Skip to main content


POL1015 : The Westminster System: the UK in comparative perspective

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Geoff Horn
  • Co-Module Leader: Dr Maarja Luhiste
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module focuses on how the UK's key political institutions, processes and actors operate in comparison to other democratic political systems. It seeks to increase our understanding by asking important questions such as: How does the UK's majoritarian model of democracy compare to more consensual models of democracy? How does the UK compare in terms of the distribution of power between institutions and actors? How does the UK compare in terms of realising democratic ideals, such as safeguarding democratic freedoms, and enhancing representation and participation?
The module will use these comparisons in order to consider the state of UK democracy through two key themes - 'change' and 'reform': How has the UK's political system changed over time and what is the case for further reforms? How can the UK learn from other democracies in order to modernise and improve it's political system?
The module aims:
• To secure a foundational knowledge and understanding of the key institutions, processes and actors within democratic political systems
• To develop a comparative perspective of the UK political system through an awareness of historical development and international comparison
• To evaluate the relevant concepts, issues and debates related to the reform of UK politics

Outline Of Syllabus

Lecture topics may include:
1.       Introduction: comparing political systems
2.       Democracy: majoritarian and consensual models
3.       Constitutions and courts
4.       The UK constitution: the case for codification?
5.       Legislatures (lower chambers)
6.       UK House of Commons: the empowerment of Parliament?
7. Legislatures (upper chambers)
8. UK House of Lords: replace or reform?
9.       Executives (Presidents & Prime Ministers)
10.       UK Prime Minister and Cabinet: collective cabinet government?
11.       Sub-National Government (federal & unitary states)
12.       UK Devolution (Scotland & Wales): can federalism save the Union?
13. UK Devolution (N. Ireland) & Local Government (England)
14. Essay advice lecture
15. Political Parties (party systems)
16. The UK's party systems: the decline of 2-party politics?
17.       Simulation assessment briefing
18.       Political Participation (voters)
19. Elections (electoral systems)
20. UK electoral systems: is FPTP fit for purpose?
21. Interest Groups (lobbying & influence)
22. UK Interest Groups: pluralism & transparency?

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:0022 hours Present-in-Person (PiP) lectures
Structured Guided LearningAcademic skills activities114:0044:00Quizzes; guided readings and seminar preparation tasks.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:0011 Present-in-Person (PiP) seminars
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1112:00112:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesModule talk111:0011:00PiP Student Consultation and Feedback
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures will introduce students to the key information, concepts and debates that will provide the basis for self-directed study and seminar discussion. These lectures will draw upon a range of theoretical and empirical examples drawn from literature on comparative political systems and UK politics.

The seminars will provide an environment in which students can explore and deepen their understanding of the issues raised in lectures and readings through discussion in a small group context with their peers, via the exploration of key issues and competing arguments, and the opportunity to ask questions. The seminars will also provide the context in which students will develop many of the skills outcomes associated with the module. They will be central to the development of critical thinking and data synthesis skills. The seminars, with their requirement for advance preparation, will promote self-management skills, while seminar discussions will provide opportunities to develop and enhance interaction and group-working skills.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M502000 words
Prof skill assessmnt2M25Seminar contributions assessed over 10 seminar meetings
Practical/lab report2M251 x 1hr simulation assessment
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

1. The 2000 word essay will provide students with the opportunity to explore aspects of the UK political system in greater depth. The essays will provide a means of assessing their ability to place and synthesise the material gained from lectures and seminars in addition to empirical, conceptual and theoretical understandings derived from their own independent study. The essays will also assess students’ ability to critically and succinctly evaluate such material.

2. The professional skills assessment will involve assessing student contributions to seminar discussions based on seminar preparation tasks, and will help to incentivise independent study and student engagement.

3. The simulation assessment will provide students with a means of improving their transferable skills particularly relating to oral presentation, problem solving and team working skills via a role-playing scenario related to a relevant topic in the study of the UK political system. The topic may vary from year to year.

Reading Lists