Category Archives: Exemplar Essays

Level 5 Response – Evaluate the view that the Executive dominates Parliament in the UK political system (30 Marks)

Britain is a parliamentary democracy in which there is a ‘fusion of powers’ that Bagehot called the ‘efficient secret’ of the UK constitution. Yet, there is an argument that this system creates what Lord Hailsham called an ‘elective dictatorship’ in which the Executive have far too much power and can govern without sufficient scrutiny. To answer this question the following need to considered: the role of the House of Commons, the role of the House of Lords and the issue of the royal prerogative powers. Ultimately, there can be no doubt that under usual circumstances the Executive is able to exercise significance dominance of Parliament because of the FPTP voting system and the existing prerogative powers of the government.

In normal circumstances the government can dominate the House of Commons. The primary cause of this is the First Past the Post voting system which is heavily disproportional and provides the winning party with a ‘winners bonus’. For example, in 2019 it took just 38,000 votes to elect a Conservative MP but 853k to elect a Green MP. Subsequently, FPTP produces significant majorities even a less than significant proportion of the vote. For example, in 2019 the Conservative Party won 56.1% of seats from 43.6% of the vote and the average majority since 1945 is 58.5 seats. The parliamentary arithmetic is enhanced also by the power political parties have over their MPs. It is almost impossible to be elected without the support of a party and MPs rely on their party of their position. Consequently, few MPs are willing to rebel against their party and risk the withdrawal of the whip (as happened to 21 Conservative MPs in 2019) or deselection, as happened to Sam Tarry in 2022. Consequently, the government is normally able to pass its agenda without much resistance. For example, both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher only suffered four Commons defeats each in over a decade as Prime Minister. Nonetheless, it is important to note that this dominance of the Commons is not always the case and sometimes there are minority governments that cannot force through their agenda. The best example of this was between the 2017 and 2019 elections when neither Theresa May nor Boris Johnson were able to push their agenda, including their policies on Brexit, through Parliament. During this period Theresa May had her Brexit deal rejected three times, including by a modern record defeat of 230 votes. This shows that when party dominance is challenged, governments can no longer dominating Parliament. This can also be illustrated by the fact that even under majority government there are sometimes significant backbench rebellions. For example, in 2021 there were 99 Conservative MPs who rebelled against Boris Johnson’s Plan-B COVID measures which were able to be passed with the support of Labour. However, ultimately, the struggles faced by governments are unusual and normally Hailsham’s ‘elective dictatorship’ exists meaning the Executive is able to dominate the House of Commons.

The ability of the Executive to dominate is much less clear in the House of Lords than it is in the Commons. Firstly, since the House of Lords Act (1999) the in-built Conservative majority in the chamber has been removed and no party since has had a majority in the House of Lords. The lack of party domination is supported by the existence of are 184 Crossbenchers like Baroness Grey-Thompson who do not take the whip for any party. This subsequently means that rather than being able to force through its agenda in the Lords using the whips, the Executive has to persuade its members that their legislation is good. This results in far more Government defeats in the Lords than the Commons. For example, in 2021-22 the Government has suffered no contests defeats in the Commons but has suffered 133 defeats in the Lords. This shows the Executive cannot be seen to dominate the Lords in the same as it can the Commons. However, despite this, it has to be recognised that the Lords is limited by its structural limitations. Firstly, is the existence of the Parliament Acts (1911 and 1949) which mean that if the Commons passes a bill for two successive sessions then any veto by the Lords can be overridden. Whilst this has only been used four times since 1949 the very existence of it means that the Lords are likely to back down in any conflict with the Commons. For example, in 2017 the Lords inflicted two significant defeats on the Article 50 Bill but immediately backed down when the Government were unwilling to accept their changes. This indicates the supremacy of the Commons over the Lords and, by extension, that of the Executive. Secondly, the Lords is also limited by the existence of conventions like the Salisbury Convention and Financial Privilege that significantly limit its powers. The Salisbury Convention ensures that the Lords do not veto measures that were specifically included in the manifesto of the governing party. This means that even controversial legislation, like the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill, is ultimately guaranteed to make its way through the House of Lords. Financial Privilege prevent the Lords from voting down the budget or any financial matter. This ensures, in almost all circumstances, that the Executive has a supply of finance and avoids the spectacle of government shutdowns that occur in the United States. These factors combined mean that while the power of the Lords is limited and the Executive do not directly dominate the Lords, the constitution ensures that their agenda will almost always make it through. Consequently, the House of Lords does not a significant amount offset the dominance of the Government over Parliament. A final area through which the Executive is able to dominate Parliament is through the existence of the Royal Prerogative powers. These are powers that traditionally belonged to the monarch but are now exercised by the Government. These powers are beyond parliamentary scrutiny, giving the executive dominance over key areas of policy.

One example of a Royal Prerogative power is the ability of the Prime Minister to call a General Election at the time of their choosing. Whilst between 2011 and 2022 this power was given to Parliament through the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, it has now been returned to the government through the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022. This power allows the Government to call an election at a time of their choosing which gives them a strategic advantage. This is, for example Tony Blair, did in 2001 winning a 166 majority. Another Royal Prerogative power is the ability to order military action. Whilst some Prime Ministers have allowed Parliament a say on this matter, this is at their discretion, and, for example, in 2018 Theresa May ordered air strikes in Syria without parliamentary approval leading to Jeremy Corbyn to call for a ‘War Powers Act’. This clearly indicates that the Executive can use prerogative powers to dominate Parliament even regarding some of the most important political decisions that can be taken. Nevertheless, recent years have seen the judiciary intervene to ensure that the Royal Prerogative powers cannot be abused. Traditionally, such issues were seen to be non-justiciable, but since 2009 the Supreme Court has heard important cases surrounding them. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs. Brexit Secretary that Theresa May could not trigger Article 50 using the Royal Prerogative and instead the issue should be decided by Parliament. Further, in September 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation of Parliament by Boris Johnson had been unlawful and that its effect was “null and void”. Both of these cases saw the Supreme Court challenging the misuse of Royal Prerogative to undermine representative democracy and ordered that Parliament should be given a say on both issues. Yet, whilst these changes have given more power to Parliament in certain instances, they have not re-addressed the constitutional imbalance that the existence of the Royal Prerogative brings and it remains an area of clear Executive dominance.

Overall, it is very clear that the Executive does dominate Parliament to a significant extent. In the UK political system the Commons dominates the Lords and there is no dispute that under normal circumstances the Executive is able to dominate Parliament. The power given to a Government due to FPTP means that they are able to push their agenda through the Commons and are unlikely to be significantly challenged by the Lords due to structural powers it lacks. Whilst there are periods when this is not the case, these are a constitutional anomaly. In addition, the royal prerogative powers put a range of Executive decisions beyond parliamentary scrutiny. Despite recent challenges to these powers by the judiciary, the constitutional situation remains unchanged and Royal Prerogative powers are significant. Therefore, it cannot be doubted that the Executive dominates Parliament to a significant extent.

What is good about this response?

  • The introduction immediately shows the examiner the candidate understands the topic. It also lays out the different themes that will be discussed and sets out a clear argument.
  • Three body sections are completed each which put forward a clear point and corresponding counter point.
  • Detailed knowledge is deployed throughout the piece, which is often very specific.
  • Analysis is built upon this detailed knowledge, with a consistent focus on answering the question.
  • Clear mini-conclusions are used at the end of the section which consider what the view on the question is as regards the issue that has been discussed.
  • The conclusion is comparative in nature and synthesises the entirety of the arguments made before coming to a clear judgement.
  • Political terminology is deployed throughout the essay. For example, terms like ‘non-justiciable’ are very high-level terminology.
  • Synoptic links are made to Paper 1 through considering of FPTP. (This in only required in Paper 2).

Level 5 Response – To what extent do Liberals agree in the issue of freedom and liberty? (24 Marks)

Liberalism was born in the Age of Enlightenment, a time in which philosophers were reacting to the Ancien Regime and challenging traditional systems of government. As such, freedom is paramount to liberal thinking. To answer this question the following issues, need to be considered: the basis behind liberal conceptions of freedom, the limits of personal freedom and the role of the state in safeguarding freedoms. Ultimately, there is significant agreement amongst Liberals on the issue of freedom and liberty, with modern liberals only somewhat digressing on what constitutes harm and the role of the state in protecting personal freedoms.

Liberals agree to a large extent on the conceptual basis behind freedom and liberty. Classic Liberals reject the Hobbesian view that is inherently pessimistic of human nature. They believe that all humans are capable of rational thought. Consequently, they believe that citizens should be given as much personal freedom as possible and mechanistic theory dictates individuals are equal worth.  Classical liberals also believe in egotistical individualism. This means that society is merely a collection of atomised self-interested individuals. However, because of their rationality, humans will seek to create harmony with others as this is the best path to their own success and, therefore, will look to respect the freedom and liberty of others. This was part of the social contract theory formulated by John Locke. Modern Liberals are similarly optimistic about human nature. However, they believe in developmental individualism. This means that humans want to see wider societal progress and believe in actively supporting others to achieve this, rather the simply respecting their own rights. Therefore, it is clear than the classical and modern liberals fundamentally agree on why there should be freedom and liberty, there only slight disagreement is how much individuals seek to support that. 

Liberals differ slightly on what freedom of action people should have. Classic Liberals support the ‘harm principle’. This is the idea, popularised by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty (1859), that human actions should be as free as possible as long as it does not bring harm direct to another person. Whilst this would preclude physical violence, for example, there would be almost no limits on freedom of expression because such limits would inhibit innovative thinking. Modern liberals support the sentiments behind the harm principle, however, they differ on what constitutes harm. For example, they do not believe it is limited to violence, but harm can be psychological and emotional too. Consequently, for example, modern liberals support limits on speech and actions that may cause others harm, even indirectly. This is why modern liberals have been at the forefront of supporting hate speech legislation which criminalises hateful speech based on characteristics like sexuality or race. As a result of this, liberals agree that humans should have freedom of action until a point of harm, but differ on where that definition harm may lie. 

Liberals differ more significantly on the role of the government in protecting freedom.  Classical liberals believe in a minimalist state which acts merely as an enforcer of contracts and the creation of social order. Classical liberals therefore support the concept of negative freedom. They believe that one of the biggest threats to liberty is the state itself. Famously, John Locke said that “no body can give more power than a man has himself”. This concept of negative freedom, is, for example, a key reason that the Second Amendment was seen as vital in the US constitution. Conversely, modern liberals tend support positive freedom. Modern liberals believe that without state intervention real freedom will only be enjoyed by those already privileged in society. Using the thought experiment of the ‘veil of ignorance’ John Rawls argued that in a natural state humans would opt for a world of social justice and greater equality. Therefore, modern liberals advocate for positive freedoms supported by an enabling state. Modern liberals for example supported the introduction of the Human Rights Act (1998) and Equality Act (2010). Therefore, this is the area where classical liberals and modern liberals disagree the most, with the role of the state in enforcing freedom and liberty an area of contention.

Ultimately, there is some agreement between classical and modern liberals on the issue of freedom and liberty, though not complete agreement. Liberals tend to largely agree on the rationale behind why freedom should exist, and they agree that humans should have as much freedom as possible, although they disagree somewhat on how much is possible. Liberals do disagree quite significantly on the role of the state in ensuring freedom, however, both agree that the state as some role in doing so. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that there is some clear agreement on the issue of freedom and liberty, with the disagreements being largely matters of degree.

What is good about this response?

  • It follows the Golden Rule for Ideologies questions that every paragraph compares the different strands of the ideology.
  • Good knowledge is shown of all strands with consideration of differences and agreement.
  • The Key Thinkers are used at not just named.
  • It develops thematic points which address the question.
  • It clearly considers the extent or agreement and disagreement within the themes relevant to the question. This is made very clear in the conclusion which considers why there is some, but no full, agreement.
  • Real-World examples are used where relevant to explain what each strand stands for.

Level 5 Response – To what extent do Socialists agree on the issue of Workers’ Control (24 Marks)

Workers’ control refers to the management of the means of production by workers, rather than by the middle-class. This can either be directly through collective ownership or indirectly through public control. Whilst all socialists advocate for the rights of working people, it does not necessarily follow that they all advocate for workers’ control of industry. In order to answer this question, the following need to be considered: the role of class in the theory and how industry should finally be organised. Ultimately, socialists do not widely agree on the theory of the importance Workers’ Control. Whilst there is some commonality between revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists, social democrats depart from the theory whilst Third Way socialists reject it entirely.

Differing beliefs in class heavily impact ideological views towards workers’ control. The strands of socialism that advocate giving more control to workers are those that see class as the most significant dividing line in society.  Revolutionary socialists like Marx and Engels believed that societies were all defined by class conflict. In each historical era there was a dialectic struggle and at the time of Das Kapital (1867) the struggle was between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels believed that the wealth of the bourgeoisie was accumulated through the exploitation of the labour of the proletariat. As such, revolutionary socialists advocate the replacement of capitalism with a system where the workers will be properly rewarded for their labour and that is run for the benefit of the workers. They believed this could only be achieved by direct workers’ control of the means of production. Democratic Socialists like Beatrice Webb have commonality with this view, also recognising that capitalism was the main cause of ‘crippling poverty and demeaning inequality’. They therefore advocated for workers control of industry to ensure workers received the ‘full fruits of their labour’. Conversely, social democrats are less clear that the traditional class struggle is as important as Marx suggested. As part of the post-war social democratic consensus, successive governments believed the key to the supporting workers was not control of industry, but public spending. Anthony Crosland, for example, was a key proponent in the emergence of comprehensive schools to allow social mobility. Further to this, Third Way socialists reject the concept of class as a dividing line believing there has been embourgeoisement since the 1980s through policies like the Right to Buy. Whilst they accept there is inequality, they do not believe this is part of a dialectic class struggle. Therefore, there is significant disagreement on the ideological basis for workers’ control, with revolutionary and democratic socialists believe class struggle justifies it whilst social democrats and third way socialists reject this view.

There are consequently also clear differences in how differing strands of socialism believe industry should be organised. Revolutionary socialists believe that workers had to take control of the means of production directly and, if necessary, through revolution. Marx believed that there should be a dictatorship of the proletariat after which there should be collective ownership, whilst slightly differently, Luxembourg believed that the dictatorship of the proletariat was folly and would simply lead to dictatorship of the party. Therefore, she advocated a spontaneous revolution after class consciousness had been achieved and therefore socialism would win a democratic mandate. Whilst democratic socialists share the goal of workers control, their methods are different. They believe that it should be achieved through nationalisation of industry. Famously, Beatrice Webb was a key author of the 1918 Labour constitution which included Clause IV which said workers should have “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. This can be seen in the program of Clement Attlee to nationalise key industries like coal, rail, and electricity between 1945 and 1951. Whilst democratic socialists believe there may be a place for limited public ownership, they believe that free enterprise can help workers. For example, Harold MacMillan’s middle way saw low unemployment and a rise in real wages leading to his statement in 1957 that “you’ve never had it so good”. The rise in tax revenue could be used to fund social programs like increased pensions for workers. Contrarily to all strands, third way socialists reject workers control entirely. They believe that a free market neo-liberal economy is the only way that wealth can be achieved which can then be used to support social justice projects. Famously, Peter Mandelson said “we don’t mind people being filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”. This greater tax yield could be used to fund huge projects to increase equality of opportunity for workers. Under New Labour this included the largest school and hospital building program in history. The fact that New Labour oversaw the removal of Clause IV in 1995 is a clear indicator of the ideological shift that Third Way socialists follow. In summation, there are significant disagreements between how industry should be organised. Revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists believe that workers should have control of industry, either directly or indirectly. However, Third Way socialists reject this entirely, believing workers’ control limits economic growth. Therefore, whilst some strands have agreement, overall, there is limited agreement on how industry should be organised.

In conclusion, it is clear that socialists do not agree on worker’s control to a significant extent because they disagree on both the justification for it and how industry should in fact be organised. Whilst there is clear agreement between revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists on the class struggle as a justification for workers’ control, both social democrats and Third Way socialists question the importance of class struggle in society. Further, whilst revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists agree industry should be organised with Worker’s in control, either directly or indirectly, Third Way socialists reject this entirely, believing it stunts innovation and economic growth – thereby harming working people. Therefore, it cannot be said there is significant agreement amongst socialists on workers’ control.

What is good about this response?

  • It follows the Golden Rule for Ideologies questions that every paragraph compares the different strands of the ideology.
  • Good knowledge is shown of all strands with consideration of differences and agreement.
  • The Key Thinkers are used at not just named.
  • It develops thematic points which address the question.
  • It clearly considers the extent or agreement and disagreement within the themes relevant to the question.
  • Note – It is normally a good idea to do a short paragraph on fundamental agreements before the thematic paragraphs, however, this was not necessary for this answer as the fundamental agreements were very limited.