Rules of power play examined;Subject of the week;Social sciences;Reviews;Books

19th February 1999 at 00:00
UK GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS US GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS. Both by Andy Williams. Heinemann pound;14.50 each.

ISSUES IN BRITISH POLITICS. By Colin Pilkington. Macmillan pound;40 hb. pound;12.99 pb.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: a concise introduction. By Michael Nicholson. Macmillan pound;40 hb pound;12.99 pb.

Access to politics series. UK GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS IN CONTEXT. By David Simpson. PROTECTING RIGHTS IN BRITAIN. By Duncan Watts. LOCAL AND REGIONAL GOVERNMENT IN BRITAIN. By Neil McNaughton. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;5.99 each.

Frank Conley looks at a selection of the latest books on politics

This batch of books on politics is typical of the mix of textbooks and topic books common in humanities teaching these days.

In UK Government and Politics, Andy Williams reduces the coverage of issues to concentrate on the fundamentals. His book is straightforward and user-friendly, with a combination of text, definitions and exam questions, although it is probably unsuitable for self-supported study.

Williams does not shirk difficulties and he is particularly good on the judiciary and civil liberties. He makes useful comparisons with the US system. He does not include the Labour Party's relocation from Walworth Road to Millbank, nor the new rules for challenging and electing the Conservative leader, both symbolic in the recent development of their respective parties. The book may not stretch the best students over two years, but it is a goodbasic text.

Williams's companion book on the United States has also gone into a second edition. As with the first, it is thorough, but lacking in searching criticism of the fundamentals of the US system. Perhaps the implications of Bill Clinton's impeachment will produce a more sceptical approach in a third edition.

Colin Pilkington's Issues in British Politics covers all the main topics required by such exams as EdExcel Paper 2. The economy, welfare, law and order, foreign affairs and defence, the European Union, constitutional reform, accountability and sleaze (a sign of the times?), nationalism, discrimination and the environment are all included. The style may be described as Will HuttonGuardian, both widely quoted. In view of Pilkington's earlier work on Europe, it is a little surprising to find no mention of Qualified Majority Voting and its impact on sovereignty.

There is nothing on civil liberties as such, and the section on women's rights is thin. But the balance between history and analysis is generally effective.

Michael Nicholson admits his book derives from university teaching - and it shows. The style reads like a lecture - "let us look at the world we are going to discuss in terms of statistics" for example, and much of the content is abstract. The longest chapters are those on theories of international relations and moral issues.

I enjoyed this book. It contains an interesting analysis on how crises develop, and discussion of non-state actors in the modern world such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and multinational corporations. But overall, this is a book for teachers and undergraduates, rather than school students.

The three remaining books are part of a new series, Access to Politics, and history teachers will already be familiar with their historical counterparts. They are short topic books of about 100 pages, with a mix of text, quotations, definitions and exam questions.

David Simpson, series editor and a former chief examiner for EdExcel, deals with concepts and explanations in the British system, and usefully expands material outlined in textbooks. UK Government and Politics in Context also contains a creative misprint: Tony Blair's alma mater is described as "Fetters College".

Duncan Watts can always be trusted to produce thorough discussion of key topics, and his book on rights is no exception. Commonly-claimed rights, international obligations and a Bill of Rights for Britain are all expertly covered, although the arguments about incorporation of the European Covention have been overtaken by events.

Neil McNaughton's Local and Regional Government in Britain makes a convincing case for studying this neglected area, dealing with structure, working, finance, centrallocal relations and local democracy, although the chapter on devolution contains much that is widely available elsewhere.

The book fails to tackle the issue of corruption highlighted by such councils as Glasgow, Slough, Doncaster and Westminster, implying that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with local government.

All three suffer from layouts that are fussy and unhelpful. It is a shame that content and analysis are undermined by indulgent design. Andy Williams's books show the advantages of simplicity.

Frank Conley is head of politics at the Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone, Kent, and a member of the Hansard Society Education Advisory Panel

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