Government & Politics AS Edexcel Unit 1 Revision

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  • Created on: 31-03-13 23:10



A general description of various politics systems that are organised on the basis that government should serve to the interests of the people. In liberal democracies it is also expected that citizens should influence decisions or make decisions themselves. It is also expected that government should be accountable, in various ways, to the people.

Importance of Democracy

  • Establishes and protects freedom.
  • Protects minorities.
  • Controls government power.
  • Encourages popular participation.
  • Disperses power more widely.
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This term refers to the idea that members of the political community have certain rights with respect to political institutions. It also implies that an individual has the right to live within a particular state and thus also enjoy all its rights and benefits. Citizenship imples a certain level of obligation, mainly to obey the law, to give military service in some circumstances, to pay taxes and, arguably, to vote and to engage in some kinds of service to the community.

Rights                                                              Obligations

  • To be a resident in the state.                                  - To obey the law.
  • To vote in free elections.                                        - To accept the legitimacy of the
  • To stand for public office.                                          properly constituted government.
  • To be treated equally under the law.                      - To pay taxes.
  • To be given a fair trial.                                            - Possibly join the armed forces. 
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Opportunities for and tendancies of the people to become involved in the political process. At a minimum level this will involve voting, but may also involve active work in political parties or pressure groups. At the highest level it imples standing for public office.

Examples of Falling Levels of Participation

  • Turnout at elections has been falling - 2010 election, 65.2%.
  • Party membership has been declining.

How Participation can be Increased 

  • Voting can be made compulsory.
  • Reducing voting age from 18 to 16.
  • Making voting easier, through internet or text voting. 
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A popular vote where the people are asked to determine an important political or constitutional issue directly.

Use of Referendums

  • In the UK, the result of a referendum is not binding on Parliament.
  • They always have either a 'yes' or 'no' answer.

Arguments for Referendums

  • They are the most direct form of democracy.
  • People may be more likely to respect the decisions they have made themelves.
  • They entrench constitutional change.
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Referendum Cont.

Arguments against Referendums

  • They may undermine respect for representative institutions.
  • Some issues may be too complec for people to understand.
  • May produce an emotional rather than a rational response.
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The political idea is that people elect or appoint representatives to make decisions on their behalf rather than making those decisions themselves.

The social idea implies that political institutions should have a membership that is broadly a social cross-section of society in general.

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Electoral Manifesto

A statement produced by a political party at election times, stating what policies it intends to implement if it gains power.

Electoral Mandate

Refers to the authority to govern granted to the winning party at an election by the voters. The mandate suggests that the government may implement the measures in its election manifesto. It also implies that the government has authority to use its judgement in dealing with unforeseen circumstances (the 'doctor's mandate').

Purpose of Elections

  • To elect a Member of Parliament to represent the constituency and its individuals.
  • To deliver a verdict on the performance of the government in power.
  • To grant the party who is elected to deliver the policies set out in its manifesto.
  • It grants authority to the new government to make decisions on unforeseen circumstances.
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Electoral System

A system that converts votes in an election into seats. It may also refer to the process of electing a single leader such as a president or a mayor.

British Electoral System - First Past The Post

  • Each constituency returns one Member of Parliament.
  • Each party nominates only one candidate in each constituency.
  • Voters have only one vote each. They choose their preferred candidate by a cross on the ballot paper.
  • Whichever candidate wins the largest number of votes is declared elected. This is known as gaining a simple majority or plurality. Gaining 50% of the votes is not necessary to win.

Effects of FPTP

  • It can discriminate in favour of some parties and aganst others. It does not award seats in proportion to the total votes cast.
  • The winning party always wins a considerably higher proportion of seats than votes.
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Proportional Representation

Describes any electoral system that converts votes into seats in a broadly proportional way.

Single Transferable Vote (STV)

  • Constituencies return more than one member each.
  • In order to be elected, a candidate much achieve a 'qouta'. The qouta is calculated by taking the total votes cast and dividing the number of seats plus one.
  • Voters may vote for all the candidates in their own order of preference - they do not have to vote for all the candidates however.
  • Candidates who achieve the qouta on their first preference are elected. 
  • When more candidates achieve the qouta by adding redistributed votes to their first preferences, their spare votes are also redistributed. This continues until no more candidates can achieve the qouta.
  • When the required number of candidates have achieved the qouta, the counting can end.
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Party System

Refers to the typical structure of parties within a political system. It describes the normal number of parties that compete effectively. Thus we may speak of two-, three- or multi- party systems. It also refers to the typical party make-up of goverment - for example, single-party government or coalitions and so on.

The UK was undoubtedly a two-party system until the 1980s.

General elections tended to produce a results that demonstrated the dominance of only two parties.

In May 2010, a party who normally does not have a significant power base in government, the Liberal Democrats, gained enough votes so that neither of the two main parties could gain enough seats for a single majority, therefore they were able to form a coalition government with the Conservatives.

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A description of an electoral system that awards a position or a seat in the legislature to a candidate who has achieved more votes than any other, even if this does not represent an absolute - 50 per cent plus - majority. The British FPTP system that operates in general elections is an example of plurality at work.

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Electoral Reform

A process whereby the electoral system is changed or where there is a campaign for such change.

Arguments for Reform

  • Voters would be given more choice of candidates.
  • The value of votes would be equalised if a proportional list system were adopted.
  • Any alternative system would produce a result that was more accurately representative of the political views of the electorate.
  • A 'fairer' system may restore some respect for the political system and so encourages higher levels of participation.

Arguments against Reform

  • The FPTP system had successfully delivered a single-party government for over 60 years.
  • The current system also delivered government with a clear mandate to govern, based on its electoral manifesto.
  • Proportional systems tends to produce coalition governments on a consistent basis in other countries.
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Pressure Groups

An association that may be formal or informal, whose purpose is to further the interests of a specific section of society or to promote a particular cause.

Sectional Group - A pressure group that represents a specific section of society, such as a trade union or an employers' association. Also known as an interest group.

Promotional Group - A pressure group that seeks to promote a cause rather than the interests of its own members. Also known as a cause group or an issue group.

Insider Group - Pressure groups that operate inside the political system through contacts with ministers, MPs, peers and offical committees. They are regularly consulted by government

Outsider Group - Unlike insider groups, outsiders have no special links with government but seek to influence decision makers by mobilising public opinion.

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Functions of Pressure Groups

  • They play a key part in the governing process. They are involved at stages of policy and decision making process by informing the government. This ensures the interets and views of the pressure group is considered.
  • They help to educate and inform the public about politically important issues.
  • They provide an opportunity for regular political participation.
  • Pressure groups scrutinise legislative and policy proposals, suggesting how they may be improved or amended.
  • They are a way for when sections of society feel very strongly about a particular issue, for them to act as a 'tension release'. This can prevent strong feelings turning into voilence as the pressure group is an outlet for their greivances.
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Pluralism & Elitism

Pluralism - A description of a political system where a wide range of beliefs, ideologies and ideas is tolereated and allowed to flourish. It also implies a society where many different groups are active and are free to operate.

Elitism - A tendancy for power to be monopolised by small groups of influential people. Elitism exists mainly within business and finace groups, some trade unions, government, the armed forces, etc.

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Pressure Groups and Democracy

Democratic Features of Pressure Groups

  • Education - They provide a considerable amount of information to the people, which inform and educate us.
  • Representation - They represent our interests to those who govern, the people they represent may have an active role in the pressure group or they may not, but they are still passively being represented.
  • Participation - Political activism is important to both prevent excessive accumalitions of power and to ensure that government remains accountable to the people.
  • Minority Interests - Pressure groups ensure that small and large groups of people are taken account of, protected and awarded equal status.
  • The Dispersal of Power - They help to spread power more widely. Influential groups allow the politically active part of the population access to decision makers, either directly or indirectly.
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Pressure Groups and Democracy Cont.

Undemocratic Features of Pressure Groups

  • Disproportionate Influence - Some pressure groups wield more power than their relative importace might suggest.
  • Finance - Some groups have access to considerable more funds than others. This means some groups may give donations to political parties, hoping for a sympathic attitude if their chosen party wins power.
  • Insiders have influence at the expense of outsider pressure groups.
  • Internal Democracy - Some groups' leaderships may not represent accurately the views of their members.
  • Pressure groups cannot be made democratically accountable for what they do and propose.
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Methods of Pressure Groups

  • Lobbying - For insider groups, discussions between them and the government is a constant process. Committees and commissions meet to develop policies; MPs and peers use pressure groups as a source of information. Outsider groups may attempt to lobby policy makers directly, but tend to have less access than insiders.
  • Parliamentary Methods - Some groups pay retaining fees to MPs in return for which they will raise relevant issuesas much as possible in the House. Pressure groups may also look to the House of Lords for sympathy. As peers are more independant of party control, pressure groups are more likely to find a sympathetic ear than in the Commons.
  • Direct Action - This occurs when pressure groups seek to obtain the maximum amount of publicity for their cause as possible. Mass demonstration is most commonly seen, along with 'stunts'.
  • Mobilising Public Opinion - As public attachment to political parties has weakened in modern times, government are more sensitive to shifting opinions. Therefore this gives pressure groups a great deal of political leverage. If the group can convince political leaders that there issues commands widespread interest among the people, the leaders are much more inclined to listen.
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Why Some Groups are More Successful than Others

  • Philiosophy - When a group's beliefs and aspirations are close to those of the government of the day, success is very likely.
  • Finance - Groups who can give donations to political parties during elections would feel that it could lead to favourable outcomes. Groups with considerable funds can also mount expensive campaigns to press their cause.
  • Size - Groups who have a large amount of members have more leverage, as the larger the group, the more the votes that could be lost or gained by the parties by making decisions.
  • Organisation - The ability of a group to organise successful demonstrations, to raise its public profile and to persuade its members to take visible action can replace both size and finance as factors in success.
  • Opposition Groups - Groups often find adversary groups who arguing the opposite case. Pressure group activity is then a battle of wills and the result is uncertain.
  • Insider Status - Insider groups will tend to be more successful than outsiders because they have ongoing contact with government.
  • Celebrity Involvement - Most groups attempt to gain endorsements from celebrities. One well-placed individual or one useful photo opportunity can replace huge amounts of finance and public support in terms of influence.
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