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Topic 24: The Contemporary British Scene (Political, social, cultural and economic issues)

  1. The changing Constitution. Give an account of the current evolution and reform of the main institutions of British government: the Monarchy (e.g. changing role, relevance, funding, etc.) Parliament (e.g. House of Lords reform, electoral reform, devolution, etc.), Cabinet and the Prime Minister (e.g. increasing authority of the PM, etc.), the political parties (relevance, changing policies and appeal of particular parties, problems of funding, etc) the established Church (e.g. relevance, women's role in, etc), local government, NGOs, watchdogs, focus groups.
  2. Outline the process through which women have gained full legal and political equality with men in Britain. What are the still outstanding issues which need to be addressed in terms of women's rights in the spheres of employment, education, defence forces, leadership roles, birth control, criminal justice, role in the family, the life of single mothers, or other areas that you would like to mention.
  3. The United Kingdom and European integration. Describe the often controversial relationship between Britain and the evolving European Union since British accession to the present. What has been the British attitude (give examples of governments, the dissenting views of parties, groups or individual politicians) to issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy, the regional policy of the EU, EU enlargement, majority voting, a common foreign, defence and taxation policy, legal harmonisation, co-ordinated human rights legislation and policy, adherence to EU directives on trade, health and the environment, and accession to the common European currency?
  4. How did English law and the general public regard aliens in various historical periods? How did the ethnic map of Great Britain change as a result of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries? How has the legacy of the Empire affect immigration patterns to Britain over the past decades? What is the composition, geographic distribution, social and political status and role of the principal minorities (national, racial, religious, not including the indigenous "Celtic" minorities) living in the United Kingdom today? Describe the cultural features and achievements of a number of minority groups of your choice. What is the composition and what are the motivating factors of new immigration? What process and treatment do immigrants face when they arrive in Britain? Comment on the meaning of the following terms in the context of British immigration policy: Immigrant, migrant, refugee, asylum seeker.
  5. The printed media in Britain. Name the main British broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, weekly and monthly papers and journals, and comment on their general profiles. How has the role and nature of journalism changed in Britain over the past few decades? How have recent changes in the vastly increased availability of information and entertainment sources, including the Internet, affect readership, proprietorship, content, circulation figures and political affiliation in the printed media?
  6. The broadcast media in Britain. Outline the evolution of British broadcasting from the establishment of the BBC. Describe the BBC's Royal Charter, and comment on its social, educational and political role from the 1920s onwards. Discuss the various changes, and their effects, in radio and television broadcasting that commercial liberalisation and the recent revolution in technical delivery systems has created in Britain. (Changing organisational patterns within the BBC, mergers and de-mergers in the independent sector, B Sky B, satellite broadcasting, digital broadcasting, broadcast media on the Internet.)
  7. Briefly outline the historical background of the incorporation of Wales and Scotland into the British monarchy. How has the Union fared? What steps have been taken in recent decades to introduce devolved government in Scotland and Wales? What are the devolved institutions, what powers do they have and how do they operate? Describe the ambitions of various groups to widen and deepen the devolution process in Scotland and Wales. What may be the possible consequences for England and the United Kingdom as a whole? Which regions within England claim a separate identity, on what basis and with what possible consequences?
  8. In what way is the present political and constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland rooted in the history of Anglo-Irish relations? Outline the events, including their causes and consequences, referred to as the "Troubles" in Ireland. What historical and social forces operate on either side of the divide? Briefly describe their cultural as well as political differences. What has been the history of Home Government for Northern Ireland in the past decades? Outline the process that resulted in the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement (10 April 1998). How do devolved institutions work in Northern Ireland today, what are the continuing problems? What are the prospects for, and concrete conditions of, the creation of a united Ireland?
  9. Outline the history of the establishment and maintenance of the welfare state in Britain, with special regard to public health, the provision of various social, welfare and employment-related services and benefits. Summarise the main current controversies surrounding the welfare system? (Private financing, quality of service, the NHS, state and private pensions, an ageing population.). Describe the problems concerning the so-called "North-South divide" in Britain and its connections with the welfare of the nation. (Has the Exe-Tees line survived?)
  10. Describe the British public and private education system. Briefly outline its evolution in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Changing social background, legislation, types of secondary and tertiary educational institutions.) How have recent demographic, cultural, social and political developments affect the curriculum, operation, funding and examination system of schools and universities? What are the current debates and problems in this field?
  11. Describe the British justice system. How and why is the system different in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Describe the main sources of English Law: Common Law, UK home legislation, and European rules. What are the remaining differences between the British and the Continental (Western European) approaches to the freedom of the individual? Briefly explain the operation of the main elements of the English court system: magistrates, appeal courts and the House of Lords; the Crown Prosecution Service, barristers, solicitors, the jury system, and the question of legal aid? What are main changes that were implemented in the 20th century? What reforms are being contemplated today and why? (Jury system, tightening criminal legislation, the role of the executive [Home Secretary], role of the Lord Chancellor, etc.)
  12. Current party political issues and developments in Britain. Where does the Labour Party (New Labour), the main, Conservative, opposition and the Liberal Democratic Party stand on such issues as the public services (education, health, and transport), taxation (redistribution of wealth), weight of the public and private sectors, the environment, electoral reform, immigration, the justice system, devolution (including Northern Ireland), the crisis in rural areas, European integration (Britain's role, changing structure of the European Union, enlargement, etc.) How do they address the decline in interest in the traditional parties? Who are the main leaders and defining figures of the main parties? What main controversies exist within the parties? Briefly describe the outcome of the past three general elections in the UK.

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last edited on Tue Dec 31 23:00:00 CET 2002, by peter.szigetvari@elte.hu