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Politics in the UK (PO206)

Although set against a deeply traditional backdrop, rich in historical pomp and pageantry, the Britain remains a dynamic and vibrant arena of politics. Never short of controversy, modern British politics is a contradictory mix of consensus and division contested within a deeply dis-united kingdom. Our focus in this module is upon the era-defining politicians, the big ideas, the political processes, and the party-splitting controversies that continue to shape British politics today. We won’t simply be describing these events – we’ll leave that to the journalists – you will instead be expected to assess the rival accounts of these issues, and reach your own conclusions as to the state of politics in the UK and Britain’s place in the world.

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 British 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 Britain’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 British 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.

With this broad sweep of contemporary British political history behind us, we come to the third part of the module: Britain as a democracy. Asking ‘who governs?’ we consider the different bases of power within the British political system: the voters, the parties, the pressure groups and the media, and assess the various degrees of power that these actors have upon the both the core executive within Whitehall, and the devolved assemblies and legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. By the time this module starts we will know more about the Brexit negotiations, and we shall examine what this means for both Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The remaining two parts of the module are distinctly international in their orientation and we will be assessing various dimensions of Britain’s political economy through the prism of globalisation. In the fourth part of the module we will examine the material and discursive impact of globalisation upon British politics. Here we look at the changing conduct of economic policy and the shifts seen in the welfare state during this era of increased globalisation, financial crisis and austerity.

In the fifth and final part of the course, we consider Britain’s place in the modern world. Clearly no longer a colonial superpower, we nevertheless assess Britain’s relationship with its neighbours in Europe and the United States, and the basis of its recent interventions in areas of conflict and humanitarian crisis overseas. Upon reviewing this and the module as a whole, we conclude by considering the state of British politics and where in the world the UK stands today.