Seminar topics

This list is indicative of the topics that will be covered. The precise order of seminars may alter slightly, so that the subjects covered fit with the Westminster trip. Detailed reading for each of the seminars is listed below. T

he precise seminar exercises are available (for registered students) from the module's WebCT site 1.

week 1 - 30 September/1 October: Introduction. Format of classes. Rules and expectations. No slackers need apply. WebCT. The Westminster trip. What do you know?

Week 2 - 7/8 October: Role. Some basics. What does Parliament do? How does Westminster compare to other legislatures?

Week 3 - 14-15 October: Party I. Mechanisms for communication between front- and back-benches. What is the extent of cohesion in the Commons? What causes it?

Week 4 - 21-22 October: Party II. The role of the whips and the reasons for high levels of party cohesion on the backbenches. Will this differ under a coalition government? Should it be higher? Or lower? How was rebellion contained (or not) under Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-2010)?

Week 5 - 28-29 October: Legislation and Oversight. How does Parliament legislate? What influence does Parliament have on public policy? On what issues does it have more influence? Why so little in general? What more could be done? Select Committees. Poodles or watchdogs? How are they used? What influence do they have? How could they be improved?

Week 6 - 4-5 November: Other means of scrutiny. What is the value or (otherwise) of Prime Minister’s Questions? What types of questions are asked at PMQs? Why so many questions, so much talk? And why to so little effect? Are the Prime Minister’s twice-yearly sessions before the Liaison Committee more useful? How effective are ministerial and topical questions?

Week 7 - 11-12 November: Home style. What do MPs do in their constituencies? Why do they do it? And with what consequences? How important is the MP-constituent link? Are MPs’ roles at Westminster and in their constituencies competing or compatible? What impact has the increase internet had on relations between MPs and their constituents?

Week 8 - 18-19 November: Case Study Advice. One-to-one meetings (compulsory) with your tutor (held at usual seminar times) to finalise topics and discuss progress on case studies. (Details to be arranged nearer the time).

Week 9 - Thursday, 25 November: House of Lords. What does the Lords do? What have been the consequences of getting rid of the hereditary peers? Who sits in the Lords? Why do the Lords inflict so many defeats on the Government? Will they continue to do so under the new coalition government?

Week 10 - Thursday 2 December: Westminster Trip (provisional date only) – (No seminars or office hours on Thursday, 2 December or Friday, 3 December)

Week 11 - 9-10 December: MPs’ expenses. Explain how and why the MPs’ expenses scandal arose? Were MPs treated harshly? What changes were put in place to prevent future abuses? Is the new system better than the old one?