The Dis-United Kingdom? Devolution and the British State

Ian Howarth

The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in the ‘Economist’ in 1996 that;

”The challenge facing us is that which devolutionconfronted the Victorian reformers of the last century who, almost uniquely, gave Britain democracy without revolution.  It is to take a working constitution, respect its strengths, and adapt it to modern demands for clear effective government while at the same time providing a greater democratic role for the people at large’ (cited in Richards & Smith, 2002: 235) This was the goal of Labours constitutional reforms after 1997; to modernise Britain’s highly centralised government structures and create a modern European state.  This was to be both centrally strong, while at the same time being regionally representative, giving a greater role to regional and national political aspirations under the overall structure of  the British Parliament, while also providing greater territorial security for the UK.

This approach to reforming the British State was motivated by the failure of both socialism, and neo-liberal Thatcherism.  Anthony Giddens argued that ‘Tony Blair’s election in 1997 [confirmed] the failure of socialism as an economic system of management.  Yet, rather than marking ‘the triumph of Margaret Thatcher’, it [confirmed] also the failure of Thatcherism, and neo-liberalism more generally.  Neo-liberalism was an attempt to respond to the new conditions in which we live – to the impact of globalisation and intensifying global economic competition.  It was deeply flawed, not least because of its paradoxical mix of economic libertarianism and moral traditionalism.  Thatcherism wanted to modernise the economy but ‘de-modernise’ other areas…It was the enemy of devolution, since Thatcher drained power away from local councils and other bodies to the central state.’  (Cited in Richards & Smith, 235, 236)  The failure of these approaches to the management of the British State meant that ‘When Labour was elected to power in 1997, a number of serious stresses existed in the unitary nature of the UK.  Labours response to regional demands and concern over democracy was a commitment in its 1997 manifesto to devolve greater power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and to England through the establishment of new English regional assemblies.’  (Richard & Smith, 2002: 250)

Labour’s reforms to the British constitution were partly in response to the demands of Britain’s modern political culture.  ‘The new political culture [of Britain] is sceptical of large bureaucracies and opposes political clientelism.  Many citizens see local and regional government as able to meet their needs more effectively than the nation state.’  (Richard & Smith, 2002: 238)  This translated itself into an ambitious programme of devolution with the Scotland Act (1998) the Government of Wales Act (1998), and the Northern Ireland Act (1998), all passing through parliament as part of Labours first legislative programme in two decades.

It is arguable that the first line of the Scotland Act (1998) represents the most significant shake up in the constitutional arrangements of the UK since the Act of Union (1701); it simply states that ‘There shall be a Scottish Parliament.’  (Scotland Act, 1998)  The autonomy from Westminster given to Scotland in the Act is the most developed form of devolution implemented under Labour’s 1997 constitutional reform programme.  This transfer of power recognises Scotland’s unique cultural heritage and former status as an independent nation state prior to the formal negotiated union of England (including Wales) and Scotland in 1707.  Scottish devolution transferred primary legislative powers in key areas of public concern like health, education, transport, the environment, and industry, from Westminster to Edinburgh.  This was accompanied by the ability of the Scottish parliament to raise and lower taxes, causing The Glasgow Herald to satirically comment that ‘freedom son?  [Is] the right to vary income tax by 3p in the pound.’  (Budge, Crewe, McKay & Newton 2001: 158)

Welsh devolution was not as extensive as Scotland’s.  The Welsh Assembly does not have the power to pass primary legislation even in it’s the central areas of competence, (economic development, health and social services, agriculture, environment, primary, middle and higher education).  The Assembly also does not have the tax raising powers of Scotland, with all major taxation decisions still residing at the Treasury in London and in the person of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer.

However, despite this, Welsh devolution is still a significant transfer of power, even if less so than that given to Edinburgh.  The Welsh Assembly has the flexibility to allocate central government funding to meet its concerns, for instance the Department of Health is given a set budget by the Treasury for Wales, this budget is placed under the control of the Welsh Assembly, and can be distributed to meet Welsh health needs rather than the policy targets set for England, as happened in the past when England and Wales were treated as a single administrative unit.  In Wales, this has meant free NHS prescriptions.  This demonstrates that although in its legislative remit the Welsh Assembly is far more constrained than the Scottish Parliament, it can pursue distinct Welsh polices for Wales.

The Welsh Assembly has reinvigorated Welsh democracy by breaking Labours monopoly on Welsh politics; particularly in South Wales where ‘Labour-dominated councils…were often…accused of corruption and nepotism.  The Welsh Assembly is open to wider influences and more party competition.’  (Budge, Crew, McKay & Newton, 2001: 148).  The Assembly has also recognised the distinct national heritage of the Welsh people, with the arguments of the 1980’s over Welsh integration and nationalism being replaced by the acceptance of Welsh as a national language (Welsh Language Act 1993) and the acceptance of Welsh culture as a legitimate curriculum subject in primary and secondary education.  The establishment of a Welsh centre of political power in Cardiff was the logical next step in the British states attempts to come to terms with its multinational makeup, and lessen the conflicts between its powerful unitary ministries in Westminster, with the demands and needs of the peripheries of the UK.

Devolution to the English regions did not occur.  The 2004 referenda on regional assemblies in the North East, North West and the Yorkshire and the Humber all led to resounding no votes from the public.  This only went to highlight the fact that the devolution project for England is in many ways far more complicated than those of Scotland, Wales, and even Northern Ireland.  This is because in England, a distinct non-fascist, English nationalism has not found expression politically at either county or national levels. Furthermore, regional identities while strong do not have a historic political heritage.  The English are English, and as such if devolution were to occur in England this would necessitate and English political identity.  Considering the overwhelming economic and demographic dominance that such a political identity would have within the United Kingdom it would represent a considerable challenge to the concept of a British government with any English First Minister commanding the interests of the vast majority of the British population.

This is compounded by both of the major political parties of England, Conservative and Labour, being British political organisations.  The Conservative party has traditionally been considered an ‘English Party’ however, in reality its political base is amongst the landed, capital interests of the upper and middle classes nationally, ultimately standing for the constitutional status quo, and the promotion of small government and big business.  The Conservatives opposed devolution in government and initially continued to do so in opposition, fearing the break-up of the union, they only accepted Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution as a fact of life prior to the 2001 general election, and continue to oppose devolution to the English Regions, on the grounds of unnecessary bureaucracy, and the destruction of local government.

The Labour and Liberal Parties represent liberal, and working class constituencies, and the peripheral interests of regions like Scotland, and the Industrial North of England, with these two parties being as much parties of protest or opposition to the central authorities of the British state, as being based on class/religious cleavages.  Labour can be considered ‘…. as much a coalition of British peripheries against the centre as a class party.’  (Budge Crewe McKay & Newton, 2001: 157).  The Labour party’s roots are in the industrial heartlands of Northern England, Southern Wales and the densely populated Lothian, Stirling and Clydeside conurbation of Scotland running between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Labour party is further diversified in its religious cleavages with Roman Catholicism in Northern England and Scotland finding a political voice in the late 19th century and early 20th in the party, while ‘religious revivalism, spearheaded by…. radical protestant denominations opposed to the torpor and worldliness (as they saw it) of the Anglican State Church…[With its]…voiced demands for ‘disestablishment’…. expressed itself in support for progressive Liberalism and subsequently Labour and Nationalist Parties…’  (Budge, Crewe, McKay & Newton, 2001: 143,144).

The national appeal and roots of the two central parties of English politics means that English cultural, and political distinctions have been lost or over taken by more national social, economic and demographic interests across the Union, with Labour and Conservative party voters sharing the same interests and backgrounds across the country.

English politics as a result have been reduced to regional, county or civic levels, with it more resembling hometown loyalty than a greater national political voice.  This has led to England being described as the ‘dog that didn’t bark in the night’ considering its power and importance as the central economic, political and demographic entity of the UK.  ‘Within the United Kingdom, England is dominant.  It has a population of 47 million out of a total 56 million; the greater London area alone has a population of about 10 million.’  (Budge & Newton et al, 1997: 64)  The reality of England’s potential political power is partly responsible for moves toward reforming the structures of English governance, particularly in the Labour party.

The position of Scottish MP’s is a matter of controversy amongst the British/English press.  The ‘West Lothian question’ put first by Tam Dayell, could potentially lead to greater calls for the exclusion of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MP’s from matters of purely English concern.  The Conservative party has proposed the idea of a Grand English Committee of English MP’s to sit on these matters in the chamber of the House of Commons, while Liberal and Labour MP’s have argued for the exclusion of non-concerned parties from votes on English and or Welsh legislation.

Opponents to this position have responded by arguing that MP’s are members of the British Parliament, and that to stratify the rights of members is to lessen the significance of the institution.  Furthermore, to exclude MP’s from Commons debates would cause the alienation of the peripheries of the Union from the affairs of the most significant and dominant political entity of the Union, with events and legislative changes in England potentially having a significant effect on the internal affairs of the other nations.  Such alienation would more likely lead to the disintegration of the UK than the continued representation of these peripheries in English matters.

It is clear that some form of solution to this problem will be required.  The rights of British MP’s to have a voice in the affairs of England is essential considering its economic, and political importance in deciding the electoral outcome of general elections.  However, it is equally clear that English legislation should be determined by English representatives, and not by individuals who have no interests in the legislative outcomes.  Potentially House of Lords Reform could be an area where this could be addressed, or the establishment of a parliamentary protocol that created an understanding that MP’s would not vote on English matters unless thy deemed them to be of national importance.  Admittedly, the later suggestion is potentially open to much interpretation, but short of federalisation or an English parliament, which is unlikely, it is the most likely solution that the pragmatic British approach to constitutional reform will produce.

The constitutional changes brought about by devolution in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, have made the UK a more diverse political environment.  Administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are more representative of its people’s demands and interests.  The central pillar of the British states authority, the sovereignty of parliament, remains unchallenged by devolution, parliament still ‘possesses, at least in theory, unrivalled and unchallengeable legislative authority.  Parliament can make or unmake any law it wishes; its powers are not checked by a codified or written constitution; there are no rival UK legislatures which can challenge its authority; and its laws outrank all other forms of English and Scottish law.’  (Heywood, 1997:129)  The Westminster Parliament stands at the centre of the new constitutional framework with all the institutions of devolution being established by Acts of Parliament, and therefore subordinate to the British State.

Critics of devolution argue devolution will hasten the break-up of the UK by allowing the legitimisation of nationalist claims to political autonomy, however supporters argue that ‘devolution [was] the only solution to the territorial crisis of the UK state, in that it promises to restore legitimate government and to stem the tide of rising nationalism.’  (Heywood, 1997: 132)  The current situation in Scotland which sees a nationalist pro-independence SNP government in power and campaigning for a Yes vote to independence in this year’s referendum would seem to have proven the early critics of devolution right.  However, in truth the likelihood of a Yes vote are low and the most likely outcome of the referendum is an increase in devolved powers for Scotland but the continuation of the British state none the less.

‘The British state has changed its territorial arrangements at many points in its history without disintegrating.’  (Richards & Smith, 2002: 57)  Devolution has addressed many of the constitutional problems that have been a source of tension in British politics for centuries, and in doing so has reinvigorated the political structure, providing diversity and representation to the people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London and maybe in time the English Regions.  It is admittedly like all British constitutional arrangements a mixed bag, with Rose’s unity without uniformity being as relevant in the modern British State as at any other time in its 300 year history.

 Bibliography:

Budge, Ian, Crew, Ivor, McKay, David, Newton, Ken (2001) ‘The New British Politics’ Longman, Harlow, Essex, Great Britain, pp.143-144, pp.148, pp.149, pp.157, pp.158

Budge, Ian & Newton, Kenneth (1997) ‘The Politics of the New Europe’ Longman, Harlow, Essex, Great Britain, pp.64

The Scotland Act (1998) Her Majesties Stationery Office; http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/19980046.htm

Richards, David & Smith, Martin J. (2002) ‘Governance and Public Policy in the UK’ Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.57, pp.235, pp.236, pp.238, pp.250

Heywood, Andrew (1997) ‘Politics’ Palgrave, Basingstoke Hampshire, Great Britain, pp.129, pp.132

An Unequal Union: The British State and Constitution in the 21st Century

Ian Howarth

Professor Richard Rose of the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for the Study of Public Policy argues that the ‘United Kingdom is best visualised as four separate identities, brought together by historical processes, which have maintained their Union through tradition and pragmatism.’ (cited in Reid Mackie, 1997) And that the nature of the state created as a result of the processes behind Britain’s state formation is a union without uniformity, a unitary, but multinational state.UK Flag

The United Kingdom is unique amongst modern states as almost all others have at their heart a written constitution that sets out the nature and the powers of their different institutions and the nature of the relationships between these institutions.  Within the United States the constitution establishes the exact powers of the executive, congress and judiciary.  It establishes a balance of power between these institutions and in doing so creates an institutionalised system of checks and balances between the branches of the federal, state and municipal government.  The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution and as such there is no clearly defined set of rules which govern the relationships of the different branches of the government, executive, parliament, the monarchy and the judiciary.  The British system of government does not contain within its self a system of institutionalised checks and balances as demonstrated in the American system and common in most modern liberal democracies.

This is not to say however that the United Kingdom does not have a constitution, it simply lacks a single document that legally binds its institutions in their relationships with one another.  Within the British system of government there are ‘…. numerous statutes concerning the composition and powers of particular institutions.  Thus, the powers of the monarchy are limited by the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701; the powers of the House of Lords are defined by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949; and the modern electoral system is regulated by the Representation of the People Acts of 1948 and 1949’ (Birch, 1998: 21) These different acts of parliament make up what is generally referred to as the unwritten constitution of Britain.  It sets out the various rights of the people, the monarchy, and the judiciary.  However, what is lacking within this constitutional framework is any legislative control over the powers of Parliament, or an overall territorial settlement that defines the powers and competences of the varying levels of government within the British state.

A central principle within the British system of government is the sovereignty of parliament, as such within the British system Parliament ‘possesses, at least in theory, unrivalled and unchallengeable legislative authority.  Parliament can make or unmake any law it wishes; its powers are not checked by a codified or written constitution; there are no rival UK legislatures which can challenge its authority; and its laws outrank all other forms of English and Scottish law.’ (Heywood, 1997:129)  The constitution of the United Kingdom is contained within Acts of Parliament, which means that the constitutional documents of the United Kingdom unlike those of the United States are able to be revoked by a simple majority in the House of Commons.  In the United States such constitutional power would require two thirds of both chambers of congress and of the state legislatures.

The sovereign power of parliament resides within the House of Commons, the House of Lords since the passing of the Parliament Acts has lost the power to block or throw out government legislation and now has a role as a revising chamber.  Although the theory of the British system of government rests in the sovereign power of Parliament, in reality sovereign power lies with the majority party of the House of Commons, and in the person of the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State.  The absolute power of the Commons means that the leader of the largest party within that chamber, the prime minister and their appointed government; are able to propose and implement any legislation that can gain a majority in the Commons.

The nature of the political party system in Britain is very centralized with a strong leadership commanding at most times the support of its members and elected representatives, as such a majority party in the commons is a guarantee of a majority vote for government legislation.  It is the reality then that sovereign power lies with the Executive, which is drawn from the Commons, but when in possession of a majority in that chamber can act without constraints from either its own backbenchers or the opposition parties.

This situation following the victories of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and the three landslide electoral victories of the Labour Party in 1997, 2001 and 2005 attracted accusations of a presidential style of government within Downing Street that was dismissive of parliament.  In the early years of the Blair government ministers would routinely announce new government legislation to the press before going to the chamber, which provided validity to this accusation.  However since the 2010 election and the resulting Hung Parliament, the role and power of this institution has to a great extent be reinvigorated. The rulling Conservative-Liberal Coallition must be mindful at all times of the thoughts and concerns of its backbench members if it is to be certain of passing its legislative agenda.  Rebellions have become more common, and considering the nature of Coalition politics so has their significance.

The accusations of a presidential premiership that were levied at Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were not new and not entirely unfounded.  However the concept that Britain at times has been ruled by an elected dictatorship is a recent idea, with its origins in the 1980s.  The British prime minister is amongst the most powerful heads of government of any liberal democracy in the world.  They hold the power through the prerogatives of the crown to declare war, propose legislation, and through their party’s majority pass legislation.

The power that resides within Parliament and the executive has throughout the history of the United Kingdom led to ‘strains within the multinational UK state [which] have led to a recurrent devolution debate…. the growing gulf in the 1980’s and 1990’s between the Conservative-dominated Westminster Parliament and an increasingly Labour-dominated Scotland and Wales revived support for devolution.’ (Heywood, 1997: 132)  The position of the United Kingdom in the period described above left the peripheries of the country being governed by an unpopular and unrepresentative system.  The Conservative Party had no majority to rule in either Wales or Scotland and as such the imposition of what was seen as an English government was deeply resented and led to greater calls by nationalists for independence which throughout the 1990’s gained increasing support.

Critics of devolution argued that it would hasten the break-up of the United Kingdom by allowing the legitimatisation of nationalist claims to political autonomy.  However, the supporters argued that ‘devolution [was] the only solution to the territorial crisis of the UK state, in that it promises to restore legitimate government and to stem the tide of rising nationalism.’ (Heywood, 1997: 132) Initially this later view was borne out within the assemblies of Scotland and Wales, with Labour governments in both extending their majorities during the second batch of elections held in 2003 to the cost of nationalist parties. However, since 2005 in Scotland the SNP has seen growing electoral support to the point that during the 2011 Scottish Elections they won an outright majority following four years of minority SNP Government.  This historic electoral victory means that Scotland is now preparing for a referendum on independence in 2014.

However, despite the potential for a Yes vote in Scotland next year it is worth saying that support for independence remains at around 30% of the population and so it is unlikely to pass (UK Polling Report June 2013). This means that the United Kingdom will continue to operate at least for a short while under the current constitutional settlement.  Devolution has not altered the powerful position of the British Parliament and the Executive, the Scottish Parliament was established through an Act of Parliament, and is in theory beholden to the House of Commons for its authority. Parliament is capable of repealing an Act at any time, and could repeal any of the Acts establishing the devolved institutions, as demonstrated by the suspensions of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In Northern Ireland the devolved assembly has been suspended twice by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.  This is due to the fact that the Act of Parliament establishing the Assembly at Stormont also maintained within it the power for the Secretary of State to suspend the Assembly if it became politically unsustainable due to the intransigence of its members or as in the final case the threat of the Democratic Unionist Party gaining a majority within the assembly and derailing the Good Friday peace process.  The suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly meant a complete suspension of the entire political structure including elections and the powers of the Assembly Executive.

The powers of the British Parliament to bring the regions under direct control through the person of the Secretary of State for that region lie within the enacting legislation of the devolved assemblies, and is premised on the principle that no parliament holds the authority to bind future parliaments to its will.  Therefore Roses classic view of Britain as a centralised unitary state still holds true, to some extent.  However, a significant development within Roses thesis is the nature of how much less uniform this unitary system has become.  ‘Although the UK government insists that parliamentary sovereignty is unaffected and that devolution could be suspended at any time, the fact that the three assemblies were endorsed by referendum would make it politically very difficult for Westminster to recover its powers.’ (Heywood, Jones & Rhodes 2002: 211) This means that these institutions will probably become entrenched within the British System of government, much like the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, adding to the evolving un-codified nature of the British constitution.

Roses claim that Britain is a Unitary State without Uniformity has grown starker in its meaning.  The power of the Scottish Parliament is far greater than that of the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, Scotland’s Parliament possesses tax raising powers and control over primary legislation such as Health, Education and Transport.  This is coupled with a distinct Scottish Judiciary and legal system.  Scotland has grown more independent yet within the confines of the United Kingdom, under the overall sovereignty of the Parliament at Westminster. This Parliament still holds control over Scotland’s Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and other areas of national strategic importance.

The Welsh Assembly on the other hand does not possess any tax-raising powers or control over primary legislation, leading to the criticism of some that the Welsh Assembly is nothing more than a glorified County Council. However, this is an unfair remark.  Wales does have control over environmental policy and over aspects of health and transport policy; the difference between Scottish devolution and Welsh devolution lies in the ability to pass primary legislation.  Wales is still beholden to London in its overall Health, Transport, and Education policies, but can make adjustments to these overall plans.  The Welsh Assembly is able to do this through the strategic use of its budget, shifting money from one sector of the Health system to another. An example of this can be seen in the Welsh provision of free prescriptions to all students, and the provision of NHS Dental and Optical care is more generous than within England.

This difference in the distribution of power within devolution has increased the lack of uniformity within the United Kingdom in the relationships of the peripheries with the centre. The aborted plans of the last Labour government to devolve power from London to the English regions would have furthered this pattern.  The system constructed by the constitutional reforms of the Blair government created a system of tiered autonomy within the unitary sovereignty of Parliament with the Executive at the centre.  The Scottish Parliament occupies the most extreme example of devolution, which is in its real world relationship with Westminster essentially federal.  The Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies occupy the second tier, with Northern Ireland at a slightly lower level than Wales but at least in theory occupying roughly the same scope of power in its region.  Finally the Greater London Assembly make up the lower tier of devolved government within the United Kingdom, with its powers focused largely on economic coordination and planning.

It is increasingly arguable that there is a fourth tier of government within the United Kingdom that exists above that of Parliament, the European Commission, Court and Parliament. These all have legislative and judicial powers within the United Kingdom that exist outside the remit of the British Parliament.  In the case of the European Court of Justice the decisions made by this body have jure-prudence over British law, and the European Court of Justice has on a number of occasions forced the British government to repeal or re-write legislation in order to bring it into line with the Courts rulings for example in the case of discrimination against homosexuals in the armed forces.  However the powers of European institutions within the United Kingdom like all other political or legal institutions are established within an Act of Parliament and as such in theory can be repealed by Parliament.

The argument that Richard Rose forwards that Britain is a unitary state yet without uniformity is in my view still borne out within the contemporary structure of the United Kingdom; the further statement that Britain is a multinational state is particularly strengthened by the creation of the Scottish parliament.  The de-facto independence of Scotland in most areas of legislation has created between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom a quasi-federal solution to the demands of the highly vocal Scottish National Party (SNP) for the complete severance of the relationship between Edinburgh and London.

The devolution settlements implemented by the Blair government further diversified and complicated the structure of the United Kingdom in a manner that has in my view disproportionably favoured the peripheral nations of Britain.  Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all gained powerful local administrative structures that take account of their specific needs and provide their national identities with political legitimacy, whereas England was totally ignored by the process.

Devolution within England has been very limited, The Greater London Assembly is currently the only example, and was established as a remedy to ‘the lack of…. a planning authority for Greater London as a whole [which] made it difficult to make integrated decisions for the whole region.   New Labour set about to remedy this but in a novel way – by having an executive mayor elected directly by the whole area, overseen by a small council.  This ‘presidential’ system is completely different to the Assembly and council dominated systems that operate in Wales and Scotland…’ (Budge, Crewe, McKay & Newton, 2001: 169)  The powerful executive centred system operating in London was a far cry from the attempt at creating regional assemblies for England.

These assemblies would have prepared ‘…region-wide strategies to determine where developers can build new homes and businesses, and [would] decide how to hand out government grants for new social housing, giving them a crucial say in where it should be built.  They [would have funded] tourism programmes, museums and English Heritage sites, help determine how waste should be dealt with, advise the government and local quangos on transport, and have roles in promoting public health and tackling crime…’ (Parker; The Guardian: 2002)  The powers that were proposed for the English regions made them little more than beefed up County Councils.  Their focus reflected only the demands of business for wider economic planning, and development in the regions, and not the unique character and history of England and the English people, which Welsh and Scottish devolution provided.  It came as no surprise when the Coalition Government announced the abolition of the Regional Development agencies and an end to all plans for elected Regional Assemblies in 2010.

The attempt to devolve power to English regional assemblies could be viewed as an attempt by central government to fracture any attempts at the politicisation of English identity.  The current settlement that allows Scottish MP’s to vote on English and Welsh legislation, while Scottish legislation is beyond the remit of the rest of the Unions MP’s is a perversion of democratic representation. A more permanent solution to this situation will need to found, particularly if a reduced majority Labour government were to seek to govern England and Wales on the back of Scottish parliamentary votes on English and Welsh legislation, a reversal of the situation that prevailed in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  This was a situation that presented itself during the vote on Foundation Hospitals in the last Labour Parliament, but surprisingly it did not cause the national outcry you might expect, especially as a Scottish Prime Minister was forcing through legislation that would not affect his own constituents.

This so-called ‘West Lothian’ question put originally by Tam Dayell (MP 1962 – 2005) can only be remedied in my view by the establishment of a strong English Parliament with the same powers as its Scottish sister. This would mean the establishment of a federal system of government within the United Kingdom, which would provide a representative distribution of power within these islands.  The economic might of Britain lies in England, and yet the English are dispossessed of any political voice or institution that recognises its distinct national identity.  Governed by a unitary Parliament containing Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MP’s who have in the past and more recently been instrumental in the passing of government legislation that lacks majority support amongst English MP’s.

In conclusion therefore Roses classic model describing the relationships between the United Kingdom’s political structures is still relevant0, and if anything the effects of devolution have strengthened the validity of his view.  In the coming years the unitary British state shall be maintained, despite the introduction of new levels of autonomy within the regions and nations of Britain.  The pragmatic solutions of parliaments past present and future shall ensure the continuation of a multitude of political systems operating within the single overall doctrine of British Parliamentary sovereignty which during periods of strong majority party rule within the House of Commons will in reality mean the power of the land residing in Downing Street, as Enoch Powell once said ‘…power devolved is power retained.’ (cited in Hague & Harrop, 2001: 210)

Bibliography:

Budge, Ian, Crewe, Ivor, McKay, David & Newton, Ken (2001) ‘The New British Politics’ (2nd Ed.) Longman, Harlow, Essex Great Britain, pp169

Birch, Anthony H. (1998) ‘The British System of Government’ Routledge, London pp21

Hague, Rod, Harrop, Martin (2001) ‘Comparative Government and Politics; An Introduction’ (5th Ed.) Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, pp210

Heywood, Paul, Jones, Erik & Rhodes, Martin (2002) ‘Development in West European Politics 2’ Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, pp211

Heywood, Andrew (1997) ‘Politics’ Palgrave, London pp132

Parker, Simon, (May 9th 2002) The Guardian ‘Government Offers Devolution for English Regions’ http://society.guardian.co.uk/regionalgovernment/story/0,8150,712827,00.html

Reid Mackie, Claire (1997) ‘Perspectives on British Territorial Politics’ University of Strathclyde pp1

UK Polling Report, Scottish Independence Referendum Voting Intention http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/scottish-independence-referendum

Private Profit and Public Debt; The Continuing Hypocrisy of the ‘Free Market’

By Ian Howarth

Since the autumn of 2008 there has been one issue in politics on which if the surface is scratched a great sense of anger, almost rage can be found.  I am of course talking about the financial crisis and the crushing five year recession that has followed.  In particular I am angered by what I see as a great injustice being committed by our politicians on behalf of the richest people in the country and the world.   fat cat

Why has the British and America taxpayer continued to tolerate billions of pounds of their money being used to support the people and institutions that drove the economy onto the rocks, with out so much as an ounce of real reform to the mad and immoral practices of the institutions responsible.  In Britain today we are told by our leaders that we are living in an ‘Age of Austerity’. An austere age in which banks and market traders reap mighty profits while nurses, builders, and postal workers face redundancy!  An austerity that provides us with the spectacle of multimillion pound bonuses after the timely injection of billions of pounds worth of taxpayer’s money saved the financial system from collapse.   This is a strange and discriminating type of austerity, one that picks its way through society, sparing the hedge fund manager while leaving thousands of young people without work.

In truth most of us have yet to fully awaken to the scale of the crime against public decency that is being perpetrated in the halls of power and high finance today. Most of us are still reeling from the shock of finding that the promises of endless prosperity and an end to ‘boom and bust’ were in truth propped on so shaky a foundation that they were in reality as worthless as Lehman Brothers shares.

I simply find it impossible to fathom the sheer scope of the hypocrisy that our leaders on all sides of the political divide are trying to feed us.  There is an old maxim that cometh the hour, cometh the man.  This is the hour, but I do not see anyone of worth claiming the mandate of the people and providing the answers, or leadership I believe millions of us seek.     Where is our FDR?  We need someone to offer us a New Deal and put an end to the deceitful self-interests of the small and powerful elite who have raided the public purse in the interest of private enterprise.  Are we to simply watch as the financiers and corporate executives run away with our money leaving ordinary people to face cuts to their schools and hospitals in the name of efficiency and living within ‘our’ means?  Must we return to the old dying on trolleys in hospital corridors for a lack of funding and compassion?  We face growing poverty and a widening gap between those that have, and those that have not, all so that the corrupt system that delivered us to this place may survive.

The Banks are in reality broken, and so the state must take its just stake and make clear to those CEO’s and executives that a bank that is too big to fail, is too big to exist.  The retail and casino operations need to be separated and the state must regulate with a ruthless zeal those practices that have led us to this place.  To continue on our current trajectory is only to ensure that we face such crisis again, and to ignore the human suffering that it must inevitably contain.  The disconnect between profit and the real world must be ended and tethered to the wealth of the nation through the guarantee that the practices of these mighty financial institutions will be regulated to ensure that they are not simply printing money for their own executives, but engaged in economic activity that benefits the whole of society.

It is the role of the state to ensure that all sectors of the economy are operating not only to the benefit of shareholders but the nation at large.  However outrageous these suggestions may seem to the apostles of Friedman let us not forget the single biggest lesson of the last five years.  If this crisis had been left to the free market the financial system would have collapsed and many millions of us would have faced losing our pensions, savings and even our current accounts.  It was in the end the guarantee of the state, of the taxpayer, that all debts would be met, and all deposits honoured that allowed these banks to continue.  As long as it is true to say that the largest of our banks cannot be allowed to fail then the shareholders and speculators of these institutions are in fact taking no risks at all with their investments.  This is not a free market.  These banks can in reality do as they will because they now know that the state is their acting as a back stop should they hit choppy waters.  This is why the state has the right, and obligation to crack the whip and end the free ride.  We cannot continue to abide a system that allows for state welfare for banks, and financial institutions while they continue to preach a failed doctrine of free markets and light regulation.   The Banks  have been given an implicit guarantee of state support without any conditions set upon their practices.  This is both immoral and undemocratic. The leaders we rely on have placed their connections and friendships with the high flyers of the City of London over their responsibility to represent and protect the interests of the people and their money.

What we need is a system that rewards and punishes fairly, and recognises the right of democratic forces to exert control over the dangerous excesses that are inherent to capitalism.  It is clear to me that the last 30 years has witnessed a mighty experiment in free market economics, a de-regulation of everything with a simple and accepted mantra; leave it to the market to decide.  This experiment led us to this place and a world in which a few got very rich, but ultimately the taxpayer, not the free market had to carry the can.   This is not a choice between the inefficiencies of a command economy or the disastrous effects of deregulated free markets.  It is an argument for common sense, and the recognition that in a democracy the people have a rightful interest in economic policy, and the right to place certain demands and expectations on the corporations that seem to believe that as private enterprises they need only answer to the Board. The outcome of this crisis and the role of the state in averting an even greater disaster must mean an end to this hypocrisy within the free market.

Citizenship Education and Political Literacy in the United Kingdom

britishBy Ian Howarth

I am by professional training a Citizenship teacher.  I was Head of Citizenship/PSHE and Politics at the Arnold Hill Academy in Nottingham England for five years.  Here I set out my views on the vital importance of Citizenship education in the National Curriculum for the future of British democracy from both an academic and professional prospective.

 “Education is one of the most important predictors – usually, in fact, the most important predictor – of many forms of social participation – from voting to associational membership, to chairing a local committee to hosting a dinner party to giving blood…Education is an especially powerful predictor of participation in public, formally organized activities.”  (Putnam 2000: 186).

How can citizenship education raise levels of political literacy, and re-engage people with community politics?  In order to answer this first question we must ask a number of others.  Firstly what is political literacy in citizenship education and why is it needed?  What is the best means of delivering it in schools, and what are the potential pitfalls in the citizenship curriculum focusing too much on group politics?  Finally how will increased political literacy help to restore communities as a focus for participation in public life?

Citizenship and Cricks third strand: Why?

The 1998 final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship (AGC) ‘Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools’ (the Crick Report) agreed with Robert Putnam’s argument that education is the most important factor in determining ‘social participation’ (Putnam 2000: 186) and recommended the introduction of Citizenship in to the National Curriculum as a statutory subject.  The subject was defined as containing ‘…three strands: social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy.’  (Crick 1998: 8)

The stated aim of the report; was “…. no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the capabilities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting…’  (Crick 1998: 7)  The report went onto highlight ‘…worrying levels of apathy, ignorance and cynicism about public life…  [arguing that]…unless tackled at every level, it could well diminish the hoped-for benefits both of constitutional reform and of the changing nature of the welfare state.’  (Crick 1998: 8) In this vane the report quoted ‘…the Lord Chancellor: [Lord Irvine of Lairg who stated that] ’we should not, must not, dare not, be complacent about the health and future of British democracy.  Unless we become a nation of engaged citizens, our democracy is not secure.’  (Crick 1998: 8)

This need for an approach to addressing low levels of political literacy, and increasing apathy with the political process in Britain rooted in education has been established against the background of a 20-year decline in voter turnout.  Despite some recovery in turnout between 2005/2010 at 65.1% it remains well below the historic average, with the 2009 European Parliamentary elections recording a turnout of 33.52%. Blame for the public’s withdrawal from participation in the democratic process in Britain is levelled widely at public and media cynicism, a distrust of politicians, the over emphasis on ‘spin’, and a general lack of political literacy.

A number of studies have been conducted into the level of political literacy amongst the general population, the ‘2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey: People, Families and Communities’ with 10,014 respondents, found that when asked what rights they thought they had as UK citizens; 35% of the sample responded with the right to freedom of expression, 13% to fair, equal and respectful treatment, 8% to free elections, and only 6% believed they had the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religious expression. (Attwood, Singh, Prime & Creasy et al 2003: 10)  This survey gave an insight into the public’s perception of its rights and responsibilities, and the role individuals play as citizens in maintaining them.  With only 8% of the population believing they have a right to free elections, Lord Irvine of Lairg’s statement of concern that British democracy may not be secure is given some weight.

Even more recently an ICM survey of 110 pupils aged 14 – 16 on national identity and political awareness found that ‘Only one in four could identify Labour as the party of government….  4 per cent thought the Conservatives were in power, while 2 per cent thought the Liberal Democrats were the government of the day.  Two-thirds admitted they had no idea.  Nearly half said they did not think it was important to know what any of today’s political parties stand for.’  (Garner 2005)  Personal teaching experience backs up these findings.  Having taught A’ level Politics myself for a number of years I can personally testify to the high levels of ignorance of the British electoral and political system amongst even those students sufficiently motivated to seek to complete and A’ level in the subject.

Therefore, the increasing lack of understanding and knowledge of how government works is clear to see, and must be a prime cause in the decline of participation in traditional politics.  The analysis of the root causes of political apathy driven by surveys like those cited above has led to a focus on using education to re-engage the population with the political process to create future generations of more active citizens.  This idea of the engaged, or ‘good citizen; is one of the aims behind the concept of citizenship education.  David Blunkett argues that the role of the state should be one of empowering people to become good citizens through education (Blunkett 2001), while Sir Bernard Crick talked about developing a citizenship culture ‘…where people are concerned with and actively involved in public affairs’ (Cited; Attwood, Singh, Prime & Creasy et al 2003: 9).  Both views focus on education as the key, and upon citizenship education as the means of delivery.

But what is meant when talking about political literacy in the terms of citizenship education?  The Crick Report defines it as more than simple political knowledge, as including an understanding of public life which ‘…encompasses realistic knowledge of and preparation for conflict resolution and decision-making related to the main economic and social problems of the day, including each individuals expectations of and preparations for the world of employment and discussion of the allocation of public resources and the rationale of taxation.  Such preparations are needed whether these problems occur in locally, nationally or internationally concerned organisations or at any level of society from formal political institutions to informal groups, both at a local or national level.’  (Crick 1998: 15)  This definition recognises the importance of political knowledge, but also highlights that political literacy is a wider concept, which encompasses a view of the numerous influences on societal development, such as the economy, and community involvement.  Tony Breslin sees it as ‘…a full range of literacies that, in common parlance at least, go significantly beyond the political: to the social, economic and legal and then beyond.’  (Breslin 2004:13)

Political Literacy through a Cross Curricular Approach:

Political literacy as seen above requires a much broader interpretation within the national curriculum than that which could be offered by a stand-alone citizenship curriculum, it gives political literacy scope across the curriculum, penetrating into other areas like English, and Geography.  It questions how you can convey the importance of voting or the value of parliament without providing an awareness of the historical narrative that underpins these processes, or gain a true understanding of multiculturalism without examining human geography, and patterns of migration.

The current Citizenship curriculum recognises its cross-disciplinary nature in modules like Key Stage 3 ‘Unit 12: Citizenship and History: Why did women and some men have to struggle for the vote in Britain?  What is the point of voting today?’  (QCA 2004: Key Stage 3)  However despite this formal recognition are schools in practice coordinating their Citizenship and History schemes of work so as to provide each other mutual support.  The answer in the majority of cases is almost certainly no.  Unit 12 if it is being taught is probably being delivered at a different time and maybe even stage of a pupils education than ‘Unit 6: Government, Elections and Voting’ (QCA 2004: Key Stage 3).  The result of this practice in this case would be to reduce the understanding and appreciation of pupils for the electoral process, a result that is true across many areas of the Citizenship curriculum.  If citizenship is to deliver politically literate individuals schools must adopt it as a cross-curricular subject that requires the support of all subject areas.

The politically literate citizen is someone with a broader appreciation, and understanding than that simply offered by the current citizenship curriculum alone.  The national curriculum, like many aspects of government must learn to develop a joined up approach, which mutually supports the content of each subject.  History can provide an overview of the 19th century Reform Acts and the extension of the franchise, along with an understanding of the role of prejudice and discrimination in war, and Britain’s imperial past.  This kind of approach is critical if citizenship education is going to have the society changing impact that the Crick Report argues for.  Citizenship may appear on timetables, and its curriculum may very well be ardently adhered to, but to have an effect on the level of political literacy in this country it requires across the board support.  A politically literate person is more than just an individual endowed with a textbook understanding of the workings of the first past the post electoral system; they are critically thinking, informed individuals able to make decisions, and access services without outside interference.

The cross curricular approach to citizenship is already considered best practice, Tony Breslan states that the best provision of citizenship ‘…is likely to be characterised by a combination of: Discrete provision: Citizenship ‘lessons’, identified as such on the timetable and within any broader framework such as the one that PSHE might provide; Cross-Curricular support: Themed and clearly identified work within other subjects of the curriculum which complements that undertaken in the discrete sessions…’ (Breslan 2004: 15)  How widespread practice like this is will determine how successfully political literacy is delivered in schools.

Citizenship and ‘Group politics’:

It is arguable that the British education system has been delivering a certain type of politically literate individual for some time.  Although we may not be voting in huge numbers, or becoming involved in party politics, the rise of single-issue politics has been substantial in the last 20 years.  Arguably a politically illiterate society does not witness 2 million people marching through Whitehall against an unpopular war, or a nation gripped by fuel shortages brought on by protesters demanding tax cuts.  Equally organisations like Greenpeace, Oxfam, and media campaigns like Comic Relief, and Children in Need have year upon year raised more money as people donate their time and effort to fundraising.

However, despite the attractiveness of this view of political literacy, single-issue politics is not real engagement with the political process.  It is group politics.  Politics which does ‘…benefit the political system by strengthening representation, promoting debate and discussion, broadening political participation, and acting as a check on government power…. [but also]…poses a threat in that they entrench political inequality…are socially and politically divisive, exercise non-legitimate and unaccountable power, and make the policy process more closed and secretive.’  (Heywood 1997: 268)  Therefore despite the apparent safety of using a group issue in lessons, you have to consider the structure of the organisation, its funding and membership, and question whether the group is an exemplary example of democracy in action.  The truth is that interest groups are elitist, and promote specific agendas that may be contrary to the principals of democratic governance, and one of the roles of citizenship is to promote democracy.

In the majority of schools citizenship is not being taught by subject specialists, this means that historians, geographers, and religious studies teachers have been given the responsibility of introducing citizenship into the timetable.  This has meant that many of the narrow basic content on how parliament and pressure groups work has become the main source of teaching, coupled with looking at the media, and human rights often through single-issue case studies.  It is here that citizenship education faces a real challenge it must overcome the single issue bias of group politics, and attempt to engage pupils with broader ideas, like why vote, and what are the differences between right, and left wing views of society.  Broader subject content on the economy, global citizenship, and electoral systems has been pushed inadequately into careers talks, or interpreting active citizenship as a fundraising opportunity for non-governmental organisations (NGO’s).  NGO’s are probably to date the largest beneficiaries of citizenship education, as teachers and inspectors avoid more sensitive ‘political’ issues by repeatedly returning to group politics as the focus of pupil’s engagement with politics.

Pupils could be protesting about a proposed bypass, or the construction of housing on their playing fields, but instead their energies are being directed outside their community which is likely to reinforce current political trends towards group political engagement, rather than affect the levels of turnout at future elections, or improve their own environment.  If our children only experience political engagement through saving pandas, or protecting water reserves in Palestine then is it any wonder that they fail to engage with things closer to home.

There is a danger in allowing a society to increasingly seek change through protest, rather than through its established political process, as fewer and fewer people vote the representative nature of democracy can become undermined as whole sections of the community fail to engage, and therefore lose their voice in the political debates of the day.  Citizenship education must therefore through a combination of discrete and cross-curricular support from related subjects bring across to pupils that change and influence over politics can be achieved through action within the political system.  Make pupils aware that MP’s hold surgeries, and encourage letter writing, petitions, and convey that the ballot box is an effective way of bringing change.  This is not to say that NGO’s can’t play a role, they certainly must, but not at the expense of building civic pride and concern for issues that directly affect pupils quality of life.

Political Literacy and building ‘Social Capital’:

Citizenships approach to teaching political literacy must also break free from the confines of the school timetable, and reach out into the community.  Research that reveals ‘…growing levels of apathy and political distrust, concentrated among the young…’  (Richards & Smith 2002: 195) has also highlighted the decline in the membership of voluntary organisations, and political parties.  ‘Although the membership in environmental groups has grown rapidly in recent years, the membership of political parties has been in decline since the war.  The Conservatives had 2,800,000 members in 1952, but this figure had fallen to 400,000 [1995] and is still dropping.’ (Richards & Smith 2002: 195) Membership stood at 177,000 in a 2012 House of Commons Library study (McGuinness & Clements 2012).  This is symptomatic of a wider problem within not only British, but also western society as a whole.  Theorists such as Robert Putnam have classed this disengagement with civic life as a collapse in social capital.

‘Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.  In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations.  A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.’ (Putnam 2000: 19)   This concept offers a clear analysis of the nature of political engagement amongst the young today, ‘virtuous individuals’ engaged in single issue movements, yet totally isolated from the community around them, in other words many little ships each with different concerns passing in the night.

In taking this concept and applying it to Citizenship education the emphasis must be on trying to anchor some of these ships in their own communities.  This should not develop into a campaign against NGO’s, but it must mean that when approaching the active citizenship element of the Key Stage 4 curriculum (Unit 7) the aim should be a project grounded in the schools, and/or pupils community that will enrich relations between young people and their surrounding environment, and between the school and its supporting community.

Disengagement with the political process (meaning more than party politics) cannot continue at the current pace, if turnout continues to decline at elections and communities maintain their isolation then the social fabric of the country will be at jeopardy.  Constructing social capital through citizenship is based on the view that‘…the more people join together in face-to-face meetings either as neighbours or through clubs and societies (which may have nothing to with politics); the more likely they are to work together in an attempt to solve the problems that affect their community.  Contact produces trust that enables people to work together without state compulsion to solve problems.’ (Richards & Smith 2002: 195-196)

Fortunately the opportunities for civic engagement offered by citizenship education are being embraced (QTS: 2.1); the then Home Secretaries publication  ‘Civic Renewal: A New Agenda’ in June 2003 advocated participatory democracy, and supports the idea that civic engagement involves encouraging people to become involved in taking responsibility for improving their communities.  Unit 7 of the Key Stage 4 Citizenship curriculum ‘Taking part – planning a community event’ allows pupils to ‘…take responsibility for planning and implementing a community event…. work[ing] as part of a team, taking on a variety of roles and responsibilities, including aspects of leadership. They learn to respect and value others’ opinions and contributions.  They consider how the event can make a difference in their school and local community and can provide opportunities for individuals and groups to contribute to social change’ (QCA Unit 7: 2004).

I have experienced this unit in practice as part of a GCSE Citizenship Short Course; however, the environmentally grounded project was very much focused within the school, which was far from the spirit the curriculum intended, and what I fear is common.  An example of this unit being implemented in line with its community focused aspirations can be seen at the Hinchingbrooke School which ‘…. entered into an effective partnership with Huntingdonshire District Council who had begun to explore how to engage young people and were keen to form partnerships with schools.  A group of 10 students volunteered to consult other young people in order to inform the development of the Community Action Plan, setting up the interviews in the form of a Big Brother diary room and interviewing 40 pupils.  They collated the findings, identifying key recommendations, and a PowerPoint presentation was given to the Leader of the District Council.  He and the Deputy Head of the school were also asked by the young people to respond to questions that had arisen from the project.  The project group of young people concluded that “young people do have opinions about community issues, that they need to be encouraged to express them, and that they raised some very sensible solutions.” (Stenton 2004: 61)

Community involvement like that highlighted above, working along with a whole school approach to citizenship teaching shows the potential for creating politically literate individuals.  Only through the recognition of political literacy as more than party politics, pressure groups or institutions along with its incorporation into the teaching and learning of pupils throughout primary, and secondary education can the goal of creating a ‘…nation of engaged citizens…’  (Crick 1998: 8) be achieved.

Conclusion:

The role of citizenship in raising the standards of political literacy is central to its whole purpose in the national curriculum, through providing interesting and expansive content supported across the curriculum to give students an encompassing appreciation that politics is more than David Cameron, and Parliament, but something that is part of their daily lives.  In re-engaging young people with politics, developing community links and encouraging young people to stand up for issues of concern in their own communities as well as global, and national questions citizenship can achieve the goal of changing British society and strengthening the roots of our democracy.

The agenda for citizenship set out here is ambitious, and if it is to succeed it will require commitment, money, and effort on the part of government, Ofstead, teachers, parents, and pupils.  However, it is my belief that unless political literacy is taught in the round, meaning a broad general understanding of institutions, rights and responsibilities coupled with an appreciation of the historical, and social context of these institutions that encourages engagement with the local community; citizenship, at least in the aims set out in the Crick Reports third strand of political literacy will fail to achieve all it could have.

The process of writing this essay has caused me to consider a number of issues I had previously not thought needed much consideration.  The cross curricular requirement for the effective provision of political literacy in schools had not occurred to me when I set out to write, and the expansive nature of the subject was only partially appreciated.  Consequently in seeking to remain relatively brief and focused I have ignored issues such as the role of social class on civic engagement and political literacy, and the wider issues of potential government interference in the curriculum content if we are to pursue such a radical agenda in teaching.  Despite this I hope that the ideas, and opinions expressed here have shed some light on the potential for citizenship education, and the role for it in widening political participation and increasing pupils understanding of how society works.

This is a tall order, and maybe beyond the capabilities of an overstretched timetable, and overworked teaching profession, but if only two thirds of its potential is realised then the introduction of Citizenship into the National Curriculum could well be the most significant development in British education since the introduction of the National Curriculum itself.  Ultimately the goal of increasing political literacy is one aimed at building a sense of belonging between citizens, communities, and government.  It is a positive agenda for change that could result in the radical reinterpretation of the role of schools in society as pivotal centres of community support and investment in social capital.

Bibliography:

Attwood, Chris. Singh, Gurchand. Prime, Duncan. & Creasy, Rebecca et al. (2003) ‘2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey: People, Families, and Communities’ Home Office Research Study 270, Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, London pp.9 -10

Breslin, Tony (2004) Think Different!  Citizenship Education and the School of the Future, Eds. Linsley, Benjamin, & Rayment, Elisabeth ‘Beyond the Classroom; Exploring Active Citizenship in 11-16 Education’ New Politics Network, London, pp.13

Blunkett, David (2001) ‘Politics & Progress – Renewing Democracy in a Civil Society’ Methuen Publishing, London

Crick, Bernard (1998) ‘Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools: Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship’ Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, London pp.7-8, pp.13

Heywood, Andrew (1997) ‘Politics’ Palgrave, London, pp.268

Putnam. Robert D. (2000) ‘Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community’ Simon and Schuster, New York, pp.19. pp.186

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2004) ‘Citizenship National Curriculum Scheme of Work Key Stage 3’

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2004) ‘Citizenship National Curriculum Scheme of Work Key Stage 4, Unit 7: Taking part –

Richards, David & Smith, Martin J. (2002) ‘Governance and Public Policy in the UK’ Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.195-196

Stenton, Sally (2004) ‘Community Action and Young Person Led Participation’, Eds. Linsley, Benjamin, & Rayment, Elisabeth ‘Beyond the Classroom; Exploring Active Citizenship in 11-16 Education’ New Politics Network, London, pp.61

Garner, Richard (2005) Politics? Teenagers don’t know and don’t care’, The Independent, 16th January 2005

UK Political Information, ‘General Election Turnout 1945 – 2012’ http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm (accessed 08/06/2013)

McGuinness, Fergal & Clements, Rob (2012) ‘Membership of UK political parties – Commons Library Standard Note’ http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN05125 (accessed 08/06/2013)

Democracy in México?

By Ian Howarth

Last year I was in Mexico during the presidential elections and witnessed at first hand the campaigning and build up to the vote on 1st July 2012.  I even sat through a televised debate between the candidates despite my terrible Spanish.  What all this seemed to show was a vibrant and dynamic democratic system with candidates from all parts of the political spectrum competing for the highest office in the land.  Superficially this was true.  However, Mexican democracy is continues to be  handicapped by a historic hangover and what a significant majority of Mexicans consider to be one of the greatest victories of the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century, the principle of no re-election.  So ingrained in the national conscience is this that its actually printed on official documents;

“Effective suffrage, no reelection.”

mexican democacy

This principle can find its roots in the autocratic reign of Porfirio Díaz, who ruled for over 30 years by first amending the 1857 constitution to allow a two term presidency before finally removing all terms limits on the presidency.  He then set about ensuring that he won every election he ever stood in through bribery, corruption and the intimidation of opposition candidates.  The collapse of his regime in 1911 was triggered when Diaz was proclaimed as the unanimous winner of the 1910 presidential election following the arrest of his main rival.  The nation would not buy it and rose up against him.  His failed attempt to hold onto a fifth term in office  marked the beginning of the Mexican Revolution that would eventually produce a political settlement that not only prohibited the President seeking a second term, but all elected officials from the Senate right down the local Delegation President (Local Government Chief).

This system did in fact work wonderfully well for the 75 years that Mexico was effectively ruled as a one party state by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).  The position of no re-election meant that party officials could sit down and arrange the succession at all levels of politics in Mexico for years ahead.  However, PRI was finally chased from power in the Presidential elections of 2000 and since then Mexico has been attempting to function as a multiparty democracy.

However, with the country in an era of multi-party politics the position of no re-election only acts to paralyse any chance of developing a proper party system containing experienced and well known voices.  Every six years the country losses its President and the entire Senate along with half the Deputies in Congress.  Any experience that they have managed to gain in that time leaves with them, and the nation is taken over by a bunch of fresh faced politicians who spend their first 6 months in office simply finding out where the toilets are and arranging their parking permits.  As an outsider with experience of other political systems it seems to me an absolutely crazy situation to have both your legislative and executive system lacking in experienced and dedicated politicians with an established presence in their communities and in the nation at large.

Furthermore, the fact that no one can ever seek re-election means that they can promise the electorate the earth for polling day and never have to fear the wrath of that same electorate for failing to deliver.  This position of no re-election has effectively cobbled Mexico with a juvenile political system that is unresponsive and unaccountable to the people.  It should be no surprise then that the overwhelming majority of politicians elected to serve their single terms in office are neither accessible to their constituents nor even known to them.  While it is common in Britain and the United States to know the name of your Member of Parliament or Senator in Mexico most politicians are anonymous figures elected on their party ticket through the tribal associations of their electorate.

The glaring economic and social disparities between the top and the rest of Mexican society continue to grow and deepen at the same time as the pantomime of democracy in Mexico continues to fail to produce effective reforms, or notable leaders for change.  Democracy has basically been reduced to a trip to the ballot box every six years (3 years for Congress) to vote for the latest body sent to fill the position for your political party.  You will know little if anything about this man or woman and really it’s not worth finding out because they will be gone again soon enough.  This has only led to a growing sense of dissatisfaction with politics and politicians in Mexico.  The most common reaction to politics I experience from Mexicans is one of disinterest.  It is noble that most Mexicans look to themselves for the change they want to see in their lives rather than others.  However, on a national scale this total lack of faith in the political process to deliver change can only represent a negative long term threat to any form of democratic process in the country.

It is true to say that a large portion of the social and political reforms that brought about the most significant changes in British and American social and economic conditions were championed and led by determined and dogged legislators who would campaign year after year and seek the support of their constituents in their ambitions at each coming election. People like William Wilberforce and Edwin Chadwick campaigned for decades to abolish slavery and reform the relief of the poor in Britain.  It was only by their constant presence on the benches of their legislatures that they were able to eventually win the support of their colleagues and make change happen.   In Mexico this is not possible; there are no great backbench legislators.  All initiatives are driven from the top and as such are often far removed from the daily needs and desires of the normal man or woman.

Representative Democracy is only one part of the jigsaw that makes up a properly functioning liberal democratic state.  A major additional component of this jigsaw is accountability, and in politics that means facing the voters at the end of your term and being held to answer for the promises you made and failed to deliver on and forced to defend the record that you have established over the course of your term in office.  While a one term president may be acceptable, to have the same block in the legislature can only hinder and handicap the development of political life in Mexico.  I think that it is time that the campaigners and reformers of this nation took up a new cause, its time to say yes to re-election.