Unit One Representation and Democracy Stoke and Copeland by-elections


These two by-elections have come at a difficult time for the Labour Party. Copeland in Cumbria has the Sellafield Nuclear plant as its biggest employer and Jeremy Corbyn’s long standing opposition to nuclear power (as well as nuclear weapons) has probably been the single decisive factor in Labour losing to the Tories. Even a vigorous campaign on local health services (an area in which the Conservatives were extremely vulnerable) could not persuade the electorate in the consistency to stay with Labour in what has always been regarded as a marginal Labour seat. As for Stoke-on-Trent, often described as Brexit Central, Labour just hung on, despite a strong but flawed challenge from UKIP. Pro remain interventions from Blair and Mandelson last week have been blamed for Labour losing voting share, though not enough for UKIP to get their 2nd Westminster seat.

In terms of translating these two by-elections into marks in the exam you should probably take most of your points from The Guardian analysis below, which looks at turnout, voting share, and, by implication, the disproportionality of FPTP:

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First of all note that the turnout at just 36.7% means 63.3% of the electorate in Stoke did not cast a vote. You could argue that the result therefore lacks legitimacy. The winning candidate has the positive vote of around just 13% of the entire constituencies electorate, an obvious flaw of FPTP. In addition 63.91% of all votes cast in this by-election were wasted. So almost 2/3 didn’t vote and of those who did, 2/3rds of the votes did not count. This is one of the biggest flaws in FPTP.

You might want to try doing a similar analysis with the Copeland by-election results below.

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 9.25.18 AM.pngReading through the commentary you will notice that once again the Labour Party is having very bitter divisions being played out in public so you might want to apply this to any Unit one questions on internal party cohesion in the parties questions.

You can Read the full Guardian analysis by clicking on the image below.

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Unit 2 – Parliament: The House of Lords

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 10.17.02 AM.pngMeg Russell, of University College London’s Constitution Unit, is one of the (if not the) UK’s leading authorities on the House of Lords. In this excellent opinion piece from the Guardian she makes a strong claim for retaining a reformed HOL , rather than using its anomalies as the basis for making the claim that it should be abolished.

In Unit two of the exam in the Parliament past papers section in all but one case, candidates would have been required to demonstrate either implicit knowledge of the Lords and its functions or clear explicit knowledge of the Lords. Only once has a question required knowledge of the HOC alone. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that you could successfully complete a Parliament question with reference solely to the House of Commons. You must have a good working knowledge of the House of Lords as well. 


Unit 2 – Judicial Neutrality and Independence. What’s the difference?

CwXwe6AXUAQsiCp.jpgHi all

I thought I would try to clear this up for those who are confused about the difference between independence and neutrality. It’s not actually difficult but some precision is needed. The best way to think about it is to think of independence as freedom of the judiciary from outside interference whereas neutrality is concerned with the judges themselves. 

So if the Daily Mail attacks the judiciary (and it has done so many, many times) then that is an attack on their independence. Similarly if politicians criticise the judiciary (as they also do, and certainly more than they should) then that is also undermining their independence.

If, on the other hand a judge makes a profoundly political and public statement then that would obviously be a challenge to their neutrality. First and foremost judges must put their own political preferences aside and apply the law, regardless of whether the decision they make has a political consequence they disagree with. In practice of course it must be difficult for highly educated judges, making decisions that have political ramifications of which they are well aware, and which they may well have moral objections to.

It’s therefore best to look at the definitions of Independence and neutrality and try to get a handle on these. If you got mixed up in the pressure of an exam a perfect answer on independence (but in which you wrote about neutrality) would score zero. The opposite also obviously applies. Hope that’s clear. 

judicial independence  – the idea that the judiciary is free of political interference and that they can make their decisions in accordance with their judicial oath “without fear or favour”. They cannot be easily removed from office, their pay is guaranteed by the consolidated fund, judicial appointments are no longer made under the PM’s exercise of patronage (instead they are made by the independent Judicial Appointments Commission) and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 formally separated the Law Lords from legislature creating a wholly independent Supreme Court. Politicians must not comment on matters which are subject to proceedings before the courts.

Judicial neutrality – the idea here is that judges are free from political bias. They apply and interpret the law in a neutral way and have no bias or interest in a particular outcome of any case. Judges should not openly engage in party political matters and should not allow personal or political preferences to influence their decisions.

Unit 2 Judiciaries – Attacks on judges undermine law – Supreme Court president


Justice Neuberger provides a robust and spirited defence of the independence and neutrality of the Supreme Court. Obviously this would be of value in adding it to any question on judicial independence and neutrality. It’s also worth noting that the two concepts sometimes get confused. I’ll post something soon that tries to help you differentiate between the two. Many of you will already be able to do this but it may be worth posting in any case for those of you who do get the 2 mixed up.



Brexit vote: Clive Lewis quits shadow cabinet as MPs back bill


Obviously a case study such as this reveals quite deep divisions within the Labour Party. In this context MPs are therefore torn between representing the party and supporting the leader or representing their constituents. In this case Clive Lewis felt he could not ignore the overwhelming support for remain within his constituency.

Unit 1 – Pressure groups and Elitism

The following article from The Guardian’s George Monbiot provides ample evidence of support for the view that far from widening access to power, pressure group activity often seeks to concentrate power in the hands of a tiny minority of privileged elites. This meticulously researched and referenced piece reveals very close connections between politicians, lobbyists, corporate interests and therefore lends strong support to the elitist side of the debate as to whether pressure group activity promotes a wide plurality in the distribution of power (the pluralism argument) or in fact promotes a much more narrow concentration of power. Monbiot’s excellent analysis is clearly geared towards making the case for pressure group activity promoting elite dominance of our systems of governance and in effect echoes the points I have been making in my teaching just this week with reference to his 2000 work Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain.

Any essay on pluralism v elitism such as this one from June 2015 Do pressure groups concentrate or distribute power? would clearly benefit from looking at the thrust of Monbiot’s argument and incorporating some of the arguments and evidence he presents in favour of a concentration of power. Similarly any question on whether PGs promote or undermine democracy could use this piece as a base for the claim that democracy is undermined by PG activity.

If we recall our definitions of pluralism and elitism these would be useful points to begin with before looking at both sides of the argument.  

Pluralism refers to the distribution and the diversification of power within the political system in different hubs/centres – regional, local, national, international) Pluralism is characterised by a wide spread of power. In the political process, pluralism promotes a forum for debate and scrutiny between competing groups in society. In regards for citizens to participate in the political process, pluralism allows individuals to be represented by various parties, pressure groups or new social movements. In the UK there are an estimated 7000+ pressure groups, a clear expression of a diverse distribution of power. This can be seen due the reason that in an ideally pluralist democracy, groups have more or less equal access to the political process.  Pluralism implies a range of  groups and pressure groups are both sectional (trade unions and business groups) and promotional (environmental and welfare groups) representing a plurality of groups, causes and issues.

Elitism – Elitism is the theory that political power is concentrated in the hands of the few, an elite. Power is held to be narrowly concentrated in the hands of wealthy corporations, privileged social classes and professional politicians and bureaucrats who share a similar usually conservative social outlook. Power is thus exercised in the self interest of the elite. Elite groups enjoy frequent contact and consultation with Ministers, Civil Servants and Parliament. IPGs ordinarily consist of a small and limited amount of members, most of which are hidden from the public eye. Example of this would be the BAA, BBA, CBI, NFU, BMA. Former Cameron advisor Steve Hilton has criticised the lack of democracy and corporate dominance over government and parliament. Insiders commonly have access to huge financial resources and legal expertise. Corporate donations to political parties- hedge funds estimated to have donated £47m in five years to the Conservative Party.

Here Monbiot is providing us with a goldmine of information supporting the undermining democracy/promoting elitism side of the argument. 

click on the image below to access the article

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