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These notes are from a series of esays the BBC commissioned in 2003 and put on their website. It even includes A2 route D stuff (which can be found here .................) . Maybe someone in the beeb had a kid doing Edexcel G&P. Anyway, they are a little dated but still useful. Thanks to the beeb!


Unit 1/1: People and Politics by Hugh Berrington The Professor Emeritus at the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne writes for BBC Parliament


Power is the capacity to achieve desired results. Its sources are numerous and diverse.
Although physical coercion plays an important part in the exercise of power, the possession of power goes beyond the use or threat of physical force.
'Power' said Mao Tse Tung, 'grows out of the barrel of a gun' . But power may accrue to a leader because of his personal gifts - charisma or competence.
People may do his bidding because of his skills in persuasion, his oratory, his past success.

Power in society which relies wholly on armed force is inherently unstable. A leader who rules by an army alone invites others to collect a bigger army, and try to overthrow him.
To provide any stability, power has to be institutionalised. We come to obey leaders not simply because they are stronger than we are, but because their right to rule is widely recognised.
So, for instance, in some societies, at some times, a hereditary monarch has been seen as having the right to exercise power.
A king such as Henry VIII was accepted as the legitimate King. Legitimate means more than being in accordance with the laws of the country. To say a ruler is legitimate is to say that he has a recognised right to rule.
There are few hereditary monarchs exercising real power left in the world. In Western countries, even where the form of monarchy survives, as in Britain and the Netherlands, political power is exercised by others.
What usually confers the right to rule in such countries is election by the people.
Citizens elect their leaders, usually through the agency of a political party, and these leaders hold power for a limited period, before a further election is held to determine whether or not they should continue in office.
In such states, the governors are accountable at periodic elections, to the governed.
Democracy literally means 'rule by the people' - in practice not by the whole people (for unanimity is rare) but by a majority of the people.
But democracy, as understood in Western states, means much more than majority rule.
Democracy tempers the notion of majority rule with the idea of individual freedom; in particular, democracies seek to protect their citizens from the misuse of power by the governors.
A government, representing a majority, could rule arbitrarily and tyrannically, unless there were constraints on government.
A democratic constitution confers the right (and some would say the obligation) on citizens to participate in the nation's affairs - through voting, through membership of political parties, through membership of pressure groups such as trades unions, through meetings and demonstrations etc.
Broadly speaking, the more such activity is diffused amongst citizens, the more democratic rule and the rights of the individual will be safeguarded.
The phrase, 'broadly speaking ', is used because there can be circumstances in which active participation is not congenial to stable democracy.
Thus, if all citizens are highly active, governments may have little leeway to act in the face of unexpected events.
Moreover, the experience of some countries suggests that participation is greatest when the animosities of different groups of citizens are at their most acute.
Thus the rise of the Nazis in Germany from 1929 to 1933 was accompanied by a heavy increase in the number voting.
Some participated with the aim of destroying democracy. Commentators deplored the sharp fall in turnout in Britain in the 2001 election, but it is notable that one region - Northern Ireland - actually saw a rise in turnout, and with it increased polarisation.
Direct and indirect democracy
Democracies are sometimes divided into Direct and Indirect. In Direct democracies, the whole citizen body is entitled to make laws; in Indirect, or Representative democracy, citizens elect representatives to make laws on their behalf.
Obvious difficulties arise in attempting to give direct power to the whole citizen body.
How for instance can all the citizens of an industrial democracy be assembled to hear the arguments for and against different poicies and to vote on them?
Speedy decision-taking becomes difficult, to say the least. For such reasons the referendum, where employed, tends to be limited to major decisions such as changes to the Constitution, or the adoption of a new Constitution.
Note, though, that some countries such as Switzerland, and some American states, use the referendum quite extensively despite the possible drawbacks.
Moreover, some would argue that modern technology makes feasible a much wider use of the referendum.
The pros and cons of a proposal can be put to the people on television and it would be possible for citizens to vote by pressing a button on their TV.

© Prof Hugh Berrington 2004
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/2442905.stm

Published: 2003/05/08 11:47:09 GMT

© BBC MMVII

Elections and democracy
Unit 1/2: People and Politics by Hugh Berrington The Professor Emeritus at the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne writes for BBC Parliament


The first question to ask is whether voters are able to cast their ballots without intimidation, bribery or coercion. And are the votes, once cast, counted fairly? Not always, is the honest answer.
The Third World provides numerous accusations that elections have been 'rigged'.
Even where votes are cast freely and counted fairly, however, there are questions to raise about electoral procedures.

The biggest source of controversy lies in the electoral system. For Westminster elections, Britain employs the Single Member Constituency with the First Past the Post formula for finding the winner.
The candidate with the most votes is elected irrespective of whether he or she has an overall majority of votes cast.
Thus, in 2001, 333 MPs were elected on a minority vote, leading, some argue, to a distortion of representation.
Many MPs are chosen despite not being supported by a majority of those who voted.

That complaint is of minor importance compared with distortions that can occur on a national scale.
Governments usually have a majority in the Commons but none in the country at large: not since 1935 has a party (or alliance of parties) won an overall majority of the votes cast.
The winner's bonus?
The normal tendency of the electoral system is to exaggerate the Commons majority of the winning party.
Thus in 1997, and again in 2002 Labour won a huge majority of seats despite polling well under half the votes in the country at large. Some defend this winner's bonus but problems remain.
First, it is possible for a party to become the largest single party, or even to win an overall majority of seats, despite polling fewer votes than another party - as in February 1974 or 1951.
Secondly, some minorities are often heavily penalised, winning far fewer seats than their strength in the country entitles them to.
However narrow the electoral base of their majority in Parliament, governments will claim that they have a mandate to enact those policies promised in their election manifesto.
The claim is hallowed by tradition but hardly stands up. We have seen that governments rarely, if ever, win a majority over all other parties.
More people will have voted against a government than for them. It is also unrealistic to suppose that everybody who votes for a particular party endorses every item in that party's manifesto. Some people vote for a party, in spite of, not because of, a key policy proposal.
Steps have been taken to try and meet some of these problems when setting up new elected authorities.
Thus in the elections for Mayors the votes of candidates who, after the first round of voting clearly stand no chance of election, are redistributed according to the voters' second choice.
Proportional representation
In the new territorial assemblies - in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - different forms of proportional representation are used to prevent a single party, which lacks an overall majority of votes, from taking an overall majority of seats.
In Scotland, for instance, the Single Member Constituency is kept and a candidate winning the most votes is elected.
However, Additional Members are then allotted to the parties to ensure that the overall outcome is roughly proportional.
Northern Ireland uses multi-member constituencies with the Single Transferable Vote (STV).
This gives ordinary voters considerable power, not only over the party make-up of the Assembly, but over which individuals are elected. In both countries, the Executive is a coalition, although the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have been suspended for some months.
Parliamentary sovereignty
One of the keystones of the British Constitution is the sovereignty of Parliament. Under this doctrine, all power is vested in the Queen in Parliament - the monarch, the House of Lords and the House of Commons acting together.
The only role of the elector is to vote for the members of the House of Commons; if he is dissatisfied with the measures passed by parliament he can vote against his MP at the next election.
Some regard the power of Parliament as excessive and look to the Referendum as a way of giving ordinary people the power to decide what policies are introduced.
With the Referendum, citizens are invited to vote on a particular measure. Thus, in June 1975, a referendum was held to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Economic Community (now the European Union) which she had joined in 1973.
A big majority voted in favour of staying in. In 1979, referendums in Scoland and Wales were held on proposals for devolution in those countries.
More recently, in 1998, referendums on devolution were held again in Scotland and Wales.
This time the proposals were endorsed by the electors, albeit narrowly in Wales. Likewise, the present government has pledged that if it decides to recommend that Britain should adopt the euro as its currency, the electorate will be given the last word at a referendum.
What is striking, however, is how little the referendum is used in Britain. Indeed, apart from local polls to decide whether a town has an elective Mayor, all the questions put to the people in recent years have involved major constitutional issues.
One school of thought believes that such an approach is right; others argue that the referendum should be used more widely, on a broader range of proposals.
© Prof Hugh Berrington 2004
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/2443507.stm
Published: 2003/05/08 16:41:38 GMT
© BBC MMVII

Role of political parties
Unit 1/3: People and Politics by Hugh Berrington The Professor Emeritus at the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne writes for BBC Parliament


The calls for the wider use of the referendum suggest increasing disenchantment with the political parties.
Parties have long been a whipping-boy for saloon-bar critics of the representative process. 'To say... that parties are natural is not to say that they are perfect ' wrote Harold Laski nearly seventy-five years ago, in a bid to counter such criticisms.

'They distort the issues that they create. They produce divisions in the electorate which very superficially represent the way in which opinion is in fact distributed... They falsify the perspective of the issues they create... They build about persons allegiance which should go to ideas... Yet when the last criticisms of party have been made the services they render to a democratic state are inestimable.' H J Laski, Grammar of Politics (Fourth Edition 1938).
A political party seeks power, or a share of power, and to achieve power it must win control, or a share of control, of the organs of government.


To say... that parties are natural is not to say that they are perfect Harold Laski
Political parties are often the object of criticism, and indeed of cynicism. If anything, such feelings seem to have grown in Britain in recent years.
Sometimes it is averred that party divisions are superfluous and harmful, and what is needed, it is said, is a government of the 'best men (and presumably women) chosen without reference to parties'. Demands for 'government by the best men/women' assume that political problems are technical problems which can best be solved by the wisest and the best-qualified.
Political issues, however, are at root conflicts of values and interests. If a firm wishes to install a new computing system, or build a bridge, it will presumably employ those best qualified for such work. In politics, however, there is no 'best' solution.
To grasp the contribution that parties, with all their faults, make to the running of the democratic process, let us try to visualise a British general election held without political parties.
Candidates in each constituency, it would seem, would stand on their personal merits - but the only question worth asking of a would-be representative is: does he or she 'represent'?
The voters would find it difficult to tell what the candidates stood for, and the election would become a personal popularity contest rather than a means of assessing support for the records and policies of the various parties.
Once elected, the MP would presumably be guided solely by his personal opinions when deciding how to vote in parliament; to keep track of his Member's record, the voter would have to scrutinize his speeches and votes with great care. How would the voter decide whether his representative's stewardship had been satisfactory?


Parties have for long been a whipping-boy for saloon-bar critics of the representative process Hugh Berrington
At the parliamentary level, government would become unstable and incoherent. It is hard to envisage an assembly of 600 independent MPs agreeing on a consistent programme.
Governments would suffer from conflict, and would be be plagued by indecision, for a government chosen on the principle of the 'best men and women' would have no underlying unity of opinion.
When a general election came it would be impossible for voters to pass judgment on the record of the government, for the candidates would be standing on their personal records.
What this implausible sketch does is to show that a political party does perform important functions. These functions are essentially threefold. Parties frame the issues. Through their manifestoes and policy statements parties put issues to the electorate, and determine what the election argument will be about.
Parties also recruit the personnel of government. They choose the rival candidates, and guide the voter in his choice. The parties choose the Leaders - one of whom will become Prime Minister after an election.
The third function of political parties is to make it possible, in a parliamentary system, for voters to hold governments accountable. If they feel the government has failed to live up to its party's election promises, or to display proper standards of competence and integrity, they can vote for an opposiiton party.
The party is essentially a link between the citizen and the state; party is one of the devices which makes possible citizen influence on the policies of government.
British parliamentary politics is Adversary politics. Two large and disciplined parties confront each other across the despatch box in the House of Commons. At the end of the debate, Members divide, usually joined by those who often have not heard a word of the debate.
Rebellion in the division lobbies is more common than it was 40 years ago but conformity to party remains the norm for Members.
Adversary politics is a term borrowed from the courts of law. The parties engage in what may seem mortal, if to some eyes sham, combat.
A party spokesman acts like a prosecuting counsel or defending barrister, putting the most powerful case that he can, irrespective of any reservations or doubts he may feel in private.
The spirit of adversary politics does not necessarily carry with it the connotation that the parties are divided by a deep ideological gulf.
Adversary politics is as compatible with parties whose differences are shallow and transitory as it is with parties separated by acute doctrinal cleavages.
What then do the parties stand for? It is not easy to condense into two or three paragraphs the complexities of party belief.
Since the 1920s Conservatives and Labour have been the two main parties of the state. The deepest and most lasting division between them is economic.
The level of taxation, the scope and size of the welfare state, the role of government in regulating the economy - these have been the staple of party debate, with the Conservatives more favourable to the free market and low taxation, and Labour more sympathetic to government intervention and to high public spending.
Yet the differences are much less marked than they were in the early Thatcher years, and these in turn were much sharper than they had been during the era of consensus politics, which lasted from the early 50s to the mid-70s.
Divisions between the parties narrow, then widen, then narrow again.
The Liberal Democrats were formed by a fusion of the old Liberal party with the SDP, a breakaway from Labour.
They broadly share the free market sentiments of the Conservatives but favour bigger spending on social welfare and are more prepared than Labour to entertain higher taxes.
Their most distinctive feature is their commitment to Europe. Whereas both Labour and Conservatives have performed voltes-face over Europe the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberals before them, have been the most consistent champions of British involvement with the European Union.
© Prof Hugh Berrington 2004
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/2443563.stm
Published: 2003/05/08 11:49:42 GMT

© BBC MMVII

Pressure groups
Unit 1/4: People and Politics by Hugh Berrington The Professor Emeritus at the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne writes for BBC Parliament


Political parties, as we have seen are a link between people and the state.
There is, however, a second link, the pressure group, which must often, to the ordinary citizen, seem more important than the political party.
Parties have a multiple appeal and are concerned with broad policies, covering a range of issues.

Pressure groups, however, are much narrower, campaigning either for a single issue, or for minor, often technical changes.
Such changes may be of great importance to their members but both boring and incomprehensible to everyone else.
Parties and pressure groups, then, differ in scope and in the breadth of their appeal. A second, more important distinction is that whilst parties aim to achieve power, or a share of power, by winning control over the organs of government, pressure groups do not act to gain power itself but to influence those who have power.
Pressure groups, therefore, do not fight elections but campaign for their objectives in a number of different ways.
Pressure groups are often divided into Sectional groups and Cause groups, the former also being known as Interest groups. Sectional or Interest groups exist to defend and promote the material interests of their members.
Trades unions, and trade associations are examples, together with groups such as the National Farmers' Union. Cause groups, as the name indicates exist to promote a cause which has nothing to do with members' material welfare.
Such groups campaign for a cause: nuclear disarmament, the abolition of blood sports, restictions on abortion, are all examples of the policies Cause groups strive to achieve.
One basic distinction is between Insider and Outsider groups. Insider groups are those which develop close relationships with government departments or other official bodies.
They are trusted by the departments and negotiate quietly, unobtrusively for their members - often on issues which most citizens would not recognise or understand.
Outsider groups lack such close and business-like links with government.
Lacking recognition from the top, they will seek to convert and mobilise public opinion, often using demonstrations and rallies.
Outsider groups often attract more attention in the press and from citizens than Insider groups - but that is usually a sign of their weakness.
Like political parties, pressure groups are often attacked for distorting the democratic process.
It is true that pressure group activity confers advantages on wealthy, well-organised and well connected groups, and those able to inflict sanctions on government by withdrawing their cooperation.
Yet, as with parties, their contribution to democratic life is indispensable. Dealing as they often do with narrow and specialised issues they are a vital channel between the governed and the governors.
The task of governing a nation of nearly 60 million people, and ensuring some conformity between popular wishes and government decisions, is enormous in its complexity.
To many, especially those at the 'receiving end' of government decisions it must often seem as though politicians and civil servants follow their own agenda without reference to the people's wishes.
Looking at that task, though, from a more detached vantage point it seems that, as with a dog dancing, the wonder is not that it sometimes seems to be done badly but that it is done at all.
© Prof Hugh Berrington 2004 School of Geography, Politics and Sociology University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/2443603.stm
Published: 2003/05/08 11:49:01 GMT

© BBC MMVII

If you would like to read more about this topic, try the following books:

Dick Leonard and Roger Mortimore, Elections in Britain: A Voters' Guide (2001)
Francesca Klug, Keith Starmer and Stuart Weir, The Three Pillars of Liberty: Securing Political Rights and Freedoms in the United Kingdom (1996)
Vernon Bogdanor, The People and the Party System: The Referendum and the Electoral System In Britain
Robert Hazell, The State and the Nations: The First Year Of Devolution in the United Kingdom (2000)
Philip Norton, Does Parliament Matter? (1993)
Stuart Weir and David Beetham, Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain (1999)
Paul Webb, The Modern British Party System (2000)
S E Finer, The Changing British Party System 1945-1979 (1980)
Hugh Berrington (ed), Britain In The Nineties: The Politics Of Paradox (1998)
Wyn Grant, Pressure Groups and British Politics (2000)
I Budge, I Crewe, D McKay and K Newton, The New British Politics (2001)
B Jones, D Kavanagh, M Moran, P Norton, Politics UK (2001)