Category Archives: Exemplar Essays

Level 5 Response – Evaluate the view that IMR and CMR are no longer significant conventions in UK Politics (30 Marks)

Individual Ministerial Responsibility (IMR) and Collective Ministerial Responsibility (CMR) are both conventions that place certain expectations on members of the government. As conventions they are not legally binding, but it is expected that they will be followed. By significance it means the impact that it has on the way the government runs and particularly in holding Ministers accountable for their actions. Ultimately, whilst CMR remains an important and reasonably binding aspect of UK politics it will be argued that IMR is lacking in any real significance in modern politics because the PM is the sole ‘judge, jury and executioner’ of it.

IMR is a convention that dictates that Ministers are responsible for everything that happens within their department and are also responsible for representing their department and the government in all their public and private dealings. Until 1994 there was no codification of what was expected of a Minister, however, the Nolan Principles then outlined seven principles that public servants should uphold. Following this, since 1997 there has been a Ministerial Code published by each administration which more precisely lays out the expectations placed on Government Ministers. One such expectation is that Ministers do not knowingly mislead Parliament and that they should resign if they do so. In addition, any inadvertent misleading of Parliament should be corrected at the first opportunity. In 2018 Amber Rudd resigned as Home Secretary after admitting that she had inadvertently misled the Home Affairs Select Committee by stating she was unaware of deportation removal targets when evidence indicated that she had seen documentation to that effect. This shows that some Ministers do continue to take their responsibilities under the code seriously. Secondly, it is also expected under the code that Ministers can ‘handle their brief’ and should resign if they cannot. In 2002 two Ministers resigned due to this, with both Estelle Morris and Stephen Byers doing so after several problems in their departments this indicates that historically such resignations could be common. Finally, private mistakes by Ministers are actionable under the code. For example, in 2021 Matt Hancock resigned as Health Secretary after admitting he had breached his own department’s COVID-19 regulations in having a romantic relationship with a colleague.  The PM said that it what was right that Hancock should resign and this shows that some Ministers may take the honourable approach and resign when they have clearly breached the code. Conversely, despite these cases, there are many more numerous cases of the code not being enforced. For example, in 2020 Priti Patel was found by an independent investigation of bullying Civil Servants. However, because of the political fact that Patel is popular with the right wing of his party, the PM refused to ask for her resignation, leading to the author of the independent report to resign himself in protest! In addition, a number of Ministers who have more recently failed to adequately carry out their brief and have survived in office without being removed or tendering their resignation. Gavin Williamson oversaw a series of policy disasters as Education Secretary in 2020 and yet remained in office until September 2021, whilst Chris Grayling remained in Government for several years despite a number of high-profile policy errors which led to him being dubbed ‘Failing Grayling’ by the media. These mistakes included giving a ferry contract to a company who had never owned ferries. In these cases, the PM did not want to seek their removal because it would draw attention to the fact that their government was underperforming. This is one the key limits of IMR – the Prime Minister is ‘judge, jury and executioner’ and is unlikely to want to risk politically damaging themselves by removing their own ministers. In addition, as has been seen recently during ‘partygate’, when the PM themselves is accused of wrongdoing there is no mechanism to hold them to account under IMR. Therefore, IMR is a convention that relies extensively on the personal honour of Ministers and, as such, is too rarely enforced. Only an independent process is likely to fix this, but any PM will be reluctant to give up their own Royal Prerogative power as to when to choose to ask for the resignation of a Minister.

CMR is a convention that dictates that government decisions are taken collectively and should therefore be supported in public by all Ministers. This is an important part of Cabinet Government and is included in the Ministerial Code which says that the principle applies to all Ministers. CMR ensures joined up thinking in Government and promotes detailed discussion beyond closed doors. For example, prior to the decision of Boris Johnson to introduce his ‘living with COVID’ plan there was fierce debate between the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, about the plan to remove free Lateral Flow Tests. Whilst they disagreed heatedly on this issue, both then supported the PM’s final decision in public. This strengthens government as it becomes more careful and more deliberative. Secondly, it ensures that any Minister who does not morally feel they can support a government policy should resign. The most famous example of this was Robin Cook who in 2003 resigned over the decision to invade Iraq without a second UN resolution. This enables the public to trust that Government Ministers are acting for what they believe to be right, rather than simply following orders. More recently, resignations by Lord Agnew over COVID-19 fraud and Lord Wolfson over ‘partygate’ show that this principle is still very active in British Politics. Furthermore, it is key that there is some flexibility to CMR. and the PM can suspend it if deemed necessary. For example, during the referendums and during free votes CMR is usually suspended. This is what allowed Michael Gove to campaign to Leave the EU and Philip Hammond to abstain on the vote for Same-Sex Marriage. This flexibility is a strength as it allows the convention to continue even if difficult political circumstances arise under which the convention simply could not otherwise survive intact. This was also seen during the coalition when CMR was relaxed (if not removed) to enable reasonable disagreement to emerge between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. However, in recent years collective responsibility has been harder to maintain as technology means that it is easier for Ministers to anonymously brief against each other and maintain ‘plausible deniability’. The government of Tony Blair was hurt by the fact that even the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer were briefing against each other in the media. This clearly undermined collective responsibility, though not explicitly. Secondly, some Ministers who are considered ‘big beasts’ are shown to be above CMR. For example, Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary not because she liked or respected him but because he was a potential leadership rival. As Foreign Secretary he consistently briefed against May and even wrote damaging articles in the Daily Telegraph but she could not sack him, instead he resigned in July 2018 arguably causing her even more damage. This shows that CMR is only significant to the PM if it suits them politically and will be abandoned if it is not. Finally, CMR is limited as a concept if there is not a fundamental ideological unity in government. This was seen between 2016 and 2019 when it was impossible for Theresa May to govern effectively. This was because different factions of her party had widely disparate views on Brexit, with One Nation Conservatives like Philip Lee in the same party as the fiercely Eurosceptic European Research Group. During her premiership Theresa May suffered over 50 resignations under CMR – all relating to Brexit. Some her Ministers voted against her in Parliament but were allowed to remain in office. For example, eight ministers, including Andrea Leadsom, voted against an Article 50 extension in March 2019. Such was May’s weakness that she could not enforce CMR on these Ministers, undermining its credibility. Yet, on balance, these limits are not substantial. Some ministers will always be more powerful and influential than others whilst Brexit created circumstances unlikely to ever be repeated.  CMR still moderates dissent, even if it exists.

CMR is undoubtedly considerably more significant that IMR in British Politics. Whilst it is sometimes relaxed in certain circumstances, this is a political necessity and should not really be seen as a weakness. In addition, it normally encourages reflective government behind the scenes and encourages a consistent message in public which avoids given confused signals to the electorate. Whilst PMs do sometimes have to relax it for certain ministers and some cannot adequately enforce it, this is still a rarity, and most Ministers are bound by it. On the other hand, IMR has limited significance. It relies on the honour of Ministers to enforce it as few PMs will do so as it may be to their political detriment. By far biggest limiting factor is the PMs role as the ultimate adjudicator of the code and this means that in reality is lacks in significance.

Why is this a Level 5 Response?

  • Normally it is best to write thematically. However, in some questions, this is not possible. A question that asks you to consider both IMR and CMR in the same essay may be one of them.
  • Both IMR and CMR are explored in depth with the different facets of them considered.
  • 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 c synthesises the entirety of the arguments made before coming to a clear judgement.
  • Synoptic links are made to Paper 1 through consideration of factions. (This is a difficult question for synoptic links so examiners will not be looking for much).
  • Political terminology is deployed throughout the essay.

Level 5 Response – To what extent do Liberals agree on the State (24 Marks)

Liberalism is a political philosophy based on liberty, the consent of the governed and equality before the law. All liberals agree that the state is ‘necessary’ to avoid disorder and a Hobbesian state of nature. But liberals also agree that the state is a potential problem given that it has the capacity to threaten individual liberty. Liberals therefore agree on a limited state. However, within this broader area of agreement,  liberals disagree on the size and role of the state. Classical liberals such as John Locke advocate a minimal and limited state whilst modern liberals such as John Rawls favour an enabling state which can serve as a facilitator of individual development. Therefore, whilst liberals are in agreement over the necessity of a state they disagree on the purpose and extent of it.

One thing that unites all liberals is their belief in the necessity of the state. Despite their optimistic view of human nature liberals still believe that in the state of nature there would have been conflicts between individuals pursuing their own egocentric agendas. John Lock was worried that without the formal structures that only a state can provide the resolution of then these clashes might be brutally resolved. All liberals therefore agree that a state is required to play the role of referee and arbitrate between the competing claims of rational individuals. As Locke said, ‘freedom can only exist under the law, where there is no law, there is no freedom.’ Further, liberals are also united by their concerns regarding an overly powerful state and what could happen if power is unconstrained. This is the case for both modern liberals, who advocate a larger state, and for classical liberals who favour a minimal state. All liberals will tend to agree with Lord Acton that, ‘power tends to corrupt…and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ They therefore favour constitutionalism and a clear seperation of powers to create limited government. As part of this, liberals believe in a contract between the government and the governed that must be consensual. Such belief in constitutional government, designed to clearly set the parameters of the state’s power, is a key element of liberal thinking and one that unites modern and classical liberals.

However, despite these agreements, there is still tension over the extent of state and power how interventionist the state should be in society and the economy. Classical liberals emphasise minimal state intervention as expressed through Isaiah Berlin’s concept of negative freedom. This is a notion of freedom which involves individuals being left alone to pursue their own path with an absence of restraint. Classical liberals believe that freedom is achieved as a result of as little intervention as possible. Other liberal thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft expanded this argument by making the point that through restraining female individualism societies were limiting their stock of intelligence, wisdom and morality. She further added that, ‘such arrangements are not conditions where reason and progress may prosper.’ The denial of liberty to an entire gender could lead to an undermining of the spirt of the Enlightenment in which liberals place such great faith. On the other hand, modern liberals favour greater intervention on the part of the state. This is Berlin’s positive freedom. The modern liberal thinker, John Rawls, argued that the foundational equality of classical liberals is not enough to secure a just society and that social and economic equality were also desirable if an individual’s life is to be rich and fulfilled. Rawls argued that this form of equality could only be provided by a significant redistribution of wealth via an enabling state, with extensive public spending and progressive taxation. This is a view shared by Rawls’ fellow modern liberal, TH Green, who believed that there were many barriers facing the individual and that they could not be truly free if they didn’t have the tools to prosper and access their full potential. This concept can also be associated with John Stuart Mill’s developmental individualism. Therefore, whilst classical liberals tend to view the state as a potential obstacle to individual freedom and development, modern liberals view the state as a key facilitator of freedom. This is a major area of disagreement between liberals and an important distinction within liberal thinking.

With regard to the economy classical liberals believe in a non-interventionist state and in laissez-faire economic policy whilst modern liberals advocate a more interventionist state rooted in the principles of Keynesianism. For liberals the debate about the role that the state should play in the economy is linked to the emergence of capitalism in the 18th Century. The free-market system espoused in Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ allowed the market to regulate itself, encouraging competition. He argued that the ‘invisible hand’ of market forces had a capacity to enrich both the individual and the society. This concept of classical, free-market economics emerged in political form in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. They advocated a rolling back of the state which they sought to achieve through policies such as privatisation and lower taxation. The minimal state that is left, is Lockean in nature, and should be restricted to maintaining social order, enforcing contracts and providing defence. But its intervention in economic life should be small.  On the other hand, modern liberals believe that the state should be larger and its intervention in the economy much more significant. They support economic management along Keynesian grounds, arguing that the self-regulating free market is a myth, and that government intervention can ensure that market economies deliver sustainable growth with low unemployment. This means that, especially in times of economic recession, the state has an important role to play in stimulating the economy with higher government spending and reduced taxes. This is akin to what has been seen since 2020 with regard to the UK government’s response to the recession caused by the pandemic. In sum liberals do not agree on the role that the state should play in managing the economy with Classical liberals favouring a ‘night-watchman’ state based on minimal intervention and Modern liberals favouring an interventionist, enabling state with a much more tangible economic role.

In conclusion there is agreement between liberals on the fact that the state should exist and also on the nature of it. Unlike anarchists, who are defined by their opposition to the state, liberals embrace it and see it as necessary for supporting individual freedom. Liberals are also united in their fear of power becoming overly concentrated so therefore favour the fragmentation of the state and the separation of powers. This is encapsulated in their support for constitutional government and expressly limiting the powers of the state. However, liberals disagree with each other on the extent of the state’s power, particularly with regard to the levels of intervention in society and the economy. Whereas classical liberals favour a non-interventionist, minimal state which follows a laissez-faire approach to the economy, modern liberals advocate an interventionist, enabling state with Keynesian economic policies. We can therefore conclude that while there is agreement on the basic principles of the state there is significant disagreement on the size of it and the extent of the role it should play in individuals’ lives.

What is good about this response?

It follows the Golden Rule for Ideologies questions that every paragraph compares the different strands of the ideology.

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.

Level 5 Response – Evaluate the view that Parliament is effective at scrutinising the Executive in the UK (30 Marks)

Britain is a parliamentary democracy which means there is a fusion of powers between the Executive and Legislature. The Executive, led by the Prime Minister, is formed from the House of Commons and yet one of the key roles of Parliament is to scrutinise the actions of the Government. To answer this question the following issues need to be considered: legislative scrutiny, the role of backbenchers and question time. Ultimately, it is clear that parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive is woefully ineffective because of the elective dictatorship that is usually formed after a Government has won a clear majority.

Legislating is one of the most important roles of Parliament and is therefore an important area of executive scrutiny. This is as under Standing Order 14 the legislative agenda is largely controlled by the Executive. Most bills are Government Bills, with 76.9% of bills from 2015-2021 being tabled by the Executive. This dominance over the Commons agenda is reinforced by the notion of the elective dictatorship – that because of the FPTP voting system most governments have a clear majority and can govern as they please without having to worry about undergoing effective scrutiny. For example, Tony Blair had a majority of 179 and did not lose a single Commons vote in his first 8 years as PM, whilst the average government majority since 1945 has been 57.4 seats. This means that the Executive is normally capable of pushing through its agenda because it consistently has the parliamentary arithmetic on its side. Further to this, MPs are very heavily whipped. This means they rarely rebel against their party leaders. This is because MPs are beholden to their party for their seat and they rely on the patronage of party leaders for personal advancement. This might help explain why since the 2019 General Election there are 321 MPs who have never once voted against their own party.  The combination of large government majorities and heavy whipping of backbenchers means that often legislative scrutiny in the House of Commons is ineffective. However, there are times when the House of Commons can offer effective legislative scrutiny, usually when the issue is very controversial or is so important that MPs are prepared to defy the whip. For example, whilst in a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP in January 2019, Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated by a record 230 votes with 118 Conservative MPs rebelling. This shows that, depending on the issue and the size of the government majority, the power of the whips can weaken. In addition, the second Chamber of the House of Lords can be said to offer more effective scrutiny because of the time, expertise and independence it puts towards legislation. Firstly, the House of Lords are said to go through a bill ‘line by line’ spending much more time scrutinising legislation, particularly by adding ‘reasoned amendments’. For example, the Agriculture Act (2020) was considered for 32 hours by the House of Commons but for 96 hours by the House of Lords. In addition, in the Lords this scrutiny is carried by people who have been appointed to the House precisely due to their expertise. For example, Lord West was a former First Sea Lord and Intelligence Minister who has voted 725 times in the House Lords to help improve bills relating to military and diplomatic matters. Finally, unlike the House of Commons, the Lords are not heavily whipped. There is more independence and a collegiate atmosphere in the House of Lords which is helped by the fact that there are 184 crossbench peers and 26 Bishops who do not belong to a political party. However, despite these positive factors, the House of Lords is structurally limited by both statute and convention. The Parliament Acts mean the House of Lords cannot block legislation for the Commons while conventions like the Salisbury Convention and Financial Privilege limit the power of the House of Lords to effectively scrutinise Government legislation. Overall, the scrutiny of Government legislation is ineffective. The House of Commons is normally unable to provide effective scrutiny due to government majorities whilst the effectiveness of the House of Lords is undermined by the structural limits placed upon it.

There are a number of limits that backbenchers face in attempting to scrutinise the Government in the House of Commons. One is that, unlike most members of the House of Lords, they have to be generalists and not specialists. Backbenchers have to represent the diverse range of opinions and concerns across their constituency. For example, as of 18/02/22 Conservative Backbencher Huw Merriman’s last ten questions were all about different subjects ranging from tourism to knife crime. In addition, backbenchers have limited power to initiate change themselves and instead rely on working within a party to bring any change about. This can be seen in the very low number of Private Members Bills that become Acts of Parliament. For example, since 2015 only 16.2% of Acts started as Private Members Bills. This often means backbench MPs do not introduce bills because they will pass but instead because they might push forward the issue in the media. As evidence of this since 2015 Christopher Chope has introduced 119 PMBs of which none have become law. Conversely, despite these limits, it is clear that some backbenchers are influential and can influence policy. This is particularly the case when a backbencher is seen to be either particularly experienced or have particular expertise. For example, Theresa May (Backbencher of the Year 2021) was able to persuade the government to incorporate her Ten Minute Rule motion on dangerous driving sentences into the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill. In addition, the Wright Reforms of 2009 have increased the influence of backbenchers. Firstly, the Backbench Business Committee provides them with an opportunity to put forward ideas for debate that might provide scrutiny of the government. For example, on the 21/04 a backbench debate was held on the two-child limit for universal credit – a key government policy. Secondly, backbenchers may serve on Select Committees which since the Wright Reforms have seen committee chairs elected by the whole house and select committee members elected by their own party. This has substantially loosened the grip of the whips over Select Committee and increased their independence. For example, the DCMS Select Committee were critical of the Government’s Online Safety Bill saying it did not go far enough to tackle harmful content online – despite a Conservative majority on the Committee. Therefore, whilst backbenchers are still limited in their ability to provide security of the executive overall this ability is growing, and in addition, there are certain MPs who are able to provide more effective scrutiny than others.

One of the most important mechanisms of parliamentary scrutiny is Question Time. The most prominent example of question time is Prime Ministers Questions which takes place at 12.00 on Wednesdays. PMQs sees the PM questioned by Government and Opposition MPs with the Leader of the Opposition given six questions. PMQs is however both the most visible and the most theatrical form of Question Time. MPs spend significant time trying to score political points rather than scrutinise the Executive in detail – for example Diana Johnson’s recent question that over ‘partygate’ saying that the PM ‘was trying to convince people he was a stupid rather than dishonest’. Whilst the questions are often political, so are the answers, with the Prime Minister being able to avoid giving a detailed response. As such PMQs gives a bad indication of how effective Parliament is in its function of scrutiny. Importantly, however, it must be noted that PMQs is just one form of question time and the others that take place at the start of the parliamentary day from Monday to Thursday are far more productive. MPs can ask a department any question and can also table questions in advance or in writing, therefore encouraging a more detailed response. Further, since the speakership of John Bercow, the use of Urgent Questions and Emergency Debates has grown significantly. Under the previous speaker there were 0.02 UQs a day but under Bercow this rose to 0.88 per day with the Speaker ensuring the Government could be held to account immediately if required – a trend that has largely continued under Lindsay Hoyle. In addition, Emergency Debates have been increasingly granted, for example the Emergency Debate granted to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. During this debate the Government were asked detailed questions about what they were doing to support the Ukrainian Government. Overall, whilst the visible PMQs might make it appear that Question Time is an ineffectual method of scrutiny this is not a realistic depiction. PMQs is the theatre of Parliament whilst the Daily Questions allow MPs to force Ministers to account for their actions whilst the growth of Urgent Questions and Emergency Debates shows the Speaker is helping backbench MPs to do this.

In conclusion it is the case that parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive is largely ineffectual. This is because of the predominant role of the House of Commons and the fact that due to the fusion of powers the Government normally dominates that chamber. Whilst there are exceptions to this rule, they only really occur in the rare occasions when a government does not have a clear majority. The House of Lords does offer detailed scrutiny, particularly of legislation, however it is limited by the structural power the House of Commons has over it. Whilst Select Committees and Question Time are examples of effective scrutiny they do not enable Parliament to enforce change, so are therefore still fundamentally limited. Therefore, it is clear that the dominance of the Executive over the House of Commons ensures that parliamentary scrutiny of the executive is largely cosmetic.

Why is this a Level 5 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.
  • Synoptic links are made to Paper 1 through considering of FPTP. (This in only required in Paper 2).