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The essentials
Series: Politics Today
Author: Bill Jones

'Politics' with a big 'P' is concerned with how we, individuals and groups, relate to the state. This book commences with a definition of political activity with a focus on conflict, and government and democracy. Britain is, arguably, the oldest democracy in the world, though it took many centuries for it to evolve into its current 'representative' form. Conflict resolution depends on the political system involved. The book draws together all the elements of government, explaining the British system of governance, which is democracy but utilises representatives. Civil service advises ministers and carries out the day- to-day running of government. The book then describes the transformation of the British system of governance from an absolute monarchy to a representative democracy. It examines how economic changes have affected Britain over the centuries, and presents some thoughts on the absence of a modern British revolution. It presents an account of Britain's economic history, the class developments and differences, and the absence of a modern revolution despite astonishing levels of income inequality. Factors that might influence the political culture of Britain are discussed next. The book also touches upon the sources of British constitution, the process of constitutional amendments prevailing in the U.S. and Britain, current British politics, and the development of pressure groups in Britain. Finally, the history of party government in Britain, and details of the Conservative Party, Labour Party, the Social and Liberal Democrats, House of Commons, and Britain's international relations are discussed.

The ‘mainstream’ media
Bill Jones

The role of the mainstream media in modern politics is one of the most discussed and contested topics in democratic debate. This chapter examines the provenance of political communication and the ways in which it impacts on the political system. It looks at the impact of printing such as printing presses and newspapers on political communication, the importance of radio broadcasting, the development of television in the latter part of twentieth century, criteria of news editors when selecting content, and the usefulness of news values. Those energetic entrepreneurs who founded and ran newspapers became almost instantly known as 'press barons' as their political influence began to be reflected in the honours handed out by politicians. The chapter also discusses the usefulness of different media in meeting democratic functions and presents the democrativeness of the various media elements: broadsheets, tabloids, BBC radio, commercial radio, BBC television and commercial television.

in British politics today
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Bill Jones

Socialism and Conservatism were once the commonplace rival ideologies in Britain but both have been so diluted since the latter part of the twentieth century. There are four main broad bodies of belief in British politics, all based on blends of existing (though fading) ideologies: new Labourism (or Blairism), Conservatism, Liberal Democracy and green thinking. This chapter examines the central elements of socialism and Conservatism; the post-war consensus; revisionist Labourism, Thatcherism and Blairism. It also looks at David Cameron's reworking of Blairism; Liberal Democracy and Green thinking as well as aspects of the political fringe. The chapter outlines Clement Attlee's version of socialism, identifies certain constants of traditional Conservatism, and lists the elements of agreed-upon postwar consensus. Given Labour's shunt to the right provided by Tony Blair after his election as party leader in 1994, Labour and the Conservatives began to converge as the 1990s wore on.

in British politics today
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Bill Jones

It is often forgotten that the origins of nationalism in the constituent parts of the UK date back to when they were independent political entities. This chapter deals with the rise of Scottish nationalism and Irish nationalism. It discusses the devolution of powers after 1997. Major figures including John Smith, Robin Cook, Gordon Brown and Donald Dewar, were convinced of the need for devolution and the enabling Acts were duly passed with respect to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The chapter lists the problems that had been highlighted as a result of Labour's constitutional changes including the West Lothian question, cabinet responsibility, and proportional representation. One form of national feeling among the English people is reflected in attitudes to the disproportionate shares of public expenditure Scotland and Wales receive compared with England. The chapter also discusses the devolution to the Greater London government and the impact of constitutional devolution.

in British politics today
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Cabinet, Prime Minister and the ‘core executive’
Bill Jones

Prime Minister and Cabinet, as key features of British government, emerged around the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. To some extent the roles of Prime Minister and Cabinet, both at the very centre of major decisions, have been in conflict. This chapter examines the executive powers of the cabinet, and discusses the aspects of size and composition, collective responsibility, and cabinet functions, among others. It lists the factors because of which the office of Prime Minister gathered much power in the twentieth century. The Prime Minister has a variety of roles to perform such as being the head of the executive, chief policy-maker, party leader, and senior UK representative. The chapter presents the contrasting working styles of various postwar Prime Ministers such as Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. The core executive comprises a collection of policy-making units and 'actors' at the centre of government.

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The House of Commons
Bill Jones

Parliament emerged through the monarch's need to consult and raise finance for the kingdom's needs. This chapter deals with the decline of House of Commons, its present-day functions, its power, and its reforms. It also discusses the social background of MPs. The reasons of the decline of the Commons include expansion of the electorate and growth of a disciplined party system, growth in the power of the Prime Minister, extension of government activities and bureaucracy and loss of control over finance. While it is the willingness of the majority party to accept government actions which determines what passes into law, what the party will not accept sets the limits to what a government can do. A number of reforms of the Commons have occurred since the late 1980s. Some reforms are structural and have had a major impact, while others are minor and only procedural.

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Monarchy and the House of Lords
Bill Jones

Parliament is the name of the British legislature and it comprises three elements: the monarch, the Lords and the Commons. This chapter deals with the role of the monarch and the House of Lords. The monarch's power to dissolve Parliament and to appoint a Prime Minister constitute anything but marginal activities. The monarch also has 'the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn'. The monarch has always been a key element of the aristocracy, the apex of its power and source of the patronage so eagerly consumed by actual as well as aspirant members ever since the notion of kingship in England emerged. The Lords grew out of the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot and the Norman Curia Regis, being gatherings summoned to advise the King. But as the shift to democracy occurred during the nineteenth century, the Lords further receded in importance.

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Ministers and the civil service
Bill Jones

While Cabinet members discuss matters of high policy, back in their departments they deal with more bread-and-butter matters. Cabinet ministers usually have a team of junior ministers to assist them and all ministers have usually one or two advisers plus armies of civil servants. Philip Norton has discerned five types of senior ministers, based on a 2000 study: team player, commander, ideologue, manager and agent. It is a fundamental of the British constitution that ministers are individually responsible to Parliament for the work of their department. This chapter discusses the Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1854 which advocated a politically neutral service, the Fulton Report of 1968, and the reforms undertaken during the Thatcher era. Advisers to premiers and ministers have always existed in one form or another, but began to be appointed more frequently during the 1970s. Many of them entered politics as researchers to politicians or were childhood friends.

in British politics today
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Bill Jones

Political parties are central to the business of democratic government, which could not realistically be carried out without them. This chapter presents the history of party government in Britain, and details the history, organization, leadership and other issues of the Conservative Party, Labour Party, the Social and Liberal Democrats, and nationalist parties. It also discusses the funding of political parties and looks at the future of the parties in Britain. The Conservative Party was held to represent the interests of the traditional ruling classes as well as those of property owners and the 'wealthy' in general. The Labour Party was set up by the trade unions, with the enthusiastic help of various socialist societies, to create a 'political wing' to their activities. However, voters are less interested in seeking action through parties but tend to seek it instead from single-issue pressure groups.

in British politics today
Bill Jones

This chapter deals with the development of pressure groups in Britain, the relationship between the groups and the government, and the political methods used by the groups. Theoretical perspectives such as those of Robert Dahl and Phillipe Schmitter are also briefly explained. Pressure groups figure very highly in the politics of modern democratic states and may be seen as providing a form of 'functional' representation (of social groups or blocks of voters) that is especially important between elections; they can be divided into two kinds: economic and cause groups. While trade unions, business organisations, and professional organisations are economic groups, sectional and attitude groups, peak associations, 'fire brigade' groups and episodic groups are examples of cause groups. Pressure groups need to be on good terms with government for the sake of their own interests.

in British politics today