15th September 2000 at 01:00
POLITICS 2000 SERIES. British Government and Politics: a Comparative Guide. By Duncan Watts. British Electoral Systems: achieving a sense of proportion. By Duncan Watts.

British Voters: the changing basis of party choice. By Moyra Grant. Parliament in an Age of Reform. By Graham P. Thomas.

The Changing Constitution: Evolutionor Revolution?. By Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd. Whitehall and the Civil Service. By June Burnham.

Sheffield Hallam University PressPolitics Association. pound;9.50 each including postage.

ACCESS TO POLITICS SERIES. The Civil Service. By Neil McNaughton. Political Parties. By David Simpson. Hodder amp; Stoughton. pound;6.99 each.

The Politics Association has been in the forefront of student resources for many years, and Duncan Watts is one of its major authors.

His first book covers the main areas of politics through a range of case-studies which go beyond the usual: Israel, New Zealand and Austria are all cited in the first few pages.

The title of the second book gives the game away, and I wonder whether the Jenkins proposals are now the "most important" in view of their subsequent neglect. It is good to see consideration of the impact of voting changes on local government.

Both these books have Watts' characteristic thoroughness and clarity, but the use of boxes which disrupt the text can be irksome. Since they are not indexed, students may find their information difficult to locate.

Moyra Grant's treatment of the difficult topic of voting behaviour covers voters, parties, issues, leaders and media, and draws mainly, though not exclusively, on the 1997 General Election. It can be recommended unreservedly, since it combines all the qualities of good teaching, clarity, thorough research, a lively style which includes touches of humour and some warning signs for the future.

Graham P Thomas draws mainly on such authorities as Norton, Riddell and Adonis. He is particularly strong on the history of parliament, modernisation proposals and the contentious issue of the relations between MPs and interests.

Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd understandably cover quitea lot of the ground of the other books, and the index is oddly organised. This book's strengths lie in the analysis of attitudes to the British Constitution, and the implications of possible changes. They are surely right to argue that the British approach is to make ad hoc responses to particular circumstances.

June Burnham offers critical analysis of the changes to the civil service over recent decades, though she concentrates on the ThatcherMajor years. As a comprehensive treatment of the way the civil service works at the start of the 21st century, this book can be confidently recommended.

I reviewed several books in the Access to Politics series some while ago. They still persist in using the fiddly typeface which makes quotations virtually unreadable, but otherwise both the current examples have much to offer.

The early pages of Neil McNaughton's book cover similar ground to June Burnham, though rather breathlessly, and it is a pity that the explanation of the impact of agencies comes some way after their first mention. He prefers to concentrate on the contexts in which the Civil Service operates, making this book complementary to Burnham's, rather than an alternative. Students looking to understand the Civil Service will need both.

As an experienced examiner, David Simpson is fully aware of student needs, and his discussion of political parties is very good indeed. Developments in ideology, policies and structure are covered, some as recent as February 2000. In view of the government's latest problems, it is interesting to learn that Old Labour is arguably more active and committed than its "New" version.

Anyone reviewing such a variety of topics in a few weeks risks intellectual indigestion, but I have enjoyed all these books. They will all find a place on my classroom bookshelves and will be firmly recommended to students. On this evidence, those embarking on the new A-level specifications are very well served.

Frank Conley

Frank Conley is head of politics at the Harvey grammar school, Folkestone, Kent, and a member of the Hansard Society's education advisory panel

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