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About this book

Fully revised and updated third edition of a popular, established textbook, providing a definitive introduction to Britain's politics, political institutions and processes. Comprehensively re-worked and re-structured to better align with courses, this new edition places great emphasis on the changing context of British politics while addressing key themes such as the ongoing importance of gender and ethnicity to political and social life in Britain. Furthermore, the book’s familiar authoritative style has been retained with a fresh look and revitalized pedagogical features to provide a complete learning package.

The book is designed for courses on or related to British Politics. Its accessible style and context-setting Part 1 will make it ideal for students new to the field (particularly those who haven’t studied the subject at school level or international students), but its rigour will stimulate and engage more experienced students.

Table of Contents

From Past To Present

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. The Study Of British Politics

Abstract
In the last two decades, British politics has entered a period of transformation and unpredictability. The uncodified British constitution, which for decades grew organically, has gone through more change in the past 20 years or so than any other stage. New, devolved parliaments and assemblies were created in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, passing control of significant areas of policy over to the territories that make up the United Kingdom (UK). In 2014, Scotland voted on whether it wanted to remain a part of the UK at all. The answer was hardly a resounding ‘yes’ and the Scottish nationalists are pushing for a second vote.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 2. The Shadow Of The Past I: From War To Welfare

Abstract
A country’s politics is shaped by its history. Key features of the British system of government examined in this book are centuries old. The monarchy dates back to the tenth century, Parliament to the thirteenth century and Cabinet government and the post of prime minister to the eighteenth century. Although none operate in the same way as they did in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, Britain retains a monarchy, a prime minister, a Cabinet and two Houses of Parliament. British politics, as it is today, is only understandable through understanding the context in which it emerged (see Comparing British Politics 2.1).
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 3. The Shadow Of The Past II: Thatcher And After

Abstract
Margaret Thatcher broke decisively from the ‘consensus’ politics set out in the last chapter. She declared in 1979: ‘I am a conviction politician. The Old Testament prophets did not say, Brothers I want a consensus’ (quoted in Dutton, 1997, p. 110). Over the next 11 years, her government decisively rejected Keynesian economics, the part-nationalisation of the economy, full employment as a policy aim and aspects of the ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state that had been created by the 1945 Labour government. Instead, Thatcher’s government used the power of the state to create a free economy that they believed would set Britain on a path to prosperity. It marked a change in direction that governments have continued along to this day.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 4. Life In Contemporary Britain

Abstract
In a book first published in 1941, Sir Ivor Jennings ([1941] 1966, pp. 8–9), a leading expert on British politics in the mid-twentieth century, wrote: Great Britain is a small island with a very homogeneous population. Few think of themselves as primarily English, Scots or Welsh. The sting has long been taken out of religious controversy. The country is so interdependent that there is little economic agitation on a regional basis, as there sometimes is in a large country like the United States. There are class divisions and (what is often the same thing) economic divisions, but they are not wide or deep, and they are tending to disappear through heavy taxation at the one end and high wage rates at the other. We are a closely knit economic unit, with a large measure of common interests and a long political tradition.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Government And Governance

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. The Changing Constitution

Abstract
The British constitution is in a state of rapid change. Both the Labour government that took office in 1997 and the Conservative-led governments that followed pledged constitutional reform. Since 2010, for example, politicians have promised to give voters the right to recall wayward MPs, sought to reduce the number of MPs and reform the House of Lords on a more democratic basis. The cumulative impact of recent and proposed constitutional change involves a massive change to Britain’s traditional system of government.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 6. Parliament And The Legislative Process

Abstract
In 1976, Lord Hailsham, a one-time Conservative leadership contender, described the UK’s system of government as an ‘elective dictatorship’ (BBC, 1976). The weakness of Parliament, he claimed, meant that a government with a majority is able to behave like a dictator.In academic terms, there is ‘executive dominance’ of the legislature. Traditionally, the electoral system ensures a government with a majority in the House of Commons (although interestingly, not in 2010 or in 2017). And, although sometimes rebellious, MPs tend to support their party, particularly on the most important votes. Defeats in the House of Commons for a sitting government are rare. The last time a government lost a vote of confidence, triggering a general election, was in 1979. The executive in Westminster seems to have far fewer constraints than the US president, for example, whose party does not necessarily have a majority in Congress. In this chapter we examine the Westminster Parliament and its relationship with the executive.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 7. The Cabinet And Prime Minister

Abstract
In 1962, the Scottish politician, John Mackintosh summed up the UK political system in the following way: “The country is governed by the Prime Minister who leads, coordinates and maintains a series of ministers, all of whom are advised and backed by the civil service. Some decisions are taken by the Premier alone, some in consultation between him and the senior ministers, while others are left to heads of departments, the Cabinet, Cabinet committees or the permanent officials. Of these bodies the Cabinet holds the central position because, although it does not often initiate policy or govern in that sense, most decisions pass through it, and Cabinet ministers can complain that they have not been informed or consulted”. (Mackintosh, 1962)
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 8. Ministers, Departments And The Civil Service

Abstract
Midway through David Cameron’s first term in office, The Times newspaper reported that an increasingly bitter power struggle between ministers and civil servants was poisoning relations and undermining the then prime minister’s reforms. A Conservative Cabinet minister commented that the working relationship had descended into a ‘cold war’; ministers felt blocked at every turn by an unwieldy and unwilling Civil Service uncomfortable with Cameron’s policies. The newspaper spoke to dozens of ministers and senior civil servants: ‘They think it’s their job just to say “No”’, one Cabinet minister said.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 9. The Law, The State And The Judicial Process

Abstract
In 2016, Gina Miller, a wealthy British investment manager, brought a private case before the High Court, arguing that the government’s plans for Britain to leave the European Union should not go ahead without the support of a majority in Parliament. Three judges agreed and were immediately vilified by much of the popular press and some politicians for appearing to thwart ‘the will of the people’ in the June referendum. ‘Judges vs the people’ was the headline in The Daily Telegraph. The government immediately declared that it would appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court. Others, however, strongly criticised the PM and the Lord Chancellor for not defending the crucial principle of judicial independence.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 10. Local Government and Politics

Abstract
Since 2010, the austerity agenda has shown the power of central over local government. George Osborne, chancellor from 2010 to 2016, set about making radical cuts to public spending in order to bring down the deficit. The easiest way to do this, from central government’s perspective, was to pass on much of the responsibility for deficit reduction to local government. Councils in Britain – unlike local government in many other European countries – remain hugely dependent on central government for their revenue and spending decisions. This comes in the form of central grants, as well as stipulations on the amount of local tax they can raise and the services they must provide. Most local councils therefore had little choice but to bring in major reductions to services for their residents under the austerity programme. Tom Crewe (2016) writes that: ‘No other area of government has been subject to the same squeeze.’ The squeeze will continue under Theresa May’s government, which did not reverse any of Osborne’s cuts.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 11. Devolution

Abstract
In September 2014, by a margin of 55% to 45%, the Scottish people voted ‘no’ to the question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ This result was far closer than many pundits had predicted. A rush of support for the independence campaign, in the weeks before the vote, had made the breakup of Britain seem a real possibility. The opinion polls were too close to call. It was only a late and impassioned intervention from Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister and a Scot, the promise of greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, and a panicked final campaign push from those who wanted Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom that gained victory.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 12. Britain And Europe

Abstract
On 23 June 2016 voters in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The vote has momentous but as yet unclear implications for Britain’s future political and economic relationships, not just with the EU and its member states, but also with the rest of the world. How far the UK can prosper politically and economically outside the EU remains to be seen. Much will depend on the detailed ongoing negotiations over ‘Brexit’, as the vote in favour of Britain’s departure from the EU is now described.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

People And Politics

Frontmatter

Chapter 13. Electoral Systems And Voting Behaviour

Abstract
The Electoral Reform Society declared the 2015 general election ‘the most disproportionate in UK history’, a worrying trend, they argued, for ‘fans of democracy’ (Garland and Terry, 2015). In short, they were concerned that the electoral system used in the UK means that the proportion of voters around the UK supporting a particular party is not reflected in the make-up of the House of Commons. Although the 2017 general election returned a result that was not so distorted, the accusation was not new. Since the 1970s, general elections in the UK had tended to produce disproportionate results, which misrepresented the smaller parties in the House of Commons in terms of their popular support (Renwick, 2015).
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 14. Political Parties

Abstract
The general election of 2017 saw Labour and the Conservatives win well over 80% of the popular vote and just under 90% of the seats in the House of Commons. Andreas Whittam Smith (2017), hedging his bets, proclaimed: ‘After three decades of splintering, two-party politics is back – sort of.’ Indeed, traditionally Britain was uncontroversially described as having a two-party system. Over the past 200 years, a two-party ‘duopoly’ has appeared to be the norm: first Whigs and Tories, then Liberals and Conservatives, and from the 1920s onwards Labour and Conservatives.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 15. Ideology

Abstract
As Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn has frequently argued that Conservative policy on everything from the economy to schools and public broadcasting is part of an ideological attack. Similarly, former Labour minister Yvette Cooper (2015) attacked the Conservative government for making ‘an ideological attempt to shrink the state and our public services’. In turn, former Conservative leader David Cameron claimed that Corbyn’s views on terrorism were part of his ‘Britain-hating ideology’ (Bennett, 2015). Whatever the rights and wrongs of these claims, they are all based on the same assumption: that their opponents’ actions are driven by an ‘ideology’, which informs their actions.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 16. Participation

Abstract
Toilet paper. A garlic peeler. Work on a bell tower. A ‘duck island’. In 2009 The Daily Telegraph’s revelation that all these items had featured in recent MP expenses claims caused widespread outrage. It was not just the size of the claims (some substantial) that made headlines but often their frivolity. Claims for duck islands and moat cleaning illustrated the gulf between the lifestyles of some MPs and their constituents, while others for more mundane items like dog food and toilet seats simply appeared petty. A more serious criticism was of the apparently widespread practice of MPs ‘flipping’ their main residence and second home to maximise their expenses and minimise their tax bills. The House of Commons’ Speaker Michael Martin was effectively forced out after his perceived mishandling of the crisis.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 17. The Media

Abstract
In the wake of Theresa May’s unexpected failure to win an outright majority in the 2017 election, the Conservative-supporting Sun newspaper began to look for answers. One aspect, they argued, was the impact of ‘fake news’ on the election campaign. The popular newspaper complained that there were a large number of false statements about the Tories circulated on social media by Labour campaigners during the election run-up. One example they found used a poster that contained the official logos of Public Health England and the NHS. A question read: ‘Have you bought your NHS insurance? From January 2018 the NHS will no longer be a free service’ (Tolhurst, 2017). The false claims in the poster, The Sun argued, were designed to scare voters into thinking the Tories were planning to privatise the NHS.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Politics And Policy-Making

Frontmatter

Chapter 18. The Policy-Making Process

Abstract
In their book, The Blunders of Our Governments (Crewe and King, 2014) – a phrase taken from James Madison, the American statesman and philosopher – Ivor Crewe and Anthony King pick some policies that they argue were ‘blunders’. These include:The community charge (or ‘poll tax’) introduced by the Thatcher government in 1989 and 1990. It was evaded by a substantial minority, and eventually abandoned after riots in the streets and the replacement of Margaret Thatcher by John Major (for more on this see Chapter 2).The Child Support Agency, set up in the 1990s. This failed to obtain maintenance payments from absent fathers, was fraught with administrative errors and alienated both the single parents it had initially been set up to help and the absent parents who had to deal with its ineptitude.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 19. Managing The Economy

Abstract
‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ Bill Clinton’s campaign manager declared in the 1992 US presidential election, explaining the importance of effective economic management to electoral success (Pryce et al., 2015). This is borne out in British electoral fortunes too. A generation before, in 1959, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan boasted that the growing postwar economy meant ‘You’ve never had it so good!’, while advertisements for his party proclaimed ‘Life’s better under the Conservatives. Don’t let Labour ruin it’. Labour’s Harold Wilson won the 1964 and 1966 elections largely on his perceived economic mastery, only to lose in 1970 after the devaluation of sterling. Economic problems contributed substantially to the defeats of Heath in 1974, Callaghan in 1979 and Major in 1997. Labour’s wins in 2001 and 2005 can be attributed to Gordon Brown’s apparently successful management of the economy. By 2006, the authors of this book felt that Labour had ‘captured the record of economic competence previously enjoyed by the Conservatives, with a record of low inflation and relatively low unemployment’ (Leach et al., 2006, p. 358). Yet Brown was undermined by the impact of the global economic crisis of 2008. Thus management of the economy has often seemed to determine, or at least strongly influence, the outcome of elections and the fate of governments and politicians.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 20. Welfare And Public Services

Abstract
The Channel 4 show Benefits Street depicts the lives of residents of James Turner Street in Winson Green, Birmingham, England. The area was selected because newspapers had reported that 90% of the residents in the area were ‘on benefits’. The programme shows residents committing crimes, including shoplifting, and presents a picture of people who lack the motivation to look for paid work and are dependent on state welfare payments to get by.The show was hugely controversial when it was first broadcast in 2014. It sparked a national debate about the British welfare state. Benefits Street was discussed in the Houses of Parliament, in national newspapers and in the community in which it was set. Channel 4 was accused of trivialising the lives of people in need, depicting the participants of the documentary in a negative light, and blurring the lines between entertainment and documentary-making in a misleading way. The negative depiction of welfare in Benefits Street fitted with a long-term public decline in support for welfare spending in the UK. In 1989, 61% of people agreed that more should be spent on welfare benefits. By 2009, this figure had fallen to 27%, and remained low, at 30%, in 2014 (British Social Attitudes, 2015). What was striking was how different the depiction of welfare was to the immediate postwar period when the ‘welfare state’ was created.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 21. The Environment

Abstract
In 2016 the new prime minister, Theresa May, backed the building of a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport, following the recommendations of the Airports Commission a year before. The decision was controversial and will face legal and political challenges before the first bulldozers can begin work. But May was swayed by the benefits a new runway would bring, allowing more goods and people easily in and out of London. The Airports Commission (2015) argued that the expansion would boost the UK economy by £147 billion and create 70,000 jobs by 2050 – a powerful incentive for any prime minister.But the new runway had encountered strenuous objections from environmental groups and local campaigners. Plans for expansion were originally scrapped by the coalition government in 2010 and they continued to create controversy for May. Her decision to back expansion generated such strong feelings that it even led to the resignation of one of her own backbenchers, Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park in west London and a former editor of the Ecologist magazine.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach

Chapter 22. Britain And The World

Abstract
Donald Trump was elected president of the USA in 2016 promising to put ‘America First’. What he meant by this challenged many of the basic assumptions of US foreign policy, including its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which America had led since soon after the Second World War, cool relations with Russia, and a willingness to use military intervention. During his campaign, Trump’s speeches shocked many commentators. Trump was conciliatory towards Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin (and alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia caused severe problems for Trump during his presidency). The previous administration has imposed sanctions on Russia in punishment for its military intervention in Ukraine. Trump accused China of stealing American jobs and questioned the legitimacy of the Beijing government. He praised Britain’s decision to leave the EU, and was seen with Nigel Farage, one of the leading figures in the campaign to get Britain out of the European Union. In contrast, Trump’s predecessor President Obama had argued for the importance of Britain’s continuing involvement in the EU for global peace. Trump argued that the USA should never have been involved in the Iraq War and criticised the Obama administration’s peace agreement with Iran. Trump’s election has challenged many of the assumptions in international relations and created new questions for the UK in how it responds to Trump’s new world order.
Simon Griffiths, Robert Leach
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