Unit 2- The constitution


Parliamentary Sovereignty

Sovereignty= The principle of absolute and unlimited power

Parliament has the power to shape and reshape the constitution, it can make and amend laws

However it is constantly under pressure from pressure groups, public opinion and major traders e.g USA, and also the UN and EU

Increasing use of referendums has led to devolved assemblies

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Elective Dictatorship

Can form due to: 

  • Sovereign power invested in government
  • Parliament is controlled by the government of the day due to majority

Happens when a government has a particularly large majority

E.g Tony Blair in 2001 won 418 out of 659 seats available. As of 2015 they were the last government to have over 40% of the popular vote.

Tony Blair was seen as presidential in his style of premiership due to many of the decision he made. For example Blair had a lot of charisma and he was very popular within the oublic eye, with an over 90% public approval rating. Due to his large majority in Parliament he made many decisions himself along with his appointed core executive.  Such as the decision to go to the Iraq war.

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Devolved parliament/assemblies: National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or local level. They make legislantion for their area.

National assembly for Wales formation

The government was established in 1999 as the Welsh Assembly Government by the Government of Wales Act 1998, which created a devolved administration for Wales in line with the result of the 1997 referendum on Welsh devolution.

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Unitary&Federal Constitutions

Unitary: unitary state is a state governed as a single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme and any administrative divisions (sub-national units) exercise only the powers that the central government chooses to delegate. The majority of states in the world have a unitary system of government. E.g The UK. Promotes sense of unity between the country as just one government, and decision are made quickly. However disconnecton with local governments are an issue, and people can be exploited if the government was to become tyrannical.

Federal: A federal government is a system that divides up power between a strong national government and smaller local governments. E.g The USA. This one party having all of the all the power, and the party in charge has more knowledge of the goings on at the local level too. However competition can occur between regions, and the country can struggle to act quickly in times of crisis such as Hurricane Katrina, due to overlap of jurisdiction. 

Quasi Federalism: a system with federal government but unitary spirit. e.g: India, Canada

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Codified&Uncodified constitutions

A codified consitution:

  • AUTHORITATIVE (highest law in the land), ENTRENCHED (very hard to change or amend), JUDICABLE (all political bodies are subject to its authority). Usually RIGID
  • E.g The USA

An Uncodified constitution:

  • NOT AUTHORITATIVE, NOT ENTRENCHED, NOT JUDICABLE (judges do not have the legal stand to declare anyone else's actions as being constitutuional or unconstitutional.) Usually FLEXIBLE
  • E.g The UK, However does have conventions such as Royal Pregoative such as the queen having power such as being able to declare war or appoint a Prime Minister.
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Fixed Term Parliament Act

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that received Royal Assent in 2011, introducing fixed-term elections to the Westminster parliament for the first time.

Governement now is fixed to 5 years in power, where as before they had a maximum of five years.

However PM can still call an election if two thirds of the MPs in Parliament agree, e.g Theresa May calling a snap election in 2017

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The Core executive

The core executive is the part of government that implements policy.

This covers the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Cabinet Committees, the Cabinet Office, the government departments and the Senior Civil Service.

Output scrutinised by parliment. 

Meanwhile, the major Government Departments such as Foreign Affairs and the Treasury have political control exercised through a Cabinet Minister, combined with administrative control through a Permanent Secretary drawn from the civil service.

Due to the constitution being flexible it means that the PM does not always have to consult with their cabinet. 

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Prime ministerial governement

The Prime Ministerial government thesis suggests that power has been concentrated in the hands of the PM and that the PM is the dominant figure in the British governmental system.

Some suggest that post war governments have become prime ministerial governments and not cabinet governments. E.g Blair and Thatcher

Cabinet governments work on the principle of primus inter pares, which means first among equals.

Prime minister can control cabinet meetings, and has the power of patronage.

However a prime minister needs the support of their colleagues in order to stay in their role. e.g thatcher and the poll tax

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A presidential system is a system of government where a head of government is also head of state and leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch.

The monarch should be our head of state but some argue is is now the PM

E.g Blair's "sofa politics" and "kitchen cabinet". Sofa politics is a referance to where he would hold one on one sessions with members of the cabinet whilst sat of a sofa drinking tea. This was seen as an informal approach.

Some see the media to blame for the presidentialisation of the UK. For example David Cameron was branded as the PM who could 'fix it all' after he did some volunteering work and cancelled his diplomatic trip to the middle east. However he would not have the ability as PM to actually fix the problems he was volunteering for, he could only offer the possiblity of government support.

The PM is not the embodiement of the country, they are the embodiement of the government

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Political leadership styles

It is argued that to be a successful political leader in modern times you will require charisma, due to the intense focus on the leaders themselves from the media.

Preeminent- All UK party leaders and Prime ministers will be preeminent at least.

Predominant- To become predominant they have to possess 4 personal power resources;

  • : (1) having a reputation for being ‘leadership material’
  • (2) being associated with actual or anticipated political success
  • (3) being electorally popular
  • (4) having a high standing in his or her parliamentary party. 

Under certain contextual circumstances the modern electoral professional, office-seeking UK party leader can be both preeminent and predominant. 

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collective responsibility

Collective Cabinet Responsibility is the convention that Ministers agree on policy, and defend that policy in public thereafter.

Collective Cabinet Responsibility can be formally suspended by the PM, though this is rare. Harold Wilson did it in 1975, allowing ministers to campaign on different sides in the referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Economic Community. 

Collective cabinet responsibilty can be breached for instance, Ken Clarke and Theresa May made contradictory statements about what the UK should do about the Human Rights Act in 2010 and 2011.


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Individual responsibility

Individual Ministerial Responsibility (IMR) is another convention which states that ministers must:

  • Accept responsibility for the actions of their department
  • Behave appropriately in their personal life and
  • Be competent

 Theresa May refused to accept responsibility for the failings of the Border Control Agency and she blamed Brodie Clark for the relaxation of controls. She remained in office.

Liam Fox (Defence) and David Laws (Assistant Secretary at the Treasury) had to resign; David Blunkett and Peter Mandelson resigned from cabinet due to breeches of the ministerial code.

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Democracy-Start of Unit 1

'a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.'

Two types; Direct and representative.

UK has a representative democracy system however this is debated, the UK uses the FPTP electoral system which means the winning party can win with less seats than the next largest party.

The UK also uses referendums in order to enhance democracy. However this can be debated whether they are a fair representation of the people's views. There is only two arguements, one of them wins and won of the loses.

For example the Brexit referendum in 2016. 48% of the votes voted to remain and yet their votes were ignored as they were slightly in the minority, as in a representative democracy, usually, majority rules.

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Features of democracy in the UK

There are key features of the UK's democracy:

  • Political Participation
  • Voting
  • Elections
  • Multiple Party's
  • Referendums

It is often argued what ones are the most important. Do votes really matter, and does the FPTP system offer legitimacy or not? 

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In political science, legitimacy is the right and acceptance of an authority.

Do people think that the people with authority actually deserve that authority.

Due to the fact we have a representative democracy in the UK, most believe that we should have elected members to make the decisions. However we have both the House of commons and the House of Lords within our Parliament. The House of Lords is full of appointed members. Their Job is to scrutinize and review, however they sometime protect the people more than the MP's actually do.

The House of Lords can defeat the government. For example the house of lords voted to guarentee EU citizens' rights after brexit, this defeated Theresa May's conservtive government. 358 peers voted, 256 voted to amend the bill

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Representation in the UK

The form of democray that we have in the UK is representative. However some groups of voters are still left under representated in the UK Parliament. Such as: Women, Ethnic minorities, disabled people and the LGBTQ+ community.

In 1979, only 3% of the house of commons was female. However this has increased to 29% in 2015  and the UK's current Prime minister is in fact a woman.

In 1987 0.6% of the house of commons was non-white, in 2015 6.6% were non-white.

There are now also less not privately educated MP's. In 2010 54% of Conservative were privately educated. in 2010 11% of Labour MP's went to fee-paying school.

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Direct democracy

Direct democracy (also known as pure democracy) is a form of democracy in which people decide (e.g. vote on, form consensus on) policy initiatives directly.

-Using direct democracy via forms of refernedums would decrease democractic deficit as elections only happen 4-5 years.

-Can bring government closer to people

-Can resolve issue that has been on political agenda for a long time, such as the scottish voted of the devolution of the scottish parliament.

-Poor turnouts=less legitmacy in the decision

-Referndums results can be influenced e.g 6 out of 9 major newspapers were pro-brexit

-Some issues can not be put reduced to a simple question, complex matters cannot be compromised.

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Representative democracy

Representative democracy is a type of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy.

  • People can elect representatives to act on their behalf, as most people don't have the time to be continually involved
  • Representatives have more experience, knowledge and expertise than the rest of the population
  • They can be made accountable for their decision, whereas the people as a whole can't.
  • Representatives may ignore or distort the demands of the people to suit their own political advantage
  • Representatives may follow their party instead of represents their constituents accurately
  • May be difficult to make representatives accountable between elections
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Liberal democracy

a democratic system of government in which individual rights and freedoms are officially recognized and protected, and the exercise of political power is limited by the rule of law.

  • it encourages political, social and economic competition between political parties and pressure groups.
  • The Government gets its legitimacy from the people through regular elections, in which most adults can vote, with good choice of candidates and a secret ballot.
  • That government should be accountable to the people for what it does, with Parliament holding it accountable
  • There should be a free press, free speech and in most countries a written Bill of rights that prioritises the rights of the individual.

Freedom of Information Act made liberal democracy more common in the UK, and Ultra vires.

However not always a complete liberal democracy for example the UK’s failure to limit government power, a good example (see video link below) is the decision by the Labour Government to go to war with Iraq in 2003.

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Parliamentary Democracy

Parliamentary democracy, democratic form of government in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the parliament (legislature) forms the government, its leader becoming prime minister or chancellor.

Some key features:

  • Existence of a leader
  • Absence of seperation of powers; the departments work closely together
  • Responsibility to the Legislature: Cabinet or ministry has to stay responsible for the legislative decisions and legislature itself
  • Collective Responsibility&Individual responsibility

Our parliament is Bicameral as we have both the commons and the lords.

However we break some key features of Parliamentary democracy such as having the greatest representation. Due to our electoral system of FPTP the representation that some parties are given is not always seen as legitimate in comparison to votes received. E.g Labout government of 2005 had less that 22% of the electoral vote. They had less than 50% of votes and yet had the majority. 

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Political participation

Conventional participation such as leafletting and voting in elections and referendums

However new participation is occuring

  • New media and technology, such as social networking sites, blogs, online campaign donations, have provided new avenues for political organization and participation.
  • Citizens can participate in civil society, which is an important part of political participation, through activities like volunteering, attending events associated with causes (like a sporting event or a concert), or joining an interest group or civic organization.
  • Citizens can also protest, riot, or refuse to vote to demonstrate dissatisfaction with certain elements of their political system.
  • Citizens also participate in politics by being directly involved in campaigns. Citizens can run for office themselves, donate money or time to candidates, or discuss political issues and campaigns with friends and family.

E-petitions can spark debated in parliament. For example there was a e-petition on having another EU referendum due to turnout levels and results. The topic was debated on 5 September 2016 before the Government confirmed it would not be pursuing a second referendum. ALthough over 4 million signed the petition.

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Turnout levels

2015 general election= 66.1%

1950 general election= 83.9%

2001 general election= 59.4%

UK police crime commisioner turnout- Kent

Voter turnout was 20.98% compared with 204,917 15.99% in 2012.

EU parliament elections turnout



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a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.

  • Increases political participation
  • Referendum deals with a flaw in the mandate theory as voters can voice an opinion on a major issue.
  • Referendums can be a check on "elective dictatorships" during a government's 5 years span. 
  • Referenda can unite a divided party.
  • Referenda provide a clear answer to a question the government might be 'asking'.
  • Far too complicated for public understanding.
  • Votes being indecisive
  • Too many may lead to apathy throughout public.
  • Inconsistent with the belief in parliamentary sovereignty
  • Funding differences.

The scottish referendum in 2014, they lowered voting age to 16. The result was 'no' to scottish independance, with 55.3% voting no. The turnout of 84.6% was the highest recorded for an election or referendum in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage.

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Pressure group

pressure group can be described as an organised groupthat does not put up candidates for election, but seeks to influence government policy or legislation. They can also be described as 'interest groups', 'lobby groups' or 'protest groups'.

Pressure groups usually fight for one main aim, political parties have to fight in elections and cover a wide range of issues in their manifestos.

A political party seeks to win power at various levels via elections like Labour, whereas pressure groups seek to influence those in power e.g. Make Poverty History.

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sectional/promotional groups

Sectional groups seek to represent the common interests of a particular section of society e.g BMA. Some sectional pressure groups such as the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) will have closer connections to parties such as the Labour party.

Promotional pressure groups are not self-interested in that the achievement of their objectives is not necessarily of direct professional or economic benefit to the members of the group. e.g Green peace

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Insider/Outsider groups

Insider pressure groups are regularly consulted by government departments (e.g. BMA).The price of this privileged access is restraint: keeping confidences, making sure arguments are well-substantiated, avoiding disruptive tactics and “screening out” unacceptable demands.

Potential insiders are those who choose to be outsider because of preferance such as Amnesty International.

Outsider groups are those whose aims do not enjoy the support of the Government. They tend to adopt media based, high profile campaigns to capture public attention e.g Fathers4justice

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A condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.

Classical pluralism is the view that politics and decision making are located mostly in the framework of government, but that many non-governmental groups use their resources to exert influence. The central question for classical pluralism is how power and influence are distributed in a political process.

For example, the successful Snowdrop campaign, supported by the Daily Mail after the Dunblane massacre lead to stricter gun control under the Firearm Act 1997.

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The belief that a society or system should be led by an elite.

Among Conservative MPs, nearly half (48%) were privately educated, in 2015.

The figure was far lower among Scottish National Party MPs, at just 5%. (2015)

You can be an elite through many ways, this inculdes those with a vast amount of experience or knowledge, but it can also come from wealth.

It is argued whether having an elite in support of your pressure group, or having a lot of wealth associated with your pressure group can help. MOney can mean larger campaigns and protests which can result in larger successes which can result in more support. Celebrity backing can also help, such as Joanna Lumley's support in the Gurhka campaign 2008

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Functional representation

Functional representation is where there is representation in a legislative or political body based on the economic and social groups in a community

The nature of elections in the UK mean that this is mainly achieved through the contribution of pressure groups, who in this way supplement and add to the democratic process in society.

Because representative democracy in the UK sees the political parties aggregate policies and water down their principles, pressure groups speak up for minorities who might get ignored. These minorities include business pressure groups, trade unions, religious groups and those who speak up for the disabled and children.

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Pluralist democracy

A lack of pluralism can lead to alienation of groups from society, and result also in some people abstaining from participating in our political system, seeing there is no point as they are not able to wield any power within it.

Pluralism is a theory of the distribution of political power that holds that power is widely and evenly dispersed in society, rather than concentrated in the hands of an elite or ruling class.

Pluralists favour pressure groups as they allow minority groups to be represented and have their view heard.

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Pressure group method examples

Civil disobedience

Poll tax non payment method 1990- although the riots were dramatic there were other methods too. A nationwide network of campaigns and non-payment unions had developed. These groups brought people who were ordinarily isolated, or not politically active, together. They resisted pay the pooll tax at every step, e.g not registering for the tax, and avoiding payments. 

Legal Direct action

Petitions are a good non violent example of direct action, for example the Snowdrop campaign following the Dunblane Massacre. It led to the Firearms Act 1997.

Illegal direct action

Greenpeace volunteers taking over a coal power station in kent, in 2007. 50 volunteers broke in and shut down machinary, locked themselves to machines and climbed on the roof. It resulted in 24 arrests. The trials of the volunteers gained worldwide news coverage.

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Constitutional reforms

  • It reformed the House of Lords. The right of the hereditary peers (all but 92) to vote and sit was abloshed.
  • Freedom of information act passed
  • Increased independancy of judiciary
  • Human Rights Act
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