A level Politics components

New linear Politics components 1 and 2 – detailed summary

Changes from the old specifications will be italicised

Component 1

UK Political ContentCore Political Ideas ContentLiberalismSocialism

UK Politics Content

1 Democracy and participation

Key terminology
Legitimacy; Direct democracy; Representative democracy; Pluralist democracy; Democratic deficit; Participation crisis; Franchise/suffrage; Think tanks; Lobbyists.

1.1 Current systems of representative democracy and direct democracy.

  • The features of direct democracy and representative democracy.
  • The similarities and differences between direct democracy and representative democracy.

Advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy and representative democracy and consideration of the case for reform.

1.2 A wider franchise and debates over suffrage.

  • Key milestones in the widening of the franchise in relation to class, gender, ethnicity and age, including the 1832 Great Reform Act and the 1918, 1928 and 1969 Representation of the People Acts.
  • The work of the suffragists/suffragettes to extend the franchise.

The work of a current movement to extend the franchise.

1.3 Pressure groups and other influences.

  • How different pressure groups exert influence and how their methods and influence vary in contemporary politics.
  • Case studies of two different pressure groups, highlighting examples of how their methods and influence vary.
  • Other collective organisations and groups including think tanks, lobbyists and corporations, and their influence on government and Parliament.

1.4 Rights in context.

  • Major milestones in their development, including the significance of Magna Carta and more recent developments, including the Human Rights Act 1998 and Equality Act 2010.
  • Debates on the extent, limits and tensions within the UK’s rights-based culture, including consideration of how individual and collective right may conflict, the contributions from civil liberty pressure groups – including the work of two contemporary civil liberty pressure groups.
2 Political parties

Key terminology
Old Labour (social democracy); New Labour (Third Way); One Nation; New Right; Classical liberals; Modern liberals; Party systems; Left wing; Right wing.

2.1 Political parties.

  • The functions and features of political parties in the UK’s representative democracy.
  • How parties are currently funded, debates on the consequences of the current funding system.

2.2 Established political parties.

  • The origins and historical development of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat Party, and how this has shaped their ideas and current policies on the economy, law and order, welfare and foreign policy

2.3 Emerging and minor UK political parties.

  • The importance of other parties in the UK.
  • The ideas and policies of two other minor parties.

2.4 UK political parties in context.

  • The development of a multi-party system and its implications for government.
  • Various factors that affect party success – explanations of why political parties have succeeded or failed, including debates on the influence of the media.
3 Electoral systems

Key terminology
First-past-the-post (FPTP); Additional Member System (AMS); Single Transferable Vote (STV); Supplementary Vote (SV); Safe seat; Marginal seat; Minority government; Coalition government.

3.1 Different electoral systems.

  • First-past-the-post (FPTP), Additional Member System (AMS), Single Transferable Vote (STV) Supplementary Vote (SV).
  • The advantages and disadvantages of these different systems.
  • Comparison of first-past-the-post (FPTP) to a different electoral system in a devolved parliament/assembly.

3.2 Referendums and how they are used.

  • How referendums have been used in the UK and their impact on UK political life since 1997.
  • The case for and against referendums in a representative democracy.

3.3 Electoral system analysis.

  • Debates on why different electoral systems are used in the UK.
  • The impact of the electoral system on the government or type of government appointed.
  • The impact of different systems on party representation and of electoral systems on voter choice.
4 Voting behaviour and the media

Key terminology
Class dealignment; Partisan dealignment; Governing competency; Disillusion and apathy; Manifesto; Mandate

4.1 Case studies of three key general elections.

  • Case studies of three elections (one from the period 1945– 92, the 1997 election, and one since 1997), the results and their impact on parties and government. 
  • The factors that explain the outcomes of these elections, including:

the reasons for and impact of party policies and manifestos, techniques used in their election campaigns, and the wider political context of the elections class-based voting and other factors influencing voting patterns, such as partisanship and voting attachment gender, age, ethnicity and region as factors in influencing voting behaviour, turnout and trends.

  • Analysis of the national voting-behaviour patterns for these elections, revealed by national data sources and how and why they vary.

4.2 The influence of the media.

  • The assessment of the role and impact of the media on politics – both during and between key general elections, including the importance and relevance of opinion polls, media bias and persuasion.

Core Political Ideas Content

1 Conservatism: core ideas and principles

Key terminology
Hierarchy; Authority; Change to conserve; Atomism

Core ideas and principles of conservatism and how they relate to human nature, the state, society and the economy:

  • pragmatism – flexible approach to society with decisions made on the basis of what works – to cover links between pragmatism and traditional conservative and one-nation philosophy
  • tradition – accumulated wisdom of past societies and a connection between the generations – to cover how this creates stability, links with organic change, and enhances humans’ security
  • human imperfection – humans are flawed which makes them incapable of making good decisions for themselves – to cover the three aspects of psychological, moral and intellectual imperfection
  • organic society/state – society/state is more important than any individual parts – to cover how this links to the underpinning of the beliefs of authority and hierarchy and a cohesive society
  • paternalism – benign power exerted from above by the state, that governs in the interests of the people – to cover the different interpretations by traditional (an authoritarian approach, the state knows what is best so the people must do what they are told) and one-nation conservatives (there is an obligation on the wealthy to look after those who are unable to look after themselves)and why it is rejected by New Right Conservatives
  • libertarianism (specifically neo-liberalism) – upholds liberty, seeking to maximise autonomy and free choice, mainly in the economy – to cover the moral and economic values associated with this idea.
2 Differing views and tensions within conservatism

Key terminology
Noblesse oblige; Anti-permissiveness; Radical; Human imperfection

The differing views and tensions within conservatism:

  • traditional conservative − commitment to hierarchic and paternalistic values
  • one-nation conservative − updating of traditional conservatism in response to the emergence of capitalism
  • new right − the marriage of neo-liberal and neo-conservative ideas and include:

neo-liberal: principally concerned with free-market economics and atomistic individualism

neo-conservative: principally concerned with the fear of social fragmentation, tough on law and order and public morality.

3 Conservative thinkers and their ideas

Key terminology
Laissez-faire; Empiricism.

The key ideas of the following thinkers to exemplify the content from areas 1 and 2:

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)

  • Order – an ordered society should balance the human need to lead a free life. • Human nature – humans are needy, vulnerable and easily led astray in attempts to understand the world around them. 

Edmund Burke (1729–1797)  

  • Change – political change should be undertaken with great caution and organically. 
  • Tradition and empiricism – practices passed down for generations should be respected. 

Michael Oakeshott (1901–1990)  

  • Human imperfection – suggestion that society is unpredictable and humans are imperfect.
  • Pragmatism – belief that conservatism is about being pragmatic.

Ayn Rand (1905–1982)

  • Objectivism – this advocates the virtues of rational self interest.
  • Freedom – this supports a pure, laissez-faire capitalist economy.

Robert Nozick (1938–2002)

  • Libertarianism – based on Kant’s idea that individuals in society cannot be treated as a thing, or used against their will as a resource.
  • Self-ownership – individuals own their bodies, talents, abilities and labour.


Liberalism is seen essentially as a product of The Enlightenment as it recognises that humans are rational creatures capable of understanding the world and making decision for themselves. The defining feature of liberalism is its belief in individualism and freedom. There are three content areas:

  1. Liberalism: core ideas and principles
  2. Differing views and tensions within liberalism
  3. Liberal thinkers and their ideas.
1 Liberalism: core ideas and principles

Key terminology
Foundational equality; Formal equality; Equality of opportunity; Social contract; Meritocracy; Mechanistic theory; Tolerance; Limited government

Core ideas and principles of liberalism and how they relate to human nature, the state, society and the economy:

  • individualism – the primacy of the individual in society over any group – to cover egoistical individualism and developmental individualism
  • freedom/liberty – the ability and right to make decisions in your own interests based on your view of human nature – to cover how liberals guarantee individual freedom, the link between freedom and individualism, that freedom is ‘under the law’
  • state – it is ‘necessary’ to avoid disorder, but ‘evil’ as it has potential to remove individual liberty, thus should be limited; this is linked to the liberal view of the economy
  • rationalism – the belief that humans are rational creatures, capable of reason and logic – to cover how rationalism underpins an individual’s ability to define their own best interests and make their own moral choices, creating a progressive society
  • equality/social justice – the belief that individuals are of equal value and that they should be treated impartially and fairly by society – to cover foundational and formal equality and equality of opportunity
  • liberal democracy – a democracy that balances the will of the people, as shown through elections, with limited government (state) and a respect for civil liberties in society – to cover why liberals support it as well as why they are concerned about it.
2 Differing views and tensions within liberalism

Key terminology
Egoistical individualism; Developmental individualism; Negative freedom; Positive freedom; Laissez-faire capitalism; Keynesianism

The differing views and tensions within liberalism:

  • classical liberalism − early liberals who believed that individual freedom would best be achieved with the state playing a minimal role
  • modern liberalism − emerged as a reaction against free-market capitalism, believing this had led to many individuals not being free. Freedom could no longer simply be defined as ‘being left alone’.
3 Liberal thinkers and their ideas

Key terminology
Harm principle; Minimal state; Enabling state

The key ideas of the following thinkers to exemplify the content from areas 1 and 2:

John Locke (1632-1704) 

  • Social contract theory – society, state and government are based on a theoretical voluntary agreement. 
  • Limited government – that government should be limited and based on consent from below. 

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97) 

  • Reason – women are rational and independent beings capable of reason. 
  • Formal equality – in order to be free, women should enjoy full civil liberties and be allowed to have a career. John Stuart Mill (1806-73)
  • Harm principle – that individuals should be free to do anything except harm other individuals.
  • Tolerance – belief that the popularity of a view does not necessarily make it correct.

John Rawls (1921-2002)

  • Theory of justice – opinion that society must be just and guarantee each citizen a life worth living.
  • The veil of ignorance – a hypothetical scenario where individuals, agree on the type of society they want from a position where they lack knowledge of their own position in society. 

Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

  • Legal equality – women are as capable as men and that oppressive laws and social views must be overturned.
  • Equal opportunity – women are being held back from their potential because of the limited number of jobs that are ‘acceptable’ for women.


Socialism is defined by its opposition to capitalism. It aims to provide a clear alternative that is more humane and based on collectivism not individualism, co-operation not competition and social equality not inequality. There is a wide variety of traditions within socialism, with the goal of abolishing or minimising class division.

There are three content areas:

  1. Socialism: core ideas and principles
  2. Differing views and tensions within socialism
  3. Socialist thinkers and their ideas.
1 Socialism: core ideas and principles

Key terminology
Fraternity; Co-operation; Capitalism; Common ownership; Communism

Core ideas and principles of socialism and how they relate to human nature, the state, society and the economy:

  • collectivism – to cover how collective human effort is both of greater practical value to the economy and moral value to society than the effort of individuals
  • common humanity – to cover the nature of humans as social creatures with a tendency to co-operation, sociability and rationality, and how the individual cannot be understood without reference to society, as human behaviour is socially determined
  • equality – is a fundamental value of socialism – to cover the disagreements among socialists about the nature of equality and how it is critical to the state, society, the economy and human nature
  • social class – a group of people in society who have the same socioeconomic status – to cover the extent to which class impacts on socialists’ views of society, the state and the economy
  • workers’ control − to cover the importance and the extent of control over the economy and/or state and how it is to be achieved.
2 Differing views and tensions within socialism

Key terminology
Evolutionary socialism; Marxism; Revisionism; Social justice

The differing views and tensions within socialism:

  • revolutionary socialism − socialism can be brought about only by the overthrow of the existing political and societal structures
  • social democracy − an ideological view that wishes to humanise capitalism in the interests of social justice
  • Third Way − a middle-ground alternative route to socialism and free-market capitalism.
3 Socialist thinkers and their ideas

Key terminology
Class consciousness; Historical materialism; Dialectic; Keynesian economics

Karl Marx (1818–83) and Friedrich Engels (1820–95)

  • The centrality of social class – the ideas of historical materialism, dialectic change and revolutionary class consciousness
  • Humans as social beings – how nature is socially determined and how true common humanity can be expressed only under communism. 

Beatrice Webb (1858–1943)

  • ‘The inevitability of gradualness’ – the gradualist parliamentary strategy for achieving evolutionary socialism.
  • The expansion of the state – that this, and not the overthrow of the state, is critical in delivering socialism.

Rosa Luxemburg (1871–1919)

  • Evolutionary socialism and revisionism – this is not possible as capitalism is based on an economic relationship of exploitation.
  • Struggle by the proletariat for reform and democracy – this creates the class consciousness necessary for the overthrow of the capitalist society and state

Anthony Crosland (1918–77) 

  • The inherent contradictions in capitalism – does not drive social change and managed capitalism can deliver social justice and equality.
  • State-managed capitalism – includes the mixed economy, full employment and universal social benefits. 

Anthony Giddens (1938– )

  • The rejection of state intervention – acceptance of the free market in the economy, emphasis on equality of opportunity over equality, responsibility and community over class conflict. 
  • The role of the state – is social investment in infrastructure and education not economic and social engineering.

Component 2

UK Government and Non-core Political IdeasNational Option

UK Government and Non-core Political Ideas

1 The constitution

Key terminology
Constitution; Unentrenched/(entrenched); Uncodified/(codified); Unitary/(federal); Parliamentary sovereignty; The rule of law; Statute law; Common law; Conventions; Authoritative works; Treaties; Devolution

1.1 The nature and sources of the UK constitution, including:

  • an overview of the development of the constitution through key historical documents: Magna Carta (1215); Bill of Rights (1689); Act of Settlement (1701); Acts of Union (1707); Parliament Acts (1911 and 1949); The European Communities Act (1972)
  • the nature of the UK constitution: unentrenched, uncodified and unitary, and the ‘twin pillars’ of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law
  • the five main sources of the UK constitution: statute law; common law; conventions; authoritative works and treaties (including European Union law).

1.2 How the constitution has changed since 1997.

  • Under Labour 1997–2010: House of Lords reforms, electoral reform; devolution; the Human Rights Act 1998; and the Supreme Court.
  • Under the Coalition 2010–15: Fixed Term Parliaments; further devolution to Wales.
  • Any major reforms undertaken by governments since 2015, including further devolution to Scotland (in the context of the Scottish Referendum).

1.3 The role and powers of devolved bodies in the UK, and the impact of this devolution on the UK. 

  • Devolution in England
  • Scottish Parliament and Government.
  • Welsh Assembly and Government.
  • Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

1.4 Debates on further reform.

  • An overview of the extent to which the individual reforms since 1997 listed in section 1.2 above should be taken further.
  • The extent to which devolution should be extended in England.
  • Whether the UK constitution should be changed to be entrenched and codified, including a bill of rights
2 Parliament

Key terminology
Parliament; House of Commons; House of Lords; Confidence and supply; Salisbury Convention; Parliamentary privilege; Legislative bills; Public bill committees; Backbenchers; Select committees; Opposition.

2.1 The structure and role of the House of Commons and House of Lords.

  • The selection of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, including the different types of Peers.
  • The main functions of the House of Commons and House of Lords and the extent to which these functions are fulfilled.

2.2 The comparative powers of the House of Commons and House of Lords.

  • The exclusive powers of the House of Commons.
  • The main powers of the House of Lords.
  • Debates about the relative power of the two houses

2.3 The legislative process.

  • The different stages a bill must go through to become law.
  • The interaction between the Commons and the Lords during the legislative process, including the Salisbury Convention.

2.4 The ways in which Parliament interacts with the Executive.

  • The role and significance of backbenchers in both Houses, including the importance of parliamentary privilege.
  • The work of select committees.
  • The role and significance of the opposition.
  • The purpose and nature of ministerial question time, including Prime Minister’s Questions.
3 Prime Minister and Executive

Key terminology
Executive; Cabinet Minister; Government department; Royal prerogative; Secondary legislation; Individual responsibility; Collective responsibility; Presidential government.

3.1 The structure, role, and powers of the Executive.

  • Its structure, including Prime Minister, the Cabinet, junior ministers and government departments.
  • Its main roles, including proposing legislation, proposing a budget, and making policy decisions within laws and budget.
  • The main powers of the Executive, including Royal Prerogative powers, initiation of legislation and secondary legislative power.

3.2 The concept of ministerial responsibility.

  • The concept of individual ministerial responsibility.
  • The concept of collective ministerial responsibility.

3.3 The Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

3.3.1 The power of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

  • The factors governing the Prime Minister’s selection of ministers.
  • The factors that affect the relationship between the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, and the ways they have changed and the balance of power between the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

3.3.2 The powers of the Prime Minster and the Cabinet to dictate events and determine policy.

  • Students must study the influence of one Prime Minister from 1945 to 1997 and one post-1997 Prime Minister. 
  • Students may choose any pre-1997 and any post-1997 Prime Minister, provided that they study them in an equivalent level of detail, covering both events and policy, with examples that illustrate both control and a lack of control.
4 Relations between branches

Key terminology
Supreme Court; Judicial neutrality; Judicial independence; Judicial review; Elective dictatorship; European Union (EU); Four freedoms (EU); Legal sovereignty; Political sovereignty; Ultra vires.

4.1 The Supreme Court and its interactions with, and influence over, the legislative and policy-making processes.

  • The role and composition of the Supreme Court.
  • The key operating principles of the Supreme Court, including judicial neutrality and judicial independence and their extent.
  • The degree to which the Supreme Court influences both the Executive and Parliament, including the doctrine of ultra vires and judicial review.

4.2 The relationship between the Executive and Parliament.

  • The influence and effectiveness of Parliament in holding the Executive to account.
  • The influence and effectiveness of the Executive in attempting to exercise dominance over Parliament.
  • The extent to which the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive has changed.

4.3 The aims, role and impact of the European Union (EU) on UK government.

  • The aims of the EU, including the ‘four freedoms’ of the single market, social policy, and political and economic union and the extent to which these have been achieved. 
  • The role of the EU in policy making.
  • The impact of the EU, including the main effects of at least two EU policies and their impact on the UK political system and UK policy making.

4.4 The location of sovereignty in the UK political system.

  • The distinction between legal sovereignty and political sovereignty.
  • The extent to which sovereignty has moved between different branches of government.
  • Where sovereignty can now be said to lie in the UK.

Nationalism Option

Nationalism believes that nations are a timeless phenomenon. It is based on the belief that people have been attached to the practices connected with their heritage and seeks to continue them freely.

There are three content areas for this option:  

  1. Nationalism: ideas and principles
  2. Different types of nationalism
  3. Nationalist thinkers and their ideas 
  4. Nationalism: ideas and principles

Key terminology
Civic nationalism; Liberal internationalism; Socialist internationalism; Ethnicity

Core ideas and principles of nationalism and how they relate to human nature, the state, society and the economy: 

  • nations – people who identify themselves as a cohesive group based on shared values in society – to cover the idea that there are very different ways of defining a nation 
  • self-determination – belief that nations should decide how they are governed – to cover the idea of the nation as a genuine political community capable of self-government
  • nation-state – a nation that rules itself in its own state and controls its own economies – to cover the understanding that the nation-state, while supported by most nationalists, is not universally supported
  • culturalism – that nationalism is based on shared cultural societal values – to cover the idea that some forms of nationalism are grounded in more mystical, emotional ties and also to reflect on the darker side of nationalism 
  • racialism – humankind can be meaningfully divided into separate ‘races’, which each possess different natures – to cover the view held by a very small group of nationalists who believe that nationhood is determined purely by biological factors
  • internationalism – the world should unite across boundaries to advance their common interests in society – to cover the idea that some forms of nationalism also have an internationalist perspective, whereas other internationalists reject nationalism.
2 Different types of nationalism

Key terminology
Rational; Progressive; Regressive; Inclusive nationalism; Exclusive nationalism; Chauvinistic nationalism; Imperialism/colonialism 

The different types of nationalism and the extent to which they vary:

  • liberal nationalism – seeks a world of autonomous nation states 
  • conservative nationalism – exists to forge a sense of cohesion and unity within society
  • anti/post-colonialism – rejects colonial rule and seeks to have governance returned to the indigenous population
  • expansionist nationalism – rejects the right of all nations to self-determination, usually linked to chauvinism.
3 Nationalist thinkers and their ideas

Key terminology
Volksgeist; Integral nationalism; Black nationalism 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)

  • General will – that government should be based on the indivisible collective will of the ‘community’ and that nations have the right to govern themselves.
  • Civic nationalism – where the state is legitimate because it is based on the active participation of its citizens.

Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803)

  • Cultural nationalism – suggested that every nation was different, and that every nation had its own unique cultural character.
  • Volk – identified the Volk (the people) as the root of national culture and special nature (Volksgeist), which each nation should try to express.

Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872)

  • Nationhood – believed that humans could express themselves only via their nation and that human freedom rested on the creation of one’s own nation-state.
  • ‘Action’ – rejected intellectualism and rationalism, and created an idea known as ‘thought and action’. Charles Maurras (1868-1952) 
  • Integral nationalism – an intensely emotional form of nationalism where individuals were encouraged to submerge themselves into their nation.
  • Militarism – integral nationalism encourages nations to have a strong military ethos.

Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) 

  • Black pride – encouraged African people to be proud of their race and to see beauty in their own kind.
  • Pan-Africanism – that African people, in every part of the world, were one people and that they would never progress if they did not put aside their cultural and ethnic differences.