Politics is confusing. No country’s political system is the same as any others; for example, Scotland uses a different voting system to England (for the Scottish Parliament, not Scottish seats within Parliament - I reiterate: confusing.). It can be difficult to get your head round it all and frankly, I only did so because I do politics A-Level.
There are some words and phrases that you might hear a lot but not understand. I used to find myself thinking ‘If I don’t understand it, it’s probably not important.’ This is not true - some of them are extremely important and understanding them could be useful in using your vote the way you want.
(Or, you could just use these to impress someone in a conversation.)
General Political Terms
Donkey voting - this refers to when someone votes for a party simply because. But because, what? Just because. No reason at all - and in the eyes of democracy, there’s nothing wrong with that. No-one is required to give a reason at all for why they’re voting.
Tactical voting - this is when someone votes for a party not because they want that party but because they don’t want the other party. For example (and this example is not reflective of anyone’s political opinions, nor mine) - if someone didn’t like the Conservatives, but they were set to win a majority, they might vote for the Liberal Democrats. Not because they like the Lib Dems and think they deserve their vote, but because they want to use their vote but don’t want the Tories.
Coalition government - this is often confused with the Supply and Demand government. There are some gray areas but on the whole, these two are not the same. A coalition government is when a deal is brokered between two parties to form a temporary, bigger party (till the next election) so they can have the majority between them. The bigger party will normally have more leverage. The last coalition government was between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories in the 2010-2015 Parliament. Nick Clegg and David Cameron acted as PM and deputy PM, the latter of which is not seen in every Parliament.
Supply and demand government - this has the same basis as a coalition government; no party has a majority but they need the help of the other parties to get one. This is a less formal agreement that a coalition - a deal is signed to say ‘we need your party and your seats but not all the time.’ This is where the biggest party operates independently without the other, but when it comes to a vote they’re going to lose in the House of Commons, the second party steps in to give them the majority. This was seen between the Conservatives and the DUP in the 2017 election.
First past the post - this is the voting system that the UK uses for House of Commons. Evelyn has a very useful article called Putting the Government Together that explains it in detail. There are other voting systems too such as Alternative Voting and Single Transferable Vote. Some of these are used in different places in the world but they are not massively important to UK politics.
House of Commons - one of the chambers in Parliament. This is the democratically elected one, consisting of 650 MPs. As of writing this article, the Conservatives are the biggest party with 318 seats (328 if you take into account those with the DUP deal). Labour comes in second with 262 and the SNP with a huge jump down to 35. This is an example of a two party system government; two parties dominating the chamber which gives very little way to the smaller parties.
House of Lords - the second chamber in Parliament, made up of Lords and Ladies. They are not elected, but the PM will give names to the Queen, and from there she will give them their title. There are over 700 Lords/Ladies currently so it is bigger than the Commons but they always trump the Lords because they are elected. There is often controversy over the Lords as they are deemed undemocratic but there have been times when they shared the public’s opinion where the Commons have not. All the Lords/Ladies are given their title for being experts in their area - Lord Alan Sugar was given his Lordship for his experience in business.
Bicameral - this refers to a political structure with two chambers (bi meaning two). If there were one chamber it would be unicameral, and if there were three, it would be tricameral.
Cabinet - this is made up of the Prime Minister and their chosen ministers. There is generally several, such as Minister of Health and Social Care, Minister of Transport, Minister of Defense and the Chancellor, who is in charge of government finances.
Shadow cabinet - this is the same as the cabinet, but it’s the second most popular party’s cabinet.
Parliamentary Supremacy - the idea that Parliament is above all other political bodies in the UK. However, it has decreased in years with EU integration and delegated government bodies such as Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly (this can be viewed as positive or negative depending on your own opinion).
Safe seats - this is when one party securely holds a constituency. For example, my area ia Aldershot and this is a safe seat held by Leo Docherty. We have a candidate for Labour and the Monster Raving Loony Party (yes, that is a real party and yes, they have won seats before) but their chances of winning are so low as the area is dominated by Tory voters.
The Conservatives - also known as the Tories. Confusingly, they conservative by name, but not by nature. Their policies and such do not follow the conservative ideology. In fact, they are closer to being neo-Liberals. Their policies used to be much more right wing, but as of 2018 it would be easier to place them on centre right. They tend to prefer privatised industries and their policies are generally more based on financial or capitalist ideas. Some notable Prime Ministers; Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May.
The Labour Party - the Labour Party came about after the working class were granted the vote and had to have someone to represent their views. They also tend to follow neo-Liberal ideas too but can also be seen as socialist depending on which era you’re looking at. They are more left wing and have stayed as such throughout their time but in modern day, have been forced to pick up economic related policies in their manifestos to stay popular within the public. Noteable Prime Ministers; Tony Blair and Clement Atlee.
The Liberal Democrats - despite being a smaller party, they are certainly an interesting one. They’ve gone from small, to being in a coalition, to losing many of their seats. They lost popularity for shooting themselves in the foot; campaigning for free universities but then voting to triple the fees. With that said, it’s always good to watch this space as they may make a comeback.
UK Independence Party - a controversial party, to say the least. They have tended to have what some may consider to be xenophobic, even racist, views. For example, they wanted to ban the Burqa and their pro-Brexit stance focused a lot on border control, but extreme border control. They are not generally popular within younger votes, or any voters at all, it now seems. They are all but a memory now in the Commons, but are strangely popular within the European Parliament. The irony.
A Brief History of PMs (or, at least the ones you’ve probably heard about)
Theresa May - ah, yes. Theresa May. Whether you love her or hate her, she is certainly an interesting one. She took over from Cameron following his 2016 resignation and at first, things seemed to be okay. She had a majority, her party were okay with her - and then, she called the infamous snap election. She lost her majority, her party became divided between Stay and Leave and then there was that speech where she had a cough attack, someone tried to hand her a P45 and then the letters on the background behind her began to drop off (along with her popularity). But, she’s managed to stay on the top to the surprise of many. Again, a super interesting space to watch! There’s always something happening.
Margaret Thatcher - I could probably copy and paste that first line from the previous summary of May. She was the first female PM and she won three consecutive elections. Her policies today would go down as extremely controversial but they were popular at the time - she privatised a lot of industries and then handed lots of Parliamentary Sovereignty to the EU. But her downfall? When she suddenly became Eurosceptic - people like politicians who don’t contradict themselves. Eventually, her own party forced her out and she was replaced by John Major (who frankly didn’t do so well either) . She was PM for 11 years in total, from 1979-1990. Her legacy still stands, through Thatcherites in Parliament and Thatcherism based conservatism.
Tony Blair - him and Thatcher actually have a lot in common. They both won three elections, brought new and shiny political ideas to the table and then got forced out by their own parties, only to have their new leader to flop quite badly too. Blair’s chancellor Gordon Brown actually became as popular as him within the cabinet and it was torn into two, Team Blair and Team Brown, like a political version of Twilight. In fact, it got so bad that the two barely spoke to other each for the last part of Blair’s term, but still retained their roles.
Clement Attlee - I know I said ‘ones you might have heard of’ but Atlee deserves more recognition. He helped to piece the country back together after WW2 and introduced this tiny thing called the NHS. He only served one term before Churchill knocked him back down to second spot.
Winston Churchill - probably the most iconic Prime Minister. He lead the country through WW2 and said some popular stuff (‘we’ll fight on the beaches’ etc) - however, he lost the election after the war to Atlee, but six years later he bounced back, served another year and then retired. Some of his work is still influential in Parliament today.
So this brief explanation of politics has turned out to be four pages long, but education is good! I’ve tried to type this free of my own political bias as keeping a neutral stance when teaching about politics is super important. Forming your own opinions is the pinnacle of democracy and if you’re still unsure about which party you’d like and would like to find out more, there are some useful links below with manifestos and the latest stuff in politics from some unbiased news sources.