Understanding Change in British Politics - POLI3040

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Spring Term 4 15 (7.5) Matthew Goodwin checkmark-circle


Democracy in Britain does not appear to be in a healthy state. Citizens are less engaged with political institutions, and less trusting in politicians, than they used to be. Critical questions are being asked about the role and effectiveness of such key institutions as the electoral system and parliament. Meanwhile, the nature of political authority in Britain is changing rapidly. Power has been transferred upwards to the European Union, and downwards to devolved bodies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. Non-electoral actors such as the media also play an important role in shaping political decisions. Where does this leave the political system at the start of the 21st century? Is government in Britain effective and democratic? Or are Britain's political institutions failing? This module provides students with an introduction to some of the key issues facing the political system in Britain today. The module examines the challenges facing the political system, the effectiveness of existing political arrangements and the merits of institutional reform. While the focus is domestic, many of the same challenges are also faced by political systems in other west European countries, to which the course will make reference. The module thus aims to go beyond a simple focus on British politics, by introducing students to some of the key contemporary issues facing many western democracies.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 22

Private study hours: 128

Total study hours: 150


Politics BA
Available as an elective module

Method of assessment

Essay - 2000 words (50%)
Exam - 2hrs (50%)

**Please note that the exam in May/June 2023 will be Online (24 hour window)**

Reassessment Instrument: Like for Like

Indicative reading

* Anthony King, Does the UK Still Have a Constitution? Sweet and Maxwell (2001)

* Tony Wright, British Politics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (2003)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Understand the way that political decisions are reached in Britain, focusing on the links between citizens, intermediary bodies and executive institutions.

2. Identify the main evidence and criteria used in determining which actors shape key policy decisions.

3. Identify the ways in which Britain's political system has undergone significant structural change in the last decade or so.

4. Critically examine the strengths and weaknesses of political institutions in Britain, and analytically evaluate arguments around the merits of alternative institutional arrangements.

5. Understand how the design and operation of Britain’s political system relates to alternative arrangements in other western democracies, and identify the main consequences of these similarities and differences.


  1. Credit level 4. Certificate level module usually taken in the first stage of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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