debates and that he had more to loose and little to gain from participating.

However, the broadcasters have redesigned their plans to schedule two Miliband v Cameron head- to- heads on BBC and ITV and two debates on Channel 4 and Sky with all 7 major parties (Con, Lab, Lib, Green, UKIP plus the SNP and Plaid Cymru) participating.
There are two good articles on this story below:


Democracy Day

To commemorate the anniversary of the De Montfort Parliament (arguably the first in the UK) the BBC are running democracy season.  I have mentioned bits of it before but suffice to say IPlayer (radio and TV) will have plenty of interesting programmes for politicos over the next week or so.

in addition the BBC has compiled a very interesting set of articles on the BBC ‘Taking Liberties’ webpage

This is one to browse and enjoy at your leisure. Not all of it is directly relevant to the syllabus but it is interesting particularly as extension material.

Party Systems

This interesting piece in the FT by Vernon Bogdanor is looking at the regional variations in voting behaviour that are likely to be exhibited in 2015. Particularly Bogdanor is suggesting that there are different party systems operating in different parts of the UK.
If you have a question in Unit 1 asking you to discuss the party system being able to suggest that there are now multiple regional systems in the UK is a more sophisticated point than simply discussing 2, 2 1/2 or multiparty at a national level.

This piece is worth reading to provide you with information for your paragraph on regional party systems.

Review of the Year

The Guardian have recorded several of their leading columnists discussing the events of 2014 and their predictions for 2015. It’s only a short piece (30 minutes) but it gives you a good overview to the types of news stories you should be using as your examples in the exam next May.

The topic of whether or not 16 year olds should vote was brought to the foreground of British Politics in 2014 by the SNPs decision to allow 16 year olds to vote in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. This piece on the LSE blog offers a measured discussion of the arguments for and against such a move.

Civil Liberties

The subject of civil liberties is included within the judiciary topic. Since 9/11 governments in the Western world have battled to chart a course between the needs of national security and the constitutional traditions and requirements that preserve civil liberties in a liberal democracy.

New Labour’s record on civil liberties was harshly criticised with detention without trial, proposals for ID cards and the creation of a surveillance society being highlighted by pressure groups such as Liberty and the opposition parties.

The small ‘l’ liberalism of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties was evident in their 2010 manifestos with both parties discussing a desire to return to an era where civil liberties were more clearly protected.

However, the pressures of office have seen the coalition also limiting civil liberties particularly in the wake of the threat posed in recent months by ISIS in the Middle East.

This piece gives a good review of the coalitions record on Civil Liberties.

Reevaluating Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown’s premiership has not generally been thought of in a positive light. However when the Scottish MP announced his retirement from the Commons, there seems to have been an outpouring of affection for the Iron Chancellor. A man who was clearly temperamentally unsuited to the top job, has in every other respect had an illustrious political career. It seems that this reappraisal has also extended as far as his premiership, which while overshadowed by the dominance of his predecessor- is perhaps not as disastrous as it felt to many in 2010. This piece from the LSE Blog examines the positives of the Brown era.

Votes for 16 Year Olds

The LSE Politics blog has brought together a range of experts, and data to examine whether or not giving votes to 16 year olds is a good idea.

This topic has previously come up as a 10 mark question for Unit 1 and would form a paragraph if you are responding to a 25 mark question asking how democracy in the UK could be improved. Therefore it is important that you have an answer. Historically questions on this topic are answered badly, as candidates get ‘on their soapbox’ about 16 year olds being able to join the army etc. These arguments are not very effective and are certainly less effective than the ones highlighted here.

And then there were two

UKIP have secured a second MP. While Douglas Carswell’s victory was a landmark for UKIP- ultimately the unusual but likeable MP, was always likely to achieve reelection in Clacton, a seat whose aged, white working class population chimes perfectly with UKIPs demographic.

Mark Reckless’ success in Rochester and Strood was a bigger surprise. The seat was UKIP’s target number 271- however in spite of the electoral odds being stacked against them- Nigel Farage now has 2MPs in the commons.

Here are some of the best UKIP stories from the last few days:

We all know that UKIP has a tendency to attract older voters (even older than the Conservatives…) but it seems they are keen to gain support from younger voters

This post on the LSE blog predicts the impact of UKIP’s success on British politics more generally

Owen Jones meanwhile in the guardian explores the idea that UKIP’s rhetoric chimes with the working classes in spite of their right wing attitudes towards Europe and immigration

Finally Lord Ashcroft (Tory party donor and architect of the Take Your Seat campaign- focusing on marginals in 2010) suggests that UKIP has made predicted the general election result next year as the pendulum politics beloved of those who try to work uniform swing calculations into seat by seat outcomes has clearly ground to a halt

When Harry met… Owen Jones

Owen Jones, author of Chavs and the Establishment interviewed 91 year old Harry Leslie, author of Harry’s Last Stand.

Harry is a spirited nonogenerian who survived the war in the RAF and lived through the Great Depression- his book is an account of a life time of thoughts and wisdom that he thought he would share with the world while he still can.

Jones’ final question to Harry was ‘What message would you give to my generation?’ And Harry’s response makes interesting reading in relation to the democracy topic.

“First of all, I would suggest that voting should be made compulsory, and until it is, what they have to do is get up off their arses and go to cast their vote. If they don’t like any of the people who are on the ballot, spoil the ballot! Spoiled ballots are counted too, they might not realise it – and if the government comes to power and finds only 37% of the people are voting for them and the rest are saying, “Shit on you!” maybe there’ll be some changes.”