Thursday, 1 December 2011

What do YOU think?

Referendums are seen as a device of getting to know the public opinion on a single issue. Right, but who is the PUBLIC? Whose opinions are the governments looking for? Who actually decides how to vote (i.e. what is the best for everybody?).  The view that referendums give an accurate opinion is, unfortunately, far from truth. Let’s see why…

Official figures published yesterday by the Electoral Commission show that the supporters of the electoral change (referendum on AV) spent 1.25m pounds less than the people for a NO vote. This disproportion is not big enough to have a deciding impact on the results (67.9% voted against) but the percentage could be totally different and could possibly allow further debate on this issue.

Let’s get a bit deeper in the finances of both campaigns. The ‘NO’ campaign could afford to fund TWO NATIONAL MAILSHOTS(!), while people ‘for’ could have sent letters to selected addresses only. As written in the Independent today: “The No team could also afford national poster campaigns, including controversial images claiming that the money used to move to AV would be better used to save babies' or soldiers' lives.”

The evidence above show, that there are people who have power and others, who are even more powerful. Would the outcome be different with the same funds for both sides of the argument. Possibly, but there are, of course, many other factors affecting the final results.  Let’s keep that in mind and don’t allow others to think FOR us J.

That’s what I think,


Monday, 24 October 2011

A new European country?

What country popped into your head when you have read the title of this post? Did you immediately imagine a small, southern (poor) region with people who want to fight for their independence because of many, non-understandable reasons (AGAIN?!...)? Guess what. It can happen a closer than you think. Very close in fact. Maybe you’ve heard this name before: Scotland. Does it ring a bell?

Alex Salmond, announced at the SNP conference, that the Scottish would vote in favour of independence in a referendum (even though the opinion polls show that majority of people is against – with a movement to ‘for’ though). He suggested that Scotland would keep pound sterling as a currency ("until it was in Scotland's economic advantage to join the euro – and that would be a decision of the Scottish people") but would have its own army, navy and air force. 

"In my heart, in my head, I think Scotland will become an independent country within the European community, with a friendly, co-operative relationship with our partners in these islands," Salmond told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1.

The shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, said that “The Nationalists had to answer some "big questions" about independence regarding issues including "currency, membership of the EU, and social security, pensions and so much else aside".

That’s what I think,


Sunday, 16 October 2011

"There is no such thing as society" Margaret Thatcher

“You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society.”
David Cameron

A society is ‘the community of people living in a particular country or region and having shared customs, laws, and organizations’. In every democracy people are given the right to make decisions influencing policies. Winston Churchill once said: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried” and it is argued that, even though, democracy means ‘rule by the people’, the public lacks the power to have an direct impact on the policy-makers.

The central theme in the 2010 Conservative manifesto was the so-called ‘Big Society’. After the 2010 General Elections it has become the ideological flagship of the new coalition government. The prime minister and his Lib Dem deputy said people should have more say over planning decisions and voluntary groups be able to run public services. David Cameron said that in the past, the talents and initiative of people had been wasted, claiming that over-centralised government had turned public sector workers into the "weary, disillusioned puppets of government targets".  Therefore, the government wants make society stronger by getting more people working together to run their own affairs locally. The idea of the ‘big society’ suggests that people at local level should take more responsibility and do more to help themselves and their communities, rather than relying on action taken by state institutions and public services. “This includes giving communities power to stop post office or pub closures, training community organisers, encouraging volunteering, creating a Big Society Bank to fund social enterprises, giving people greater access to government data and reviewing of local government finance.” The government has committed to setting up a Big Society Bank to give social enterprises, charities and voluntary organisations access to greater resources. It would be set up using money from dormant bank accounts  and would encourage investment in social change.

It all sounds very impressive but unfortunately it did not work as well as the Prime Minister has dreamt it would. Nobody (most possibly including David Cameron) really knows what the ‘Big Society’ is really about. The public was confused by or uninterested in the new proposals. 

David Cameron was accused of using this populist slogan to encourage many people to work for free and, therefore, cut government spending. Even though, David Cameron rejected suggestions that the plans were a “cover" for substantial cuts in public services due next year, many people said, that it was his synonym of ‘savings’.       

During the last Conservative conference in October 2011, David Cameron did not mention the ‘Big Society’ directly. Does it mean it is the end of his dream? I guess not. Maybe he will find another ‘catchy’ term… ‘Help the economy – work for free!’ perhaps?

While doing my research about the ‘Big Society’ I found an interesting conclusion…

That’s what I think,


Friday, 14 October 2011

a close (un)official advisor

As the time goes by we get more and more information about the Defense Secretary, Liam Fox, and his suspicious relationship with his unofficial advisor, Adam Werritty. but do we actually know more? Hopefully, the official inquiry being conducted by the cabinet secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell will help us to understand this situation… One thing is obvious, Dr Fox has breached the ministerial code of conduct, which states that it is up to individual ministers to "avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict" and that they must "scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest". Fox's statement on Monday said : "My frequent contacts with him, may have given an impression of wrongdoing, and may also have given third parties the misleading impression that Mr Werritty was an official adviser rather than simply a friend."

Should the Prime Minister act quickly and fire Liam Fox? As the shadow minister of defence, Mr Jones, said: "[David Cameron's] either got to support Dr Fox, and admit he supports this very shady set-up, or he's got to go." On the other hand, the Prime Minister told the Commons on the Wednesay’s question time: "I ask people to have a little patience and wait for the facts to be established." I agree with that, even though, in my opinion, the Defense Minister made mistakes and should meet the consequences of his actions. The important decisions of David Cameron, such as firing the defense minister, have to be made after getting to know all the details of these cases. We have to wait for facts, not speculations of the media. 

That’s what I think,


Tuesday, 11 October 2011


The Prime Minister, David Cameron, during his last speech, announced the Conservatives’ ideas to reduce immigration and limit the number of British citizenships given to foreign nationals by toughening up the requirements. He has set his government the target of reducing net migration to Britain from "hundreds of thousands" to "tens of thousands" by the next general election. David Cameron appealed also to the public to "shop" illegal immigrants and announced a drive against bogus marriages as he promised to "reclaim our borders". 

Under moves set out by David Cameron, individuals applying to come to Britain for family reasons will have to demonstrate that they can speak English, have the means to support themselves as well as genuine family links in Britain. He said that new ‘candidates’ would have to learn British history to prove their connection with Great Britain. "There's a whole chapter in the citizenship handbook on British history. But, incredibly, there are no questions on British history in the test," he said.

According to the Conservative policy:

“The Government believes that immigration has enriched our culture and strengthened our economy. But the unlimited migration we saw under Labour placed unacceptable pressure on public services. We are taking action to tackle immigration, and it is our aim to reduce the level of net migration to sustainable levels down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands within the lifetime of this parliament.”

One interesting comment on the article:

“Maybe "they" should be required to pay off "our" credit card and store card debts too.. Dave could kill off two birds with one pole.” (scamalarm)

That’s what I think,


Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Party Leader and the Campaign

Explain the term ‘partisan alignment’ used in the extract.

The term ‘partisan alignment’, used in the extract, means the attachment to and identification with the political party. People, who are aligned with a party, support it and vote for it in the elections. Recently, the process of dealignment can be seen among the public. People have become less connected with their parties and they have often become ‘floating’ voters, which means that they tend to change their opinion from election to election. For example, in 1964, 43% of the British citizens were ‘very strong’ supporters of one of the main parties and this number has decreased to only 13% in 2005.

Using your own knowledge as well as the extract, explain how party leaders have become more central to the election campaign.
The election campaign is a period of time when political parties present their policies in order to gain voters before the elections. Leaders of the parties, who are the main representatives of a party and the possible prime ministers, have become more important in their parties campaigns. Firstly, due to a process of personalization of politics, people started to identify themselves with political parties’ leaders and that caused the increase of leaders’ importance in the election times. People want to hear about party’s ideas and policies from the leaders, who became the public faces of their parties and their role is to communicate public policy to the voters. A leaders’ television debates between Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron in 2010 had a significant impact on the results of general election. People wanted to see a confrontation between the most important people in each party, because it provides a possibility for the public to compare and contrast different views of politicians and see the difference in proposed policies. On the other hand, as mentioned in the extract, public dissatisfaction with a leader could affect the results as well, e.g. in the 2005 General Election, Tony Blair’s unpopularity resulted in up to 12 percentage points decrease in Labour Party results. Additionally, due to the process of ‘Americanisation’ of election campaigns, e.g. televised debates, it is the party leader who gets attention of media. People got more interested in leaders’ personal life, as he or she could become their future representative.

Consider the extent to which short-term factors are now far more important than long-term factors in shaping voting behaviour.

Voting behaviour is the way in people choose their representatives in a democratic system. Factors influencing these decisions can be divided into two categories: long and short term. The first group could be described as stable and habitual patterns of voting. On the other hand, short-term factors are causes of more volatile changes in the public’s voting behaviour and they have recently become more important in shaping election’s results.

The main long-term factors are age, gender, ethnicity and religion. Traditionally, they influenced the whole society. People voted according to their believes and ideologies. In recent years the main political parties in the UK have become more centre-ground and that caused these factors to lose their importance. Differences between Labour’s and Coservatives’ policies are smaller and that affected the voters to follow the short-term factors. For example, both parties wanted to gain as many voters from the youth as possible, proposing them similar reforms and ideas on education before the 2010 elections.

Parties’ policies are very important short-term factors of shaping election’s results. In an ‘age of dealignment’ people tend to vote for a policy, which is best for them, regardless of the political party ideology as a whole. Recently, issue-voting and rational choice model gained much influence because people want to choose the best possible policy, which would benefit them directly. For example, people voted for Conservatives in 2010 General Elections, because they did not want higher taxes. Having ‘wrong’ policies, on the other hand, can have just the opposite result. In 1983 the Labour Party presented their manifesto, calles the ‘longest suicide note in history’, proposing extend nationalization, increase in taxation and boosting public spending, which lead to the party’s defeat.

Another short-term factor is the performance of the current government and the economic situation of the country. If people are generally happy with the govermnent’s work and their governing competence they are most likely to vote for the same party, e.g. Margaret Thatcher re-elections. However, if the government did not achieve its goals and did not fulfill its promises it is likely to lose next elections. For example, after the economic crises of 2008/2009 the Labour Party has lost its reputation and credibility and was defeated by the Conservatives. The popular voting behaviour in these kind of situations is tactical voting, which implies voting for the chosen party in order to keep person’s least preferred out of power.

Moreover, the party image has become very important in shaping voting behaviour of the society. That is often influenced by campaigning and powerful parties’ leaders who want to represent their policies and encourage the public to vote for their parties. Nowadays, political parties want to become more connected with the society and create a positive and popular image. Voters want they party to be reliable and accountable. Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ or the David Cameron ‘Big Society’ were both planned to improve the party image.

From the evidence above, it can be seen that nowadays short-term factors are far more important than long-term ones in shaping voting behaviour. They influence everyday politics and people decisions. Parties’ policies, current performances and general image became more significant for the public to base their choices on.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

‘Pressure group activity in the UK presents a major threat to democracy.’ Evaluate the arguments in favour of this view.

A pressure group is an organised group of people with similar views on a certain issue, who want to gain influence and put pressure on policy-makers. In recent years, due to more access points, development of mass media and globalization, the number of members of pressure groups in the UK has risen and the importance of these organisation has significantly increased. The RSPB, with over 1 million members is bigger than three main UK parties together. Unfortunately, the pressure group activity can threaten the democracy in Great Britain.

The main role of every pressure group is representing views of a part of the society. Their activity is often self-interested, focused only on a single issue. They want to gain influence in their area of interest only without taking other views into consideration. Pressure groups, such as FOREST, represent minorities and their actions could lead to a ‘tyranny of minority’.

Moreover, the structure of many pressure groups is undemocratic itself. Unelected leaders can be very influential but regular members have a little impact on pressure group’s actions. This passive membership makes pressure groups less representative and, consequently, less democratic. Additionally, pressure groups are unaccountable for the public and they exercise power without any responsibility. They also tend to empower those who are already powerful and have access to financial and organizational resources, e.g. Trade Unions Congress.

Pressure groups’ actions can be either direct or indirect. Meeting politicians, writing letters to MPs or peers, funding political parties and lobbing are examples of indirect actions, which can be described as influencing policy-makers in order to get their support and achieve pressure group’s goals. These negotiations and deals are often being made ‘behind the scenes’, especially by insider groups, such as National Farmers’ Union.

Direct actions taken by the pressure groups are often single-issue and short-term. This could cause problems for the government in implementing their ‘bigger picture’ policies. Moreover, direct actions, such as strikes and protests can affect many other citizens, who would not, normally, take part in them. For example, the Tube workers’ strike or road protest of lorries’ drivers had an impact on many ‘not involved’ people and, therefore, caused harm to regular citizens, which undermines the system of representative democracy.

Additionally, during direct actions, illegal methods are being used and the law is being broken . This undemocratic activities, such as the use of violence or property destruction are said to be more influential than non-violent actions because they often cause immediate reactions of politicians.

In my opinion, the pressure group activity in the UK threatens the British democracy. The role, structure and methods of acting of different kinds of pressure groups are dangerous for equality of people and human rights. Public interest should be represented in a more democratic way to ensure fairness and accountability of pressure groups’ actions.