Politics

Write a timed essay in one hour under exam conditions on the following:

To what extent do powers and structures both create and limit political power in a modern democracy?

In your answer you will need to draw on at least three Theme 1 (‘powers and structures’) components from at least two parts of the module. This is explained further in ‘Student notes’.

Learning outcomes
An ability to draw out general issues from specific case studies, and apply these to further cases.
A knowledge and understanding of key issues and actors in the making and analysis of public policy.
An ability to analyse and evaluate a diverse body of evidence from a variety of sources.
An ability to marshal evidence into a coherent response to set questions.

Student notes
The aim of this TMA is to help you revise the module and prepare for the exam. For these reasons, it involves writing an examination-length essay on one of the module themes, ‘powers and structures’, and requires you to produce an answer to the above question in one hour without notes or books in front of you. In your essay, you are expected to refer to certain sources, but only in general terms and without providing page references for them (which would not be possible in the actual exam). In your answer, you will need to draw on three Theme 1 (‘powers and structures’) components, from at least two parts of the module. This is because the themes cut across the different parts of the module. Note how the components include audio-visual as well as written material, so you are encouraged to draw from a range of sources. The obvious place to start is to view Theme Lecture 1 (‘Powers and structures’) in Study Guide Week 26, again, identifying relevant examples and references to other module components. You can also access transcripts of both parts (part 1 and part 2) of Theme Lecture 1 if you find it helpful (the links are located under the videos).

In preparing your essay, a short essay plan at the start is always advisable to organise your thoughts. It is easier to memorise an essay plan than an entire essay when writing under timed conditions. So think about each point you want to make as part of your argument, the order in which these points need to be made to make your argument coherent, and how you are going to illustrate them. Note these in your plan. The essay format requires you to start with an introductory paragraph that clearly sets out what the discussion in the main section is going to cover, and in what order. When summarising your answer, you should write your essay conclusion paragraph to explicitly refer to key words in the TMA question title (as you would do in the actual exam).

The question asks about the linkage between structure and the effectiveness of democracy (by creating and limiting political power). You may or may not agree with the suggestion that there is an important linkage between the two, but regardless of your position, in order to answer this question you will need to explain what you understand as the operation of limited political power in a modern democracy. Is democracy effective when the voter turnout is high? Is it effective when there is a consensus that the government is implementing popular policies? If so, how do we know there is a consensus and how can we find out if a particular piece of policy is popular or not? Thinking about what is often called the ‘health of democracy’ may also help. Then, think to what extent the effective operation of democracy as you see it hinges on ‘clearly defined power structures and processes’. Is a codified constitution more conducive than an uncodified one (such as the UK constitution) for the effective operation of democracy because it clearly defines the governing structure? Is federalism more democratic because it provides a clearer structure in regards to how the centre and periphery relate to one another compared to asymmetrical devolution in the UK? Is informal participation on policy-making process detrimental to the effectiveness of democracy because it is not a clearly defined and limited process? These are the kinds of questions that help you prepare an answer that directly addresses the TMA 06 question.

To prepare for this essay you need to cover the materials in Part 6 of the module, which are summarised in Study Guide Weeks 25–28. These include, for example, Discussion Audio F, ‘Reading down: summary of Parts 1–5’, together with Discussion Audio G, ‘Reading across: how to use Theme Lectures 1 and 2’. Theme Lecture 1 (‘Powers and structures’) is most relevant to this question, but Theme Lectures 2 (‘Centre and periphery’) and 3 (‘Participation and dissent’) are also useful. The first chapter in each of the books covers the ‘powers and structures’ theme. In Chapter 1, ‘Politics, powers and structures’, of Book 2, Exploring Political Worlds, there is a discussion of different ideas about how power operates. Chapter 1, ‘Governing at the centre: the politics of the parliamentary state’, of Book 3, Politics and Power in the UK, focuses on the UK’s majoritarian democracy, but places this in the context of other kinds of democratic systems. Chapter 1, ‘Political legitimacy’, of Book 4, Living Political Ideas, examines the different bases for legitimate government and the relationship between rulers and ruled. Chapter 1, ‘How is policy made?’, of Book 5, Making Policy, Shaping Lives, introduces different influences on policy making. Audio Feature 4, ‘Explaining the prime minister’ (Study Guide Week 10), which focuses on the power of the UK prime minister, may also be useful, as well as Online Activity 1, which focuses on disconnected citizens.

Please note, you are asked to use at least three components from at least two parts of the module. To be clear, you do not need three from each part, but at least three components (chapters or audio-visual material) in total. The parts refer to each block of the module, for example ‘Exploring Political Worlds’ or ‘Living Political Ideas’. At least two of the module parts should be utilised.

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