Political glossary

It often feels as if politicians are talking in a different language. The vocabulary of politics almost feels as if it were chosen to exclude every day people, with complicated job titles, theories and systems. Every time you come across some overly elaborate political word in one of our posts, come to this page, and see it explained simply!

A

  • affirmative action – government programmes with the intention of creating more equality for minority groups in education, the workplace, and various other places where they could otherwise face discrimation.
  • autonomy- this is a kind of independence where the nation or state can control some of its own legislation, but not all. Scotland is an example of this.

B

  • backbencher – an MP with no minesterial or shadow minesterial duties (i.e no specific leadership role). Literally sit on the back bench in the House of Commons.
  • by-election – this is an election that occurs when the MP of a constituency must be replaced. The MP could have stepped down, been fired, or even passed away.
  • bi-cameral – this is a government with two legislative houses. UK is an example of this as we have both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

C

  • cabinet – the most executive members of the government sit in the cabinet. In the UK it’s made up of the prime minister and other important ministers and secretaries such as the minister for education, minister for defence and chancellor of the exchequer.
  • constituency – the UK is split into 650 constituencies (geographical areas) each represented by an MP elected by the people in that area.

D

  • deficit – The shortfall of the annual income as opposed to the expenditure.
  • devlotution – the transfer of power from a central parliament to a smaller one. An example of this would be Westminster, the central parliament for the UK, giving devolved power to Holyrood, the parliament for Scotland.

E

  • electorate – the total of people eligible to vote at an election. Most people over the age of 18 who are a British citizen can vote at a UK election.

F

  • federalism – A system where government powers are spread out between central government and smaller geographical areas such as states or regions. The US is an example of this.
  • First Past The Post – The electoral system used in the UK. Each MP has a seat in the House of Commons. Whichever party gets the majority of seats at the general election becomes the party in charge, however, 50%+1 of the seats are required to become the government, so a coalition can occur, in which parties join up, adding their seats together to become the government.
  • frontbencher – MPs with minesterial or shadow ministerial duties. They literally sit on the front bench in the House of Commons.

G

  • GNP/GDP – Gross National Product is the total of goods and services produced by a country per year.
  • grass roots – A movement or campaign started by ordinary people rather than authority figures.

H

  • Holyrood – The Scottish house of parliament.
  • Houses of Parliament – This refers to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons is where legislation is debated on by the country’s elected MPs, and decisions are made on bills. The House of Lords is made up of non elected members, and they debate legislation, as well as scrutinise the work of government. They can delay legislation but do not have the power to block it.

I

  • incumbent – Somebody currently holding their seat or authoritative place in office.

J

  • (We haven’t found anything yet – check back later!)

K

  • (Again, nothing for K yet! Check this page later.)

L

  • left wing – A political belief that believes in equality in society in regards to wealth, heath, etc. Left wing people generally believe that taxation should redistribute opportunity and wealth. Things like the National Health Service and jobseeker’s allowance came from left leaning politicians.
  • liberalism – A political belief that believes freedom of choice and maintaining individual liberty should be the most important job for any government. Defends things like freedom of speech, the press, artistic and intellectual expression.
  • libertarianism – A political belief that is both somewhat left and right leaning. Essentially believes in self reliance and limited-to-no interference from the state on economic and personal matters.

M

  • means testing – The limitation of a government benefit to only people who fit certain specifications, usually income

N

  • (We haven’t found anything for N yet – check back soon!)

O

  • oligarchy – This is a kind of government that is run by few people and for the benefit of those few.

P

  • party line voting – When an MP votes on legislation in line with the party’s views, rather than their constituents.
  • private member’s bill – Legislation brought forward by an individual MP rather than a whole party or government.

Q

  • (We’ve got nothing for Q yet – check back later!)

R

  • recession – This is a country’s economic status after it has had a certain drop in its GDP.
  • right wing – Opposite of left wing. A political belief that favours individuals and their success and rights. Some right wing beliefs include the strict approach to law and order and the disencouragement of state intervention with individuals.

S

  • safe seat – A constituency considered to be safe for a party as it is unlikely to change support to another party.
  • swinging voter – Voters who are not loyal to any particular party and therefore swing from one to another.

T

  • think tank – A research institute of various people who are dedicated to the advocacy of some political, economic, or social belief.
  • totalitarian – A government that controls its nation through political and economic matters, as well as controlling their attitudes and beliefs etc.

U

  • (Nothing for U yet – check back later!)

V

  • (Nothing for V yet – check back later!)

W

  • Westminster – The houses of parliament in the UK, made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
  • whip – Each party has a party whip that is their own disiplinary officer who ensures that MPs do necessary things like attend votes, and vote in line with the party’s views.

X

  • (I’m pretty sure that words starting with X are a myth, but check back later anyway!)

Y

  • (Nothing for Y yet – check back later!)

Z

  • (Nothing for Z yet – check back later!)
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