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Cover UK Politics

1. Introduction: tradition and change  

The Introduction asks: what do we mean when we talk about politics? On one level, politics is about the interactions between people. However, more specifically, it is about how a society is run. The term for this is ‘governance’. Governance involves who makes the decisions, how they make decisions, and how they put those decisions into effect. This first chapter relates this definition to the UK political system as it exists today. It provides a short analysis of the effectiveness of the UK system in terms of how it has evolved and what changes have been made over time. It takes a brief look at how the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has shown up problems in the UK political system.

Chapter

Cover British Politics

5. Winning and Losing Elections  

This chapter assesses what politicians and members of political parties really care about: getting into office on the back of a successful election campaign. Rather than the general determinants of voting outlined in the previous chapter, this is about the choices voters and parties face within a particular system, so they can organize themselves to win. For that they need to play by the rules of the game, which includes developing strategies within electoral systems. The chapter then discusses the impact of electoral systems on that calculus, and how the number of parties is affected by the electoral system in place. It also looks at the factors that assist the winning of elections, and the extent to which the choices of parties and voters are affected by growing instability in the system. Overall, the chapter provides an overview of British political parties and party systems.

Chapter

Cover British Politics

4. What People Think and Do about Politics  

This chapter focuses on citizen attitudes, values, cultures, and behaviours, which underpin the British political system. Particularly important is voting for elected representatives, whether MPs, Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), Members of the Senedd (MSs), Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLAs), directly elected mayors, police and crime commissioners (PCCs), local councillors, or even parish councillors. Then there are extensive forms of political participation from citizens and groups, ranging from complaining to public authorities to protesting. Both voting and participation are linked to wider attitudes and beliefs about politics. The chapter also provides an understanding of the different forms of turbulence that have emerged in recent years, in particular since 2014, with the arrival of populist movements, and the more frequent use of referendums.

Chapter

Cover British Politics

2. Leadership from the Top  

This chapter examines the general issue of leadership in the British political system and the stresses and strains of this task, examining the role of the prime minister. As well as being leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, able to command a majority, and potentially able to get government business through Parliament and into law, the prime minister has executive powers, which helps keep this focus. Despite the power of the position and its importance in the British system of government, there are fundamental weaknesses in the role that come from the instabilities of party politics. Overall, the picture of prime ministerial and core executive power and capacity is a mixed one that is changeable over time. In recent years, over Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the prime minister's fate can change dramatically, even week-by-week.

Chapter

Cover UK Politics

2. The Cabinet and the prime minister  

This chapter examines two closely connected institutions that lie at the epicentre of UK politics and these are the Cabinet and the Prime Minister (PM). The chapter considers the basic characteristics of both. It describes the way in which they operate, including policy, the functions of the Prime Ministerial role, the supporting staff, and the place of both in the UK constitution and system of government. The principle of the collective responsibility of ministers is touched upon. The chapter gives some practical examples of how selective PMs have worked with their Cabinets to demonstrate how these theories can play out in practical terms. The chapter also provides historical material to illuminate the background to the issues it considers. Finally, the chapter asks: is collective government, that is, government by a group rather than a single leader, the right approach for the UK today? The chapter also touches on the issue of Brexit and questions what we have learnt from the Brexit experience in terms of the UK political system.

Chapter

Cover UK Politics

6. The party system  

This chapter switches the focus to political parties. It looks at their individual roles and how they operate. The chapter discusses the parties that constitute the ‘party system’. It considers the two main parties operating at the UK level: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. It also looks at the smaller parties, such as the Liberal Democrats. The chapter considers the political approach of the various parties and the type of support they attract. It also looks at how parties are funded. The chapter provides a number of theoretical perspectives to help with an analysis of political parties. These are: the extent to which parties pursue values or power; the respective roles of their members and leaders; groupings within parties; how far the UK has a two-party system or whether our definition of the party system should be revised; and the relationships between the various parities. The chapter then gives examples of how these ideas play out with specific focus on recent events involving the Conversative and Labour parties. The chapter asks: do members have too much influence over their parties? The chapter ends by asking: where are we now?