AS Politics Unit 2: Parliament and the Core Executive Summary Notes

These are a condensed version of notes from various sources of revision material I have gathered over the past year. They are a summary of two units from the AQA AS syllabus - Unit 2: Parlament and Unit 3: The Core Executive which have multiple up to date examples and the figures are correct as of May 2013. 

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Unit 2 Politics exam ­ Summary of revision
Key Concepts ­ The role of Parliament in the political system
1) Representation
o The process by which an individual or individuals act on behalf of a larger group. An MP is
elected to represent a constituency of around 100,000 members of the public. For example
Stephen Moseley, a Conservative, is the current MP representing the City of Chester.
o The average age of an MP current is 50 ­ the median age of the UK is 37
o These figures spark an ongoing debate over whether MP's should be typical of the
communities they serve. This is known as the resemblance theory.
o Resemblance theory ­ that those in the legislature should be typical of the communities that
they serve.
o YES ­ a more representative Commons will better understand issues facing communities and
may have more faith in the system.
o NO ­ people who are unlike them will always represent some constituents; a good MP will
represent all constituents regardless of social factors. In a representative democracy we
select MP's broadly to reflect the interests and wishes of all constituents ­ from this is not
necessary for them to be a mirror image of British society.
2) Parliamentary sovereignty
o The doctrine that parliament theoretically possess and exercises unlimited authority.
o Parliament can make law on any matter it chooses and any higher authority may not
overturn its decisions.
o A.V Dicey ­ "it is the supreme law-making body in Great Britain".
o Parliamentary sovereignty is a legal theory concerning the location of law-making authority.
o Only parliament can make, unmake or amend any law and no other institution can override
its decisions. But, EU membership and devolution raise questions about how meaningful it is
in practice.
o No one parliament can bind its successors ­ for example decisions made in the parliament
elected in 2005 can be reversed or amended by the one elected in the election that followed
in 2010.
3) Mandate
o A mandate is the authority of the government, as granted by the electorate, to carry out its
programme according to the promises of its manifesto.
o It is the right of the governing party to pursue the policies.
o The doctrine of the mandate gives the party this opportunity but it does not require it to do
so or prevent it from introducing proposals not outlined in it is general election manifesto.
o For example ­ both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in their 2010 manifestos outlined
commitments to the welfare of pupils, so recently the introduction of the Pupil Premium is
intended to allow all children to have the best start in the education system.
Composition, main roles and functions of Parliament
1) Current composition
House of Commons; House of Lords;
Conservatives ­ 305 Conservatives - 212
Liberal Democrats ­ 57 Liberal Democrats - 89
Labour ­ 257 Labour - 222
650 seats in total ­ 619 by the 3 parties 763 seats in total ­ 523 by the 3 parties

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Roles and functions of Parliament
Parliament performs a number of functions in the British political system; legislation, scrutiny and
accountability, representation, recruitment of ministers and legitimacy.
1) Legislation ­ making law
o Legislative process ­ Bill, a legislative proposal, starts in HoC.
o First reading ­ name of bill read aloud.
o Second reading ­ main debate on the principle of the bill.
o Committee stage ­ bills are sent to public committee where detailed scrutiny occurs.…read more

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Are select committees effective in scrutinizing the executive?
Yes No
High degree of expertise Membership reflects that of HoC ­ majority
Decide which issues to examine Membership influenced by whips
Can question ministers, request access to papers Access may be denied
Government is required to issue a formal response No power to propose policy ­ govt can
3) Representation
o HoC consists of 650MP's, elected from single-member constituencies on the basis of
universal suffrage among adults over 18.…read more

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The Salisbury Doctrine of 1945
o This established the convention that the Lords should not oppose government bills at second
Is the Lords really that weak?
The Parliament Acts and Salisbury Doctrine provide checks on the power of the Lords. It is
definitely a serious obstacle to government as it holds experience, security of tenure and relatively
weak party ties in the Chamber. In the modern ear, where large majorities are the norm, the Lords
have become regarded as the real opposition within Parliament.…read more

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Elective dictatorship
o Lord Hailsham coined the term in 1976 ­ the meaning is the concentration of power in the
executive branch.
o It implies that the only check on the power of government is the need to hold and win
general elections at regular intervals. Beyond this, the government is regarded as free to do
as it wishes because the constitution concentrates power in the executive branch and does
not provide effective checks and balances ­ unlike the US federal system of government.…read more

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Key concepts ­ Relations within the core executive, Prime Minister and cabinet system
1) Prime ministerial and cabinet government
o Prime minister and the cabinet are the main institutions within the executive
Cabinet ­ the committee of senior ministers that is the main collective decision making body of the
Prime Minister ­ head of government and of the executive branch and he chairs cabinet.
o According to R.A.…read more

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Managing the executive ­ responsible for overall organization of government and is head of
the civil service
o Managing relations in parliament ­ makes statements to, answers questions in, House of
Commons. Shapes the legislative programme.
o Representing the UK in international affairs ­ in the EU, international organisations and
meetings with other leaders
Powers of the prime minister
o The significance of these roles gives the prime minister greater resources than other cabinet
ministers.…read more

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Committees are generally chaired by the PM or other senior cabinet colleagues determined
by PM.
o The remaining members are drawn from the cabinet as appropriate.
o Full cabinet has increasingly become a body for airing and rubber-stamping decisions taken
at committee.
o Crucially, the principle of collective responsibility extends to those decisions taken in
committee as well as those agreed by the full cabinet.
o Even cabinet members who aren't attempting committee making decisions will still be
required to publicly stand by it.…read more

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­ More apparent since 20th century as cabinet weakened and powers of
prime minister expanded.
Different models of executive control
Cabinet government
o PM is merely first among equals.
o Cabinet is a decision making body operating under collective responsibility.
o Reasons for decline;
o Increase in the scope and complexity of government activity.
o Emergence and subsequent rise of cabinet committees.
o Tendency towards the use of bilateral meetings rather than full cabinet meetings.…read more

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o Civil servants stay in their posts through changes in government ­ link to neutrality.
5) Individual ministerial responsibility
o The convention that ministers are accountable to parliament for their personal conduct, the
general conduct of their department, and their own personal conduct.
o Governments have redefined the convention so that ministers should not be held
responsible for decisions made in their department they had no knowledge of or operational
matters handled by departmental officials.
o Can lead to resignation of ministers.…read more


Cat Stott

Really helpful for my AS revision thanks a lot - everything summarised briefly but well 

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