Monthly Archives: January 2012

Parliament: The Two-House System

Yesterday, I went on a tour of Parliament (which is free, by the way – all you need to do is contact your local MP and request a tour). I would highly recommend it. It was a great chance to get an inside perspective of one of the most historic and important buildings in Britain. The tour urged me to boil down the basics of the institution of the UK parliament. 

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First thing you need to know is that business of Parliament takes place in two Houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Their work is essentially similar: making laws (legislation), checking the work of the government (scrutiny), and debating current issues. 

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The House of Commons is also responsible for granting money to the government, which is done through approving Bills that raise taxes. Generally speaking, the decisions made in one House have to be approved by the other. This is so the two-chamber system acts as a check and balance for both Houses. 

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The Commons: The Basics 

  • Publicly elected.
  • Party with largest number of members in the Commons forms the government.
  • Members of the Commons (MPs) debate the big political issues of the day and proposals for new laws. 
  • One of the key places where government ministers, like the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and the principal figures of the main political parties, work.
  • The Commons alone is responsible for making decisions on financial Bills, such as proposed new taxes. 
  • The Lords can consider these Bills but cannot block or amend them.
 

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The Lords: The Basics 

  • The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament.
  • It complements the work of the House of Commons.
  • It makes laws, holds government to account and investigates policy issues.
  • Its membership is mostly appointed and includes experts in many fields.

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To find out more, visit: http://www.parliament.uk/ – Here you can find out the key issues being discussed, understand key issues and also read a bit about the history of Parliament. Anyone is welcome to sit in on debates as there is a public gallery. Be advised to get there early on Prime Minister question day (Wednesday) if you want to get a seat! 

The Who’s Who in Cameron’s Government.

Prime Minister: David Cameron

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The Prime Minister is an MP and head of the government. The leader of the party elected to govern the country in a general election automatically becomes Prime Minister (unless a coalition government is formed). The current Prime Minister is David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party. 

The Prime Minister answers questions every Wednesday in the House of Commons from midday to 12.30pm. Questions can come from any MP and on any subject.

 

Deputy Prime Minister: Nick Clegg

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The office of the Deputy Prime Minister is not a permanent position, existing only at the discretion of the Prime Minister, who may appoint to other offices – such as First Secretary of State – to give seniority to a particular Cabinet Minister. The current Deputy Prime Minister is Nick Clegg, who was also appointed Lord President of the Council along with special responsibility for constitutional and political reform.

 

Foreign Secretary: William Hague 

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, also known as the Foreign Secretary, is a member of the Cabinet and is in charge of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The FCO is the Government department responsible for conducting British foreign policy, handling diplomatic relations with all independent foreign and Commonwealth countries and administering the UK’s Dependent Territories.

 

Chancellor: George Osborne

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The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the Treasury in other nations. The position is considered one of the four Great Offices of State and in recent times has come to be the most powerful office in British politics after the Prime Minister. It is the only office of the four Great Offices not to have been occupied by a woman.

 

Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality: Theresa May

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She has overall responsibility for all Home Office business including security and terrorism, the legislative programme and expenditure issues.

 

Defence Secretary: Philip Hammond 

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The Defence Secretary, is the senior Government of the United Kingdom minister in charge of the Ministry of Defence chairing the Defence Council. It is a Cabinet position. The position was created in 1964 as successor to the posts of Minister for Coordination of Defence (1936–1940) and Minister of Defence (1940–1964). The position established in 1936 to oversee and co-ordinate the rearmament of Britain’s defences.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State and Justice: Ken Clarke 

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The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Cabinet and, by law, is responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts. The current Lord Chancellor is Ken Clarke, who, as with his predecessor Jack Straw, is also Secretary of State and Justice. Clarke holds the position, as did Straw, while serving as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.

One of the Lord Chancellor’s responsibilities is to act as the custodian of the Great Seal. A Lord Keeper of the Seal may be appointed instead of a Lord Chancellor. The two offices entail exactly the same duties; the only distinction is in the mode of appointment. Furthermore, the office of Lord Chancellor may be exercised by a committee of individuals known as “Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal”, usually when there is a delay between an outgoing Chancellor and his replacement. The seal is then said to be “in commission”. Since the 19th century, however, only Lord Chancellors have been appointed, the other offices having fallen into disuse.

 

Health Secretary: Andrew Lansley 

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Secretary of State for Health is a UK Cabinet Position responsible for the Department of Health. Since devolution in 1999, the position holder’s responsibility for the health service is mainly restricted to England.

 

Education Secretary: Michael Gove

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The Secretary of State for Education (frequently shortened to the Education Secretary) is the chief minister of the Department of Education in the UK government. The position was re-established on 12 May 2010. The Department for Education is responsible for education and children’s services.

 

Business Secretary: Vince Cable

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The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (formerly the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and previously Secretary of State for Trade and Industry) is a cabinet position in the United Kingdom government. Its secondary title is the President of the Board of Trade. The Secretary of State is responsible for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (formerly the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and previously the Department of Trade and Industry).

Government: The Basic Structure

Here’s what you need to know…

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Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is an MP and head of the government. The leader of the party elected to govern the country in a general election automatically becomes Prime Minister (unless a coalition government is formed). The current Prime Minister is David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party.

The Prime Minister chooses the other members of the government.

The Prime Minister used to be able to set the date for the next General Election. Since the passing of the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 this is no longer the case.

The Prime Minister answers questions every Wednesday in the House of Commons from midday to 12.30pm. Questions can come from any MP and on any subject.

Leader of the Opposition

There is a Leader of the Opposition in both the House of Commons and House of Lords. The leader of the largest opposition party holds this position, which for the Commons and Lords is currently the Labour Party.

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party, is the current Leader of the Opposition in the Commons. This role commands an additional salary to the parliamentary salary received as an MP. The Leader of the Opposition in the Commons picks a ‘Shadow Cabinet’ to follow the work of government departments.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon is the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords.

Cabinet

The Cabinet consists of a maximum of twenty-two government ministers chosen by the Prime Minister. They can be Members of either House of Parliament. The Cabinet develop government policies and some members head government departments.

Shadow Cabinet 

The Shadow Cabinet consists of MPs from the main opposition party in the House of Commons, currently the Labour party. Its role is to examine the work of each government department and policies developing in their specific areas.

 

England and Scotland

Now that we have compared politics at a local level to politics at a national level, it is time to take a look at a current issue of national importance.

The United Kingdom is one country, made up of 4 different regions. The regions are: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. As it is one country, this means that the decisions made by the parliament in Westminster in London, will affect all four of these regions.

However, though technically the UK government is in control of the four regions, in Scotland, there is a separate governing body called the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is responsible for all the matters which are not explicitly reserved to the United Kingdom parliament at Westminster. This means that the Scottish Government has the right to legislate on issues such as NHS Scotland, education, policing and the judicial system. However, this legislation affects only Scottish people.

Leading the Scottish Government is someone called the First Minister. The First Minister is nominated by members of the Scottish Government, and is then appointed by the Queen. The First Minister has a small team of ministers to help govern.

Members of the Scottish Government have  great influence over the laws passed in Scotland.

Since 2007, the Scottish Government has been formed by the Scottish National Party. The current First Minister is Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party have the political ambition of gaining Scottish Independence. If this happened, then Scotland would no longer be part of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government would then have full independence from the UK government, and would be able to pass its own laws.

Alex Salmond has announced that the Scottish Government will hold a referendum in 2014, over the issue of independence. A referendum is  when people vote in favour or against a proposal.

British politicians, notably David Cameron and Ed Miliband, have expressed that if Scotland were to break away from England, then this would weaken the United Kingdom.

However, David Cameron also said that it was within the rights of the Scottish Government to hold this referendum.

So does it really matter if Scotland stays part of the UK? What do you think?

Local and National Politics

Although when asked to name as many politicians as you can, you might only be able to name a handful (David Cameron…check, Nick Clegg….check, Ed Miliband…check), there are actually thousands of politicians in the United Kingdom which, as logic dictates, equates to many more around the world.

Have no fear, the fact most of us can only name a sprinkling of politicians, is because most work outside of the gaze of television cameras and newspapers. Your local MP might be well-known locally (you might have even met them!), but on a national level, it is rare for them to draw any kind of attention that merits nationwide coverage.

Politicians, generally, can be divided into local and national ones.

  • Local politicians are involved directly in their local area, whether it be a particular village, town or city.
  • National politicians, on the other hand, decide how laws govern the entire population.
  • Politicians elected to the House of Commons and the European Parliament can be classified as national ones for the reason that they decide on laws which apply to the whole country, as opposed to a particular locality.

It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? Additionally, there are three key differences between local and national politicians, which are as follows:

  1. National politicians receive a salary from their state. On the other hand, local politicians are generally volunteers who have jobs alongside their work in the local area.
  2. The actions of national politicians are generally followed and displayed through many forms of media, in order to ensure a national platform of coverage. By contrast, local politicians do not receive national coverage, but rather, local coverage (think local newspapers, local radio or regional television news).
  3. The UK, generally speaking, is a centralised state, meaning the national politicians wield significant amounts of power. This includes the main tax-raising powers. Local politicians, however, mostly act upon orders of the national government and have significantly smaller tax-raising powers.

Fancy it? Well this is how you become a politician…

  • An election for membership of the House of Commons is called a general election. 
  • A European parliamentary election is called an election to the European parliament.
  • A local council election is called – as you might have guessed – a local election.
Generally speaking, voter turnout (which is basically the percentage of eligible voters actually going to the polls to vote) is much higher for general elections than for local or European elections. 
General elections, as you have probably seen, tend to have greater media coverage and voters are more interested in who wins.

The Basics

The UK is a democracy. That means that the government in power is the party which has been elected by the people who live in this country.

In order for a party to gain power, it much have won the majority of votes.

Every government is headed by one man or woman, who is called the Prime Minister.

Currently, the Prime Minister is David Cameron, who is head of the Conservative Party.

However, David Cameron and the Conservatives did not win an overall majority, meaning that they could not take power on their own. So they formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

This means that the Conservatives share power with the Liberal Democrats. Even though David Cameron is the Prime Minister, his party has to cooperate with the Liberal Democrats, who are lead by Nick Clegg, in order for decisions in parliament to be made.

Labour, who in this period of conservative government are known as the “Opposition” are lead by Ed Miliband.

The Background

British politics has undergone a long-enduring process of change.

Right up until the British Civil War broke out in 1642, the country was governed by the king or queen and a small cabinet of ministers whom they chose to help them rule. Some of these kings and queens were tyrants, and would chop the heads off of anyone who went against them!

The monarch would call parliaments to implement their laws. In those days, parliament was a body of MPs, and each MP would represent a different county in England. However the MPs had no say in what the monarch’s laws could be and the monarch could call and dismiss parliament at their whim. Parliament had no fixed or permanent role in British political life.

But then, during the reign of Charles I, men and women started getting a bit fed up of always being threatened with death or prison or the confiscation of their goods. A group of men called the parliamentarians decided to challenge the king. They demanded that parliament had a permanent role in British politics, where it could challenge the authority of the king, and where it would only introduce laws if the MPs approved of them.

A major war followed, and Britain was divided between two factions: the Cavaliers, and the Parliamentarians.

After many years passed, and many soldiers and civilians died, the Parliamentarians finally won the Civil War, and they executed Charles I.

From that day, parliament became the centre of British political life.

Over the next 400 years, different parties started developing within parliament.

  1. The first of these was the Whig Party. They wanted to see the progress of liberal ideas, such as the abolition of slavery and the expansion of the franchise.
  2. The second party that emerged was the Tory Party. The tories wanted to conserve the older values of the country, and tended to be supported by rich Catholic families and members of the aristocracy.

Nowadays, there are three main political parties who sit in parliament. These are:

1) The Conservative Party.

2) The Liberal Democrats.

3) The Labour Party.

  • The Conservatives have developed from the Tory Party.
  • The Liberal Democrats have developed from the Whig Party.
  • The Labour Party emerged at the beginning of the 20th Century, and shares many of the same principles as the Liberal Democrats, but it also has some policies which are seen as radical and anti-conservative.

Welcome

  • Do you want to know more about politics, but find the news hard to follow?
  • Do you feel lost and confused when adults give you contrasting views on political issues?
  • Do you want to know what is really going on?!
              
If so, we’re here to help!

Politicians make decisions everyday that affect the futures of children. Yet because children have no input in these decisions, it is easy for them to feel alienated from the political process, and thus easy to lose interest in politics altogether. We live in fascinating times, and a knowledgev and a passion for current political affairs seems more vital now than ever. Our aim is to simplify political issues in a clear and impartial manner to encourage children to gain a balanced account of what is really going on.

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” 

 Plato, Greek Philosopher.