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Exam technique: the decline in political participation

Posted by Matt Walker on October 5, 2011

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Recently I set my students a full exam question for Edexcel Unit 1, encompassing the short, medium and long answers, looking at democracy and participation. The 10-mark part (b) question was, “In what ways has political participation in the UK declined in recent years?”

The first thing to note is that this question is asking you how participation has declined, not why it has declined. Failure to appreciate this distinction will cost you valuable marks.  Neil McNaughton’s AS level textbook points out that participation has declined in 3 main ways:

1)  Voter turnout

2) Party membership

                                               3) Partisan dealignment

For this type of question, 7 marks are awarded for Knowledge and Understanding (AO1), and 3 marks are allocated for your level of explanation (AO2). Good exam technique to access all these marks is:

              1)  Write 3 paragraphs

              2)  Focus on a major point in each paragraph, e.g. voter turnout

              3)  Include 2-3 facts in each paragraph – e.g. levels of turnout across a number of elections

              4)  Explain your facts by linking to the question – e.g. why voter turnout is an important indicator of levels of participation.

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Is the UK a liberal democracy?

Posted by Matt Walker on September 26, 2011

In many respects it seems obvious to conclude ‘yes’ to this question, that the UK is a liberal democracy.  The UK enjoys free and fair elections, experiences smooth transitions of power from one government to the next, and is generally a tolerant society whose politics has been opened up by the Freedom of Information Act.

However, there are some major criticisms which we can level, and these stem from the fact that the UK constitution does not successfully limit governmental power,  nor does it entrench our human rights. On the latter point, any British government could in theory alter our key human rights by simply passing a Bill through Parliament. In most liberal democracies, it would require a lengthy challenge to a constitution, making it harder to make any such changes to citizens’ rights.

With regards to the UK’s failure to limit government power, a good example (see video link below) is the decision by the Labour Government to go to war with Iraq in 2003. As evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry indicates, Tony Blair made this decision himself, largely side-lining Cabinet and Parliament in the process. This particular issue demonstrates that in the right circumstances, the UK Prime Minister is very powerful.

Any assessment of the success or otherwise of liberal democracy in Britain cannot ignore this point, and in any essay you write making such an assessment will require you to tackle this issue.

Click here for video link.

Posted in AS, Constitution, Democracy and participation, Home, Prime ministerial power | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »