A Level Politics Definitions
Terms in this set (78)
a form of government where the monarch wields unrestricted power
authoritative works/authoritative opinions/works of authority
name given to texts written by constitutional theorists that have no legal authority but are considered indispensable guides to the UK Constitution
Bill of Rights
transferred constitutional supremacy from the monarchy to parliament, establishing the concept of parliamentary sovereignty
Checks and Balances
where each branch of government can limit the powers of the others, preventing a single branch from becoming too powerful
a constitution that is collected and written in a single main document
the body of law that is based on custom, usage, and judicial decisions made in legal cases over time
the name given to the fundamental rules outlining how a state is to be governed
a form of government where the monarch acts as head of state, but is restricted by the Constitution and has a largely ceremonial role
constitutional reform act (2005)
act of parliament that provided for a new supreme court to replace the law lords in the house of lords as the highest UK court
informal rules and customs that are not legally enforceable but are widely respected and considered to be a fundamental part of the UK Constitution
the belief that the power of the government should be derived from, and limited by, fundamental laws
the statutory granting of certain political decision making powers from the central government, to regional governments
term popularised by lord hailsham in 1976, describing the UK's weak separation of powers and the government's dominant in parliament
where the constitutional amendment process is made purposefully difficult - for example, requiring supermajority votes
a system of government where sovereignty is divided between central and regional bodies, each with their own separate spheres of power and authority
fixed-term parliaments act (2011)
law that requires elections to be held every 5 years, early elections may only be held in special circumstances
Freedom of Information Act (2000)
law that gives a general right of access to recorded information held by more than 100,000 public bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Fusion of powers
a feature of parliamentary democracies where members of the executive branch are also members of the legislative branch
Human Rights Act (1998)
act of parliament that incorporated the European convention on Human rights into UK law, making it enforceable in UK courts
The power and authority to make, unmake and implement laws
signed by king John in 1215, this was the first written document that compelled a monarch to act according to the rule of law
parliament act (1911)
limited the power of peers to reject a bill for 2 years over 3 successive parliamentary sessions
parliament act (1949)
reduced the time peers could delay a bill from 2 years over three parliamentary sessions to one year over two parliamentary sessions
the constitutional principle that parliament has supreme legal authority, able to make or unmake any law, and unable to bind any future parliament. No parliament can bind its successors
Executive dominated legislature ( it is the government rather than house of commons)
the location of real, exercisable, power and influence within the state, influenced by the accountability of parliament to the people
term used when states voluntarily decide to share decision making powers, over a number of policy areas, in a system of international cooperation
the principle that government is created by, and subject to the will of, the people, who are the source of all political power and authority
a political system that is legally unitary, but politically increasingly federal due to the devolution of significant powers to regional bodies
powers once solely exercised by the monarch that, by convention, are now used by, or on the advice of, the prime minister and other government ministers.
Rule of Law
the legal principle that all people, including the government, are subject to and accountable to the law, which should be fairly applied and enforced
Separation of Powers
the constitutional principle that government should be separated into 3 branches, each with separate membership and powers
An act of parliament. after legislation has been proposed it begins life as a bill, passes various readings in both the House of commons and the house of lords before receiving royal assent and becoming law
not found on one single, authoritative document but located in the acts of parliament
membership of the european union
- EU law has precedence over British law
- In the event of a conflict, EU law must be applied and that can challenge the notion that no higher authority can overturn act of Parliament, BUT Parliament still ultimate decision-making authority
- Withdrawal from EU will end supremacy of EU law in Uk and restore decision-making powers to national state
Human rights act 1998
1. It incorporates the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law
2. It requires all public bodies
3. new laws are compatible with the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights
the executive branch
part of government with authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state.
It executes, or enforces, the law.
It is made up of two parts (bicameral) - elected House of Commons and partly elected House of Lords - which limit the power of each other and are there to provide for the best expertise of any legislation going through.
Any Bill passed by the Parliament gains legitimate power only when the Queen approves it
primacy of the House of commons
- legitimacy. Directly elected and accountable to voters. In upper house they are appointed or hereditary
- Exclusive powers. Has right to insist on legislation- Lords can only delay bills for 1 year and cannot delay or amend money bells (bills relating to tax, public money and loans)
- Conventions. Lords should not oppose bills implementing manifesto commitments
Parliament has been more effective
- Select committees- scrutinise policy and administration of government departments
- Weakening of prerogative powers- parliament now decide when there should be general election
- Assertive house of lords. Government defeats in Lords becoming more frequent forcing government to rethink legislation
- made up of the court system with the Supreme Court on top.
- Supreme court resolve case with constitutional significance and cases with relative powers of devolved institutions
- because of the uncodified constitution and parliamentary sovereignty- supreme court cannot strike down acts of parliament
a process designed to decentralise government and give more powers to the three nations which, together with England, make up the UK
when did devolution begin?
- Public votes were held in 1997 in Scotland and Wales, and a year later in both parts of Ireland.
- This resulted in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
- Established in 1999 as the result of referendums in Wales and Scotland- demand for devolution since 1970
- rise of nationalism
how has devolution change politics in the UK
- Policy divergence: policies on care for elderly, prescription charges, tuition fees and testing in schools
devolution in scotland
- Scotland Act 1998 gave Scottish Parliament primary legislative powers in range of policy areas (law and order, health, education, transport, environment)
- Westminster no longer makes law for Scotland
- The act also gave the Scottish Parliament's tax-varying powers: it could raise or lower rate of income tax by 3%
- Scotland Act 2012 gave power to set scottish rate of income tax higher or lower than that in the rest of UK
- Scotland Act 2016- devolved control of income tax rates and bands gave scottish parliament 50% of the VAT revenue raised in Scotland- gives parliament 15 billion
scotland act 2016
- westminster will not legislate on devolved matters without consent, Scottish parliament and government cannot be abolished unless approved in referendum in scotland
- Scottish parliament has greater power than sub national government in other european states
devolution on wales
- The Government of Wales Act of 2006 : Welsh assembly powers to make its own laws, but limits its scope to defined "fields"; a broad subject area such as education or health.
- the assembly can make laws relating to ancient monuments and historic buildings, public administration, sport and recreation, tourism, town and country planning, flood defences, the assembly itself, and the Welsh language.
- anything not contained in the current list of measures remains under the control of the Parliament in Westminster.
- The assembly is split into executive and legislative branches: the Welsh assembly government controls day-to-day running of devolved policy areas within the country, while the National Assembly for Wales scrutinises and debates the assembly government's work.
The assembly could increase its powers in the future and may one day evolve into a body similar to the Scottish Parliament.
- In February 2010, assembly members voted in favour of holding a referendum on devolving further powers from Westminster
- Wales act 2017- welsh rate of income tax by giving assembly control over portion for a referendum in order to do this. New devolved matters will include assembly and local government elections
northern ireland assemby and executive conflicts
- Communal conflicts: the division between unionist and nationalist. Unionist want northern ireland to remain part of UK. nationalist favour a united ireland or a greater role for the republican
- Distinctive party system: elections contested between unionist and nationalist parties and the main electoral issue is the constitution's status of northern ireland
- Security: Terrorist campaigns by republican and loyalist paramilitary organisation killed more than 3600 people during the troubles
- Separate system of government: Northern ireland has been governed differently from the rest of UK
good friday agreement
- 1998 Good friday agreement (belfast agreement)- power sharing devolution that require UK and Irish government to amend their constitutions to clarify the status of Northern Ireland
- The assembly had primary legislative powers in a range of policy area but not major tax-raising powers
-Agreement ensures power sharing with both unionist and nationalist represented in government
2016- Ulster union party and social democratic and labour party declined to nominate minister and formed an opposition
- DUP and Sinn Fein shared power since 2007
- Assembly collapsed in 2017
arguments for english parliament
Complete devolution within the UK and resolve the English Question
Create a coherent system of devolution with federal parliament and government responsible for UK wide issues (rather than these combined with english issues)
Political and institutional expression to English identity and interest
arguments against english parliament
Create additional layer of government and create tensions between UK government and English parliament/ government
'Devolution is all round' would not create a coherent and equitable system because England much bigger
Only limited support in England for English parliament
West Lothian question
why MPs representing the Scottish constituencies at westminster should be permitted to vote on purely english matters when English MPs have no say over matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament
"English votes for English Laws"
2003-4 legislation on foundation of hospitals and university tuition fees in england would not have passed without votes from Labour Mps in scotland
"English votes for english laws' set up by conservatives introduces special procedures in House of Commons for dealing with legislation that affects only England
2013- parliamentary procedure adapted so majority of English MPs is needed to pass legislation- affects only England
a quasi-federal UK
- Limited parliamentary sovereignty- in legal terms, westminster remains sovereign because of legal delegation BUT westminster is no longer sovereign over domestic matters in all the other nations.
- Westminster accepted that it will not impose legislation in devolved areas. Scotland Act 2016- westminster cannot legislate in devolved areas without consent and that devolved institutions are part of UK's constitution landscape
- Quasi- federal parliament- westminster operates as an English parliament (makes domestic laws for england) but it is a federal parliament for the other nations
Central government remains predominant range of institution operating at different levels
- Supranational level e.g. EU for trade
- UK level e.g UK government and westminster parliament- core decision makign bodies in taxation and defence
- Sub national level- devolved institution in scotland, wales, northern ireland- health and education
- Local level- such as elected local authorities nd unelected agencies- local transport and housing
two party system
Two party system with Labour and conservatives winning majority of votes and parliamentary seats
Conservatives represent interest and values of middle class
labour represent working class
making the numbers of MPs be in proportion to the votes cast, some at linking MPs to constituencies and some give voters more choice over who is elected
Why was the constitution reformed after 1997: New labour vs conservative government
1979-1997- constitution stayed the same, outdated, undemocratic
Conservative pragmatism: left completely as it is
In the 90s conservative party was very corrupted (decade of sleazes)
Fed into the idea that there was something wrong with the constitution
1997 Tony Blair led biggest win of the century in the promise to modernise and update the constitution
Why was the constitution reformed after 1997
- Institutions such as parliament, the executive and the civil service were using outdated and inefficient procedures that demanded reforms
- Tony Blair had a mandate to modernise the constitution
- Wanted to be ready for the new millennium
Why was the constitution reformed after 1997:
- participation in political process would be encouraged through electoral reform and greater use of referendum
- saw british constitution full of narrow, privilege, wealthiest people. People found it unfair that scotland still had no power, when they demanded power. They had to put up with conservative government. Before 1997 entire house of lords is hereditary, now it is 92
Why was the constitution reformed after 1997: Decentralisation
- Decision-making power s would be developed to new institutions in Scotland and wales, role of government also enhanced
- Tony Blair found it unfair that Scotland doesn't have any power so he started devolution. He also ends the war in northern ireland
- Tony Blair wanted to take power out of the institution in westminster and thought it was too slow, conservative when making laws
Why was the constitution reformed after 1997:
Focus on human right
From 1997-2001 Tony Blair strongly believed in the human rights and thought that the constitution did not protect human rights enough
2001- Tony Blair became against human rights (9/11) - introduced more anti terrorism
2001- You can lock someone who is suspected to be linked in terrorism - you can be detained for 28 days in prison without solicitor
In 2005- he raised it to 90 days however Parliament did not let him (his own party stopped him and shows division between the party)
Why was the constitution reformed after 1997: 2010 conservative- liberal democrat coalition
2010- Lib Dem and conservative coalition and together they wanted to reduce the terrorism act. Scrap Tony Blair and Gordon Brown plan- to carry identification card
Why was the constitution reformed after 1997: 2014 scottish independence reference
2014- Scottish fed up by being controlled by westminster and demanded referendum. SNP won an election- allowed them to hold a referendum to become an independent country. The NO campaign won 55- 54.
Devo- MAX- westminster have to recognise that nearly half of the scottish people were so fed up with the constitution they wanted to create their own.
Maximum devolution - would give Holyrood the power over most reserved matters, except defence and foreign affairs.
Constitutional reform has been largely ineffective-
- There are still many hereditary lords- lords appointed still don't have the full knowledge. Socially unrepresentative.
- Humans rights act still follow the ECHR
- Any act can be overturned if parliament wanted it to be (parliamentary sovereignty)
e.g Fixed term election was not followed
- Promises of revitalising the local government by granting it more powers in return for more firm responsibilities, have largely been unrealised
- The decreased number of MPs hasn't occurred
- First past- the-post is unfair however when given the chance to change it- the people still chose not to (66% voted no)
- Push for 16/17 year old votes still has not been achieved (Scotland can)- devolution created inequalities
Constitutional reform has been largely ineffective-
- There has been reforms in terms of devolution that allowed freedom and power to each devolved countries. Even if they have legal delegation- in reality would not happen.
- Supreme court created- took parliament out of judiciary
- Devolved assemblies use proportional representation, the nature of the Commons change and will be less adversarial. There would be more women and ethnic minority MPs.
- Human rights- coalition stopped dictatorship
options for HRA
David Cameron petitioned for a "british bill of rights" to replace the Human Rights Act and sideline the European Convention on Human rights
Option 1: keep ECHR (favored by libdems/ labour) - get European convention laws to protect
Option 2: Get rid of the human rights act and stay in ECHR (happened in 1950s) have to go to Strasbourg
Option 3: leave human rights act and ECHR- parliament created/ got rid of new laws
Why critics hate HRA?
- led to "perverse" judgements, including a ruling that found the UK's blanket ban on prisoners voting was unlawful.
Ministers have fought an ongoing battle to avoid implementing the judgement.
- A ruling that the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada shouldn't be deported to Jordan to face trial on terrorism charges, also caused outrage.
The ECHR said some of the evidence used against him may have come from torture.
After years of legal battles, Qatada was eventually deported.
What do supporters of the Human Rights Act say?
- If the UK scraps the Human Rights Act then it will lose legitimacy and effectiveness in speaking out against human rights abuses elsewhere.
What is British Bill of rights
- a codified document created by UK government and Parliament. This would be mean leaving the convention
- Place legal matters surrounding human rights and civil liberties in the hands of an elected British government and Parliament, not European institutions and rules
Opportunities for greater political participation
Elections beyond westminster- Devolution enhanced accountability and participation by decentralising decision making power and creating elected institutions
Increased use of referendums- sub national issues and local issues
E-petitions: debated in house of commons or devolved institutions
Pressure groups and social movements
Print/ television media
Newspaper supporting a political party that can exercise a significant influence as politicians seek their endorsement
Influence: direct influence over the voting behaviour of the readers
Reinforcement: reinforcing views already held by readers
Shaping the agenda: coverage on issues
Concern for health of british democracy
Turnout between 2001-2005: 63% // 1950s: 81%
under-representation : some social groups less likely to vote and to become MPs
Party membership: proportion of citizens who are members of a party is so much lower
Conduct of campaigns
Antipolitics: negative trends and issues
Before 1832 the right to vote depended on three things:
Gender. Only men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote.
Property. In order to vote, an individual had to own property over a certain value.
Location. Small rural boroughs were able to elect more MPs than much
1832 Reform Act.
It extended the franchise so that more men could vote.
In an attempt to make the system fairer, it got rid of some of the differences of the electoral system that existed from region to region.
The Chartists demanded six key reforms:
Manhood suffrage. Every man, regardless of class or property, should have the vote.
An end to the regional differences in the electoral system.
Secret ballots (no one else would know for whom you voted).
The end to property qualifications for MPs. This would mean that a man wishing to be an MP would no longer have to own property or land worth a set amount of money.
Payment for MPs. This would enable men who were not already wealthy to stand for election to Parliament.
1867 Parliamentary Reform Act
he Conservative leader, Benjamin Disraeli, persuaded his supporters that the English working man would make limited demands on politicians - keep him housed, fed and clothed and he would vote Conservative for ever. This gamble ("The Leap in the Dark") gave most skilled working class men in the towns the vote. However, the Act did not alter the balance of political power in Britain. The middle classes still dominated the electorate, both in the towns and in the boroughs. The electorate remained as before in both the boroughs and the counties, namely the middle classes. The most important change was the granting of the vote to occupiers in the boroughs (people who rented properties rather than owning them) and as a result the electorate in some of the newer towns in England and Scotland increased dramatically.
key principles under UK constitution
- rule of law
- unitary state
- parliamentary government under constitutional monarchy
what does rule of law mean
No one can be punished without trial
No one is above the law and all are subject to the same justice
The general principles of the constitution such as personal freedom result from juge made common law, rather than statute law or executive order
Everyone is equal under the law. Everyone entitled to fair trial and should not be imprisoned without due regard for legal process
Courts can hold government minister, police officers and public officials accountable for their actions
Laws passed by parliament must be interpreted and applied by an independent judiciary
Citizens can take government or local authority to court if they have been treated improperly