British Politics module (PO32015)

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Module code


Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To develop and deepen knowledge of the British Constitution: its origins, history, development and current condition.
  • To equip students to engage critically and constructively with current theoretical and political debates surrounding the changing nature of the British Constitution and the substance and process of proposed reforms.
  • To enable students to understand the British Constitution comparatively, in relation to other Westminster Model constitutions around the world.
  • To challenge students to see the British Constitution from multiple perspectives of place and power – not only to be versed in the traditional orthodox understanding of the British Constitution, but also to understand Scottish and post-colonial critiques of it.

Module details

This module examines the constitutional politics of the United Kingdom and, by extension, the Westminster Model of parliamentary democracy as it developed across the Commonwealth. It begins with a discussion of what Constitutions are and what they do, as an introduction to the fact that the British state is unusual in having no written (supreme and fundamental law) constitution. It then traces the historical development of the British Constitution from the middle ages to the modern day, with a focus on the operation of the British constitution in its 20th century ‘majoritarian heyday’, before examining the state of constitutional politics in the UK today.

Teaching sessions will cover:

  1. Understanding Constitutions: The ‘What?’, ‘Why?’, and ‘How?’ of constitutions.
  2. Foundations of the Anglo-British State: from 1066 to 1801, with a focus on the Restoration, the Hanoverian Settlement, and the works of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine.
  3. The Victorian-Imperial Constitution: from the Great Reform Act 1832 to the Parliament Act 1911; the rise of parliamentarism and democracy, with a focus on the works of Walter Bagehot, A. V. Dicey, and J.S. Mill.
  4. The British Constitution in its 20th century ‘Majoritarian Heyday’: Cabinet Government and Parliamentary Democracy; the logic of majoritarian rule - Government, Civil Service, Party and People.
  5. The British Constitution in its 20th century ‘Majoritarian Heyday’: Convention and the Reserve Powers; Government formation and removal; Dissolution of Parliament.
  6. Westminster’s Export Models. Understanding the British Constitution in its global context, with a focus on the work of S. A. de Smith and Sir Ivor Jennings.
  7. Challenges to Majoritarian Rule from the 1960s to the 1990s: Territorial & National Politics, deficiencies in representation and participation, the neo-liberal constitution.
  8. The Blair-Brown Reforms: ‘Too much too soon’, or ‘Too little too late’?
  9. Constitutional Politics in Scotland: Scottish constitutional thought, the Scottish Constitutional Convention and the Claim of Right; and the constitutional politics of Scottish National Movement.
  10. The Constitution Today: ‘Good Chaps no More?’ Popular sovereignty, English nationalism and the majoritarian backlash.
  11. Towards Constitutional Renewal? The forces and mechanisms of constitutional change.


This module consists of 11 lectures and 11 seminars. Seminars will take a variety of formats: discursive questions, debates, interactive constitutional design exercises.


The assessed components on this module are:

  • One set of short-answer questions (weighted 40%)
  • One 2,500 word essay (weighted 60%)

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • Knowledge and understanding of the canonical texts that have contributed to the traditional orthodox understanding of the British Constitution in the 19th and 20th centuries (Bagehot, Dicey, Jennings etc).
  • Knowledge and understanding of the British Constitution as it has developed over time and as how it now operates.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the critiques of this tradition arising from those excluded from power, and of the main arguments around constitutional reform.


  • The ability to engage in discussions on the British Constitution, the politics of constitutional change, and questions of constitutional reform, in an informed and credible way.
  • Critical and reflexive thinking skill development in relation to complex, contested topics.
  • Effective communication of contending viewpoints on the foundations and mutations of the State.

Indicative reading

Bulmer, W. E. (2020) Westminster and the World: Commonwealth and Comparative Insights for Constitutional Reform (Bristol University Press).

De Smith, S. A. (1961) Westminster's export models: The legal framework of responsible government, Journal of Commonwealth Political Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1., pp. 2-16.

Rhodes, Wanna & Weller (2009) Comparing Westminster (Cambridge University Press).

Twomey, A. (2018) The Veiled Sceptre: Reserve Powers of Heads of State in Westminster Systems (Cambridge University Press).

Ward, I. (2018) Writing the Victorian Constitution (Palgrave Modern Legal History Series; Palgrave Macmillan).


This module is available on following courses: