Everything: UK: A-Level Government and Politics

What is the role of the Prime Minister?
Political leadership
National leadership
Representing the UK abroad
Chairs the cabinet
Appoints the government
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What did Blair say about the role of the Prime Minister?
"It is not possible to precisely define the role of PM"
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What are the powers of the PM?
- Patronage
- Party leadership
- Authority in cabinet
- Policy-making input
- Pm's office (civil service)
- Communicator-in-chief
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The ability to appoint/dismiss ministers (e.g. 'big beasts' or 'rising stars')
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2019: Boris Johnsons 'Leave' cabinet was organised to secure a Brexit deal
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Party leadership?
Improves public standing by projecting a unified party
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Theresa May's 2017 'snap election' was an example of poor party leadership
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Authority in cabinet
Chairs the cabinet and summarizes discussions
Also sets the agenda of each meeting
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Policy-making input?
Can intervene in any government department and contribute to policies
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1982: Thatcher in the defense department through the Falklands War
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Pm's office (civil service)?
Civil servants and SPADS can block 'radical' action and support the PM in decision-making
They have lots of experience
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Johnson was heavily reliant on Dominic Cummings
Thatcher heavily reliant on Alan Walters
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Represents the party and government to the media
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In 1997 Tony Blair made a speech about the death of Princess Diana, 'the people's princess' -> saw his approval rating reach 97%
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What factors affect Prime Ministerial power?
-Party majority
- Policy success
- Quality of the opposition
- Media profile/personality
- Party unity
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How can the power of the PM be constrained?
Patronage: Sometimes the PM appoints high-profile figures who can challenge their authority
Collective ministerial responsibility: Resignations prompt a lack of confidence
Rebel MPs: Can prevent a majority vote
1922 Committee: Can trigger a vote of 'no-co
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Patronage: Give an example?
Brown prevented Blair from introducing the euro in England.
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Collective ministerial responsibility: Give an example?
2003 - Robin Cook resigned as leader of the HOC amid Tony Blair's Iraq War decision - this was made without foreign support.
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What is the role of the cabinet?
- Settling disputes
- Discusses major decisions
- Registers recent/external decisions
- Receives support
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Name a well-known dispute that was settled in cabinet
1985 - Michael Heseltine resigned after the cabinet did not hear an appeal against a cabinet committee decision
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What is a cabinet committee?
Specific ministers are used to find a solution to the problem (Thatcher used these often)
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Does the cabinet have any power over the PM?
- Only with high-profiles
(resignations, etc)
- The cabinet simply advises/warns
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What is the role of ministers?
- Policy leadership (sets policies and defends these to the media)
- Manages their department (allocates funding)
- Represents their department in cabinet (argues for funding)
- Representation in parliament (will introduce laws/answer questions)
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What is the ministerial code?
Seven principles of public life (e.g. integrity, honesty, selflessness)
- Ministers who don't follow this must resign
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Do all ministers abide by this?
NO! Priti Patel refused to resign in 2017 despite 'bullying' civil servants
BUT...in 2017, Defense Sec Michael Fallon resigned amid 'kneegate' affair
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What is collective ministerial responsibility?
All ministers must agree with government policy, or they must resign.
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How does this impact the government?
Influential resignations can impact the approval rating of a government/PM
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Give an example?
In 2016, Theresa May's government had 50 resignations
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What are the exceptions to this?
- Referendums
- Free votes
- Coalition years (2010-15)
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What is individual ministerial responsibility?
Ministers must resign for the failings of their own department or personal misconduct
(exceptions for operational matters under executive agencies)
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Which cabinet minister resigned in 2021 after breaking lockdown rules?
Matt Hancock (Health Secretary) - broke his own rules!
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What is cabinet government?
(1867 theory) - Cabinet is a collective decision-making body and the PM is 'primus inter pares' (first among equals)
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What is prime-ministerial government?
The PM is the main policy-maker and can be advised/warned by the cabinet
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When was this theorised?
1980s - Thatcher
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What is presidential government?
Personalised leadership that focuses on public outreach (proposed by Michael Foley)
ALSO Spatial leadership - there is a distance between PM and Cabinet
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Is the UK constitution codified or uncodified?
Uncodified - the sources are NOT in a single, authoritative document, they are 'scattered'
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What are the sources of the UK constitution?
- Common law (judge-made law)
- Statute law (Acts of Parliament)
- Authoritative works
- Conventions
- EU Law (no longer credible after Brexit)
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Examples of Common Law?
2019 - The Supreme Court ruled that Boris Johnson could not prorogue Parliament
2014 - The SC ruled that it was a deprivation of liberty for a mentally incapacitated person to be kept in living arrangements
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Examples of Statute Law?
1998 Human Rights Act
1911/1949 Parliament Acts
Scotland Act (1998)
F.T.P.A (2011)
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Examples of conventions?
Salisbury Convention: The HOL cannot block a manifesto commitment
Secondary Legislation: Cannot block amendments made to secondary legislation
Reasonable time: Must grant reasonable time to debate a bill
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What are the principles of the UK constitution?
- Parliamentary Sovereignty
- The rule of law
- A Unitary State
- Parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy
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Parliamentary sovereignity?
Parliament has supreme legal authority (can make a law on any chosen matter)
AOPs cannot be struck down
No parliament will bind it's successor (laws can be overturned)
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The rule of law?
State action is limited. All are subject to the law/equal before the law
- Due process and applied before an independent judiciary
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Unitary state?
Centralized political power and each state is ruled the same way (but not applicable since devolution)
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Parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy
Parliament passes law with royal prerogative in a two-party system
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Reform since 1997: Which party promoted constitutional reform?
New Labour
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What was the New Labour landslide victory?
179 seats (63% of HOC)
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What reforms were created in 1998?
- The Good Friday Agreement (power sharing in Northern Ireland)
- Scottish and Welsh secured a parliament/assembly
- Human Rights Act
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What important reform finally took place in 1999?
Devolution in Scotland and Wales
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What did the House of Lords Act (1999) do?
Removed all but 92 hereditary peers from HOL
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When was the Constitutional Reform Act? What did this do?
2005 - Set up a Supreme Court in the UK and enhanced the separation of powers
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What reform failed in 2011?
AV voting system (proposed by referendum under coalition)
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2011 - What did the Fixed Term Parliament Act do?
Secure 5-year fixed terms for parliament (no longer applicable)
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Why was this passed?
Fears of the coalition collapsing - the £150billion deficit needed to be reduced
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What would the (failed) 2012 HOL reform bill have done?
Removed the final hereditary Lords
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Which reform failed in 2014?
Scottish independence (referendum had a 55% 'NO' and 45% 'YES)
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What reforms took place in 2016?
- The Scotland Act
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What did the Scotland Act do?
Gave greater fiscal autonomy and made the parliament permanent
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When was the Wales Act passed?
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What happened in 2020?
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How did the 2020 pandemic enhance reform?
More devolution as first ministers gained power through enhanced media profiles
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What is devolution?
Transfer of political power from central to sub-rational institutions
- A PROCESS! not an event
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What was the process of Scottish devolution?
1) First referendum failed in 1979 (voting turnout not high enough)
2) Nationalism increased in the 1980s amid the 'poll tax'
3) 1997 Successful referendum on devolution
4) 1999 - Holyrood first sat
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What was the process of Welsh devolution?
1) 1979 first referendum only saw 20% wanting devolved powers
2) 1997 - Agreed to devolution
3) 1999 - Sennedd first sat
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What were the results of the 1997 Scottish and Welsh devolution referendums?
Scotland -74% YES
Wales - 50.3% YES (on a 50% turnout)
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Structure of Holyrood?
-129 representatives elected by AMS system
- Has devolved powers (education/healthcare/environment)
- Elections every 4 years until FTPA
- Majority Labour UNTIL 2007 (SNP)
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What did the 2016 Scotland Act change?
- Voting age lowered to 16/17
- More tax powers
- Permanent institution
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Structure of Sennedd?
- 60 representatives (largest party provides the first minister)
- Wales Act of 2017 granted more devolved powers
- 2020 Pandemic raised profile of first minister (Mark Drakeford)
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What are the problems of devolution?
- Barnett Formula: Unequal finance spent on individuals in each nation
West-Lockean Question: Should Scottish MPs be allowed to vote on issues that only affect England? (e.g. 2003 - tuition fees introduced and supported by Scotland's Labour MPs)
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What is EVEL?
English Voting for English Laws
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What has devolution led to?
'Policy divergence' -> Different laws for each country
(e.g. Scotland in 2022 bans smacking children, but England does not)
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English decenteralisation - What has been introduced/proposed?
- Regional assemblies
-Metro mayors
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Regional assemblies?
In 2004, Labour asked NE England if they wanted an assembly (after London assembly) but 78% said no
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Metro mayors?
- Authority over housing/transport
(e.g. Greater Manchester's Andy Burnham defended the area against covid restrictions)
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How many UK-wide referendums have there been?
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What were these?
1975 - Confirmed membership of the EEC (67% YES)
2011 - AV Voting referendum (68% said NO)
2016 - Brexit referendum (52% said leave on a 72% turnout)
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How many devolution referendums have there been?
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1979 Referendums and results?
Scottish and Welsh devolution
S: 52% 'Yes' but poor turnout
W: Only 20% 'Yes'
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1997: Referendums and results?
Scottish: 74% 'Yes' and 63% 'yes' for tax powers
Welsh: 50.3% 'Yes'
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1998: Referendums and results?
Good Friday Agreement: 71% supported
London Mayor: 72% said yes
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2004 Referendum/results?
NE regional assembly - only 22% said yes
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2011 Referendum/results?
Welsh assembly granted legislative powers
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2015 - BREXIT?
52% yes and 48% no (to leaving)
Arguably created 'rival camps' and reduced appetites for more referendums
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Is there a case for further devolution? (Give reasons)
-It would improve accountability by bringing the government closer to people and communities
-Would prevent significant differences in living standards between different parts of the UK
-May increase political participation
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Give reasons FOR the codification of the UK constitution?
- Clarity on the rights of citizens
- More protection for devolved assemblies and rights (acts of parliament can erase parts of the constitution)
- Clear checks and balances on the powers of the executive
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Give reasons AGAINST the codification of the UK constitution?
- Flexibility! Can adapt over time and easy to reform
- Judges may become politicised
- Already works?
- Too complicated of a process and no public desire
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What is criminal law?
State v Department of Public Prosecutions
-> decided guilty 'beyond reasonable doubt'
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What is civil law?
Personal disputes
-> decided guilty 'on the balance of probability'
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What is the rule of law?
- Everyone is equal before the law
-Nobody to be punished without due process
- Innocent until proven guilty
(one of the 'twin pillars' of the constitution)
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What is judicial independence?
- Judges are free of interference and 'unafraid of the consequences'
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How is judicial independence upheld in the UK?
- Security of tenure
-Guaranteed salaries
- Contempt of court
- Separation of powers
- Independent JAC
- Experience
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Security of tenure?
Justices can hold positions until they are 75 (retirement age)
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Guaranteed salaries?
Fixed sum for justices
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Contempt of court?
Politicians cannot comment on legal proceedings
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Separation of powers?
No fusion of the judiciary/legislative/executive
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Independent JAC?
Judicial Appointment Commission -> judges are appointed by independent committees based on experience
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Justices must be experienced (must have held high judicial office for at least 2 years)
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What is judicial neutrality?
Judges must be free from political bias
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How is this upheld in the UK?
- Anonymous judges
- Restricted political activity
- Must publish legal justifications
- Experience
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What is the problem with the UK judiciary?
Has a 'narrow recruitment pool' (judges come from similar, privately educated and wealthy backgrounds)
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How many members of the 2017 Supreme Court were female?
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How many had attended private school?
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What is the role of the Supreme Court?
- Highest court of appeal -> it hears appeals and clarifies the law to be followed in all subsequent cases
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When was this set up?
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How did the Constitutional Reform Act reform the judiciary?
- Made senior judge appointments more transparent ('secret soundings')
- Set up the JAC
-Enhanced the separation of powers
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What was the problem with the Supreme Court originally?
12 Senior Law Lords became judges (fusion!)
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Supreme court judges are appointed differently...how?
Chosen by an 'ad-hoc' committee of five
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What difference has the court made?
- Enhanced checks on executive power
- Carries out judicial review
- Can declare laws 'incompatible' with the HRA 1998
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Example of HRA incompatability?
2001 - Anti-terrorism Act was incompatible as it held terrorist suspects in indefinite detention
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How did the judiciary check executive power in 2017?
Article 50 Dispute:
- Gina Miller sued after Theresa May attempted to trigger Article 50 and 'Brexit' (high court ruled that a vote was needed)
- Media branded three justices as 'enemies' & Liz Truss criticized for not defending judges
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How did the Supreme Court check executive power in 2019?
- Boris Johnson attempted to prorogue parliament for five weeks and deceived the Queen into thinking that he could do this
- Miller sued again - the SC ruled the prorogation as 'unlawful and of no effect'
- Johnson prohibited
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Why was the court criticised?
Seemed to be politicised
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What was proposed after this?
That MPs interview judicial nominees...BUT this would challenge judicial independence
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What are the three sources of SC authority?
- Traditional (based on tradition and customs)
-Charismatic (based on characteristics of leaders)
- Legislation (granted by a formal election)
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What happened in the 2011 Al Ravi v Security Service case?
Ruled that heresy evidence (evidence not given under oath in a court) can be used as a basis for conviction
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What happened in the 2014 'P v Cheshire West and Cheshire County Council' case?
- P (a disabled man) was allegedly deprived of his liberties by being under constant supervision and control
- SC believed that he was deprived and tests will now be implemented to ensure that 'restrictions' are in the best interests of disabled individua
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Give reasons to support the notion that the judiciary is politicized
- HRA means judges can rely on statute law and not application
- Factortame (1990) - courts can suspend an Act of Parliament
- Politicians have criticized rulings
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Example of MPs giving a verdict on rulings?
2016 - David Davies criticized the Article 50 dispute/outcome
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Give reasons to oppose the notion that the judiciary is politicized
- Transparent appointments through JAC
- SC more independent
- Conflict is good? Judges ready to challenge government power
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What did Blair say about the role of the Prime Minister?


"It is not possible to precisely define the role of PM"

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What are the powers of the PM?


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