3.1 Government and politics of the UK

3.1.1 The government of the UK

Government and Politics of the UK is divided into ten sections. Each has a particular focus but their interrelationships must be understood to appreciate the complexities of the system. Students will study each of the prescribed sections below.

3.1.1.1 The nature and sources of the British Constitution

Key concepts and terminology:

  • codified
  • uncodified
  • statute
  • common law
  • conventions
  • authoritative opinions
  • The royal prerogative
  • rule of law
  • parliamentary sovereignty
  • individual and collective rights.

Focus

Students should develop awareness of the significance of the following historical documents to the development of rights in the UK:

  • Magna Carta (1215)
  • Bill of Rights (1689)
  • Act of Settlement (1701)
  • Parliaments Acts (1911 and 1949)
  • European Communities Act (1972).

Students should analyse and evaluate:

  • the nature and sources of the British constitution
  • contemporary legislation and current issues regarding rights
  • issues and debates around recent constitutional changes
  • debates about the extent of rights in the UK
  • two examples of constitutional changes since 1997, such as the establishment of devolved legislative bodies in constituent countries of the UK, the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act, adoption of the Human Rights Act, changing composition of the House of Lords
  • areas where individual and collective rights are in agreement and where they are in conflict.

3.1.1.2 The structure and role of Parliament

Key concepts and terminology:

  • scrutiny of executive
  • Commons
  • Lords
  • MPs and peers
  • delegates and trustees
  • Burkean theories of representation
  • delegate theories
  • mandate theories
  • trustees
  • parliamentary privilege
  • opposition
  • legislation
  • debate
  • regressive grievances
  • campaign
  • referendum.

Focus

Students should analyse and evaluate:

  • scrutiny of the executive and how effective scrutiny of the executive is in practice
  • parliamentary debate and the legislative process
    • Commons
    • Lords
  • theories of representation - Burkean, delegate, mandate theories
  • the roles and influence of MPs and peers
  • the significance of Commons and Lords:
    • work of committees
    • role of the opposition
    • the extent of Parliament’s influence on government decisions:
      • Party discipline enables the government to routinely outvote opposition
      • government control of civil servants’ appearances before Select Committees
      • membership of those committees is largely controlled by the Whips' offices.
  • interactions of parliament and other branches of government.

3.1.1.3 The Prime Minister and cabinet

Key concepts and terminology:

  • core executive
  • prime minister
  • primus inter pares
  • cabinet
  • inner cabinet
  • cabinet comittee
  • individual and collective responsibility
  • accountability.

Focus

Students should analyse and evaluate:
  • how policy is made
  • the relationship between Prime Minister and cabinet
  • the difference between individual and collective responsibility. Examples might include:
    • resignation of Sir Thomas Dugdale – Crichel Down (1954)
    • resignation of Iain Duncan Smith over Welfare Reforms (2016)
  • two examples that demonstrate the power of the Prime Minister and cabinet to dictate events and determine policy making. One example must be from 1945‒1997. The second example must be from 1997 to the present. Examples might include:
    • introduction of poll tax (1990)
    • invasion of Iraq (2003)
  • government/parliament relations – accountability/interest.

3.1.1.4 The judiciary

Key concepts and terminology:
  • Supreme Court
  • judicial independance and impartiality
  • separation of powers
  • ultra vires
  • judicial review.

Focus

Students should analyse and evaluate:
  • the composition of the judiciary and the appointments process
  • the role of the Supreme Court and its impact on government, legislature and policy process
  • judicial influence on government
  • importance of ultra vires, judicial review and the Supreme Court's interactions with and influence over the legislative and policy making processes.

3.1.1.5 Devolution

Key concepts and terminology:
  • devolution
  • The Scottish Parliament and Government
  • The Welsh Assembly and Government
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

Focus

Students should analyse and evaluate:
  • the roles, powers and responsibilities of the different devolved bodies in the UK
  • debate around devolution in England
  • existing devolution in England
  • impact of devolution on government of the UK.

3.1.2 The politics of the UK

3.1.2.1 Democracy and participation

Key concepts and terminology:
  • direct democracy
  • representative democracy
  • suffrage
  • participation
  • partisan dealignment.

Focus

Students should develop awareness of development of the suffrage in the UK – debates and issues:

  • how suffrage has changed since the Great Reform Act (1832) to the present
  • debates regarding gender, class, ethnicity and age
  • the significance of the Chartists, Suffragists and Suffragettes
  • suffrage as a human right.

Students will be required to analyse and evaluate:

  • the nature of democracy
  • different types of democracy – direct democracy, representative government
  • patterns of participation and different forms of participation.

3.1.2.2 Elections and referendums

Key concepts and terminology:

  • majoritarian and proportional electoral systems
  • representative democracy
  • suffrage
  • participation
  • voting behaviour
  • manifesto
  • campaign
  • referendums.

Focus

Students will be required to analyse and evaluate the characteristics of different systems used in parliamentary elections and in elections to one of the devolved bodies in the UK including:

  • debates and issues around the performance of those systems
  • the advantages and disadvantages of those systems
  • three key elections since 1945 should be selected for detailed study. These should include:
    • the 1997 general election
    • one election from before 1997
    • one election since 1997.

The study of these elections, the wider political context in which they occurred and the techniques used by political parties in their campaigns will provide perspectives on the issues and outcomes of each election, particularly in relation to the following:

  • patterns of voting behaviour/changes over time – as revealed by relevant national data sources, and explanations of how and why they varied in different elections
  • the influence of the media on the outcomes
  • the reasons for and the impact of party policies on the outcomes
  • the reasons for and the influence of manifestos on the outcomes
  • the impact of campaigns and leadership on the outcomes
  • the role of elections and their influence on policy and policy making
  • likely effects of the electoral system on the party system.

These elections should be selected because they exemplify particular characteristics of the British electoral system, electoral behaviour or electoral outcomes eg:

  • an election resulting in a landslide victory for one party
  • an election where results reveal a clear discrepancy between the number of votes and the number of seats gained
  • an election which shows how large numbers of voters are effectively disenfranchised by the preponderance of voters for one party in large areas of the country
  • an election the outcome of which is greatly influenced by a particular leadership style or personality

    Students should analyse and evaluate the nature and use of referendums in the UK and their impact.

3.1.2.3 Political parties

Key concepts and terminology:

  • ideology
  • party structure
  • party systems
  • party funding
  • party functions
  • minor parties
  • political agenda.

Focus

Students should analyse and evaluate:
  • the origins, ideas and development of the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat parties and how these have helped shape their current policies
  • party structures and functions of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties
  • issues and debates around party funding
  • relations with, and influence of, the media
  • factors affecting electoral outcomes
  • policies of minor parties and their impact on political debates and political agenda
  • development towards a multi-party system in the UK and its impact on government and policy.

3.1.2.4 Pressure groups

Key concepts and terminology:

  • pluralism
  • political agenda
  • insider and outsider pressure groups
  • promotional and interest groups.

Focus

Students should analyse and evaluate:
  • pressure groups and democracy – pluralism
  • other influences on government and parliament:
    • think tanks
    • lobbyists
    • corporations
    • media
  • typologies of pressure groups, including a detailed study of one insider and one outsider group
  • methods used by pressure groups
  • factors likely to affect the political influence of different groups, such as membership and resources
  • links with political parties, government and the media.

3.1.2.5 The European Union

Key concepts and terminology:

  • EU institutions

Focus

Students should analyse and evaluate:

  • aims of the EU and the extent to which they have been achieved
  • the impact of the EU on UK politics and policy making.