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Politics in the UK (PO206)

Although set against a deeply traditional backdrop, rich in historical pomp and pageantry, the United Kingdom remains a dynamic and vibrant arena of politics. Never short of controversy, modern politics in the UK is a contradictory mix of consensus and division contested within a deeply dis-united kingdom. Throughout the module, we will address questions of power – who has it, how did they get it, and what are they doing with it? Additionally, the module has key themes that run throughout the two terms. These include the role of empire, the gendered and racialised nature of politics, and finally the role of comparative politics methods and approaches in explaining the key moments and process of politics in the United Kingdom. In a year when the United Kingdom is undergoing a transformative process, Brexit, coming to a deeper understanding of these themes has never been more crucial.

Programme content

The module is divided up into five parts. We begin in the aftermath of the Second World War and the so-called ‘golden age’ of post-war politics, where we look at the founding of the welfare state and the Keynesian consensus. However, from ‘never having it so good’ in the 1950s, we assess the United Kingdom’s slide from pre-war superpower into economic crisis and political decline both at home and abroad in the late 1960s and 1970s.

It is the collapse of this post-war consensus that paves the way for the second part of the course, and the emergence of Margaret Thatcher. Arguably the most divisive figure in British politics, we examine Thatcher the politician, her party and the legacy that ‘Thatcherism’ continues to cast over politics today. We look at the creation of New Labour, and the subsequent premierships of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, before bringing matters right up to date with an evaluation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and the subsequent Conservative governments. We will also explore the referendums on Scottish Independence and Brexit, and will have a discussion on the process of leaving the European Union.

With this broad sweep of contemporary political history behind us, we come to the third part of the module: the United Kingdom as a democracy. Asking ‘who governs?’ we consider the different bases of power within the political system: the voters, the parties, the pressure groups and the media, and assess the various degrees of power that these actors have upon both the core executive within Whitehall, and the devolved assemblies and legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In the fourth part of the course, we consider the UK’s place in the modern world. Clearly no longer a colonial superpower, we nevertheless assess the UK’s relationship with its neighbours in Europe as well as the impact of Globalisation on the politics of the UK. We will also explore foreign policy, examine recent interventions in areas of conflict and humanitarian crisis overseas. In the fifth and final part of the course, we turn to look at inequalities within the United Kingdom, and directly address the experience of austerity, and contemporary debates over gender, class-based and racial inequalities.