UK Politics: where to begin?

Politics has long been a neglected subject in most UK schools. Most people leave school at voting age not knowing anything about the systems that they find themselves in or voting for; what is the difference between government and parliament? Who are the House of Lords? What has the royal family got to do with it? What happens with taxes – where does my money go? Who should I be voting for? These and other questions may be left in the minds of millions of people leaving school having not received any education about the things that impact them most.

Many want to find out more about the political system and who they may want to vote for but have no idea where to begin, with little base knowledge it is difficult to know especially when the internet is full of fictions between the truths. I was one of those people, I have had an interest in politics from quite a young age going at it from a more historical or literary angle because that was all the information I had to go off. From there I sieved through all the information I could find to try and find the key to our political system, but there is so much out there, especially in a time of increased interest of American politics, that it can be hard to get through to find the facts.

Politics, to me, is a multifaceted subject which can be looked at from multiple different angles and perspectives, weighing each of these towards the subjectively ‘best’ option. It can come with a lot of jargon, and it’s a topic steeped in historic precedent but here I have attempted to compile some of the books, websites and other material that might be useful to start delving into the world of politics.

Books:

The Politics book – This is a great non-pretentious introduction to politics as it covers its beginnings up to the present day so that you can see how we have come to the systems we’ve got to know.

Politics by David Ranciman: This book also introduces big topics in a concise and accessible way. Politics focuses on what politics is, why we need it and where it is going or what the future of politics might look like.

The Art of War, The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell- These are some of the most influential books on Politics changing the way that we think about our interactions with people. The Politics book also covers an overview of some of these alongside other influential texts. And you can find free copies of the earlier texts on Gutenberg.com or Google Books.

Humankind: A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman – This book disproves Machiavelli and Hobbes in attempting to prove that people are not innately selfish. I’ve done a more in depth review of this book (link to Humankind Review here). Politics in itself is about people (Polis in Greek means People) and so understanding people and our interactions with each other and attempting to understand each others differing viewpoints, I think, is the most important thing. Many people also recommend the worldwide bestseller Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari that similarly compiles human history but in a less hope focused way. Personally, I find Bregaman’s much more readable and a little more open-minded (sorry Sapiens fans!)

Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall – If you want to know more about international relations and why wars brake out then this is an engaging overview of the way that countries interact with each other and why by using case studies that cover the last 100 years. This is great for more on the impact of organisations like the European Union, the World Health Organisation and … He’s also got a new book out called The Power of Geography about the importance of geographical location and where the future of geopolitics is heading, it looks like a fascinating read for those more future-orientated.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, by Shoshana Zuboff: a very detailed and interesting account of society in an age of social media and increased technological advancement alongside the capitalist one. I haven’t finished reading this yet, and I’m not sure that I agree with everything so far, but it’s well researched and incredibly relevant as we look at the ethics of technology. This book shows just how complex words like capitalism or socialism can be, they are ever changing with different consequences.

Websites:

UK Parliament Website – This has information about the system that it operates within and its origins as well as a database on members of parliaments voting history so that you can see which members are most consistent or not and what the members stand for (sometimes members vote tactically though (due to Party Politics and lobbying) so bear this in mind.

The Electoral commission – This is the place to find out what the parties are spending their money on and what their priorities have been over time. This is also the place where you can register to vote in the UK

I took a course called ‘An introduction to the UK Parliament’ years ago and it was helpful not only in the concise information the provided but because you could interact with others on the course too, sharing opinions and discussing the controversies. Unfortunately, I cannot find this course anymore but here is a link to other politics related courses on futurelearn (it may come back soon!)

I, by no means, am the most knowledgeable person about politics and I’m learning more about it all the time. Politics is ever changing as the world and as its people do so its difficult to stay on top of things all of the time, but I do believe that the more people that have a base knowledge of the systems they are apart of the more that people will be able to participate in it and consider more of the reasons for the differing and varying opinions that every person around the world holds.

Other great places to start with politics is to subscribe to a variety of news outlets with different biases. There is no such thing as a truly unbiased newspaper but reading a variety of sources written from people of different backgrounds means you can piece together what the facts are and what other people are thinking, or assuming, of them. Personally, I subscribe to The Conversation (a website that has professors write on current affairs and current theories – it’s more academic but each is written in an accessible way), The New York Times (I like to be able to see the news from a different countries’ perspective), The Economist and The Guardian. Sometimes I search around other sites too but these are the ones I get delivered to my inbox (the bonus is that these are free!) Also following some sites on social media can be helpful, I follow both of the main Party’s accounts, Labour and Conservative, and their current Leaders, Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer so that I am getting both sides of the story, as it were.

Politics can be a very personal thing, everyone is more interested in a certain aspect than another and some aspects affect one person more than the next too, so search around and see what areas you find the most fascinating or that you think are most in need (perhaps you are a nurse, accountant or a history buff?) and start there – good luck!

Published by Accalia Smith

I am a student in the UK studying English Literature at RHUL and an aspiring writer.

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