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  New Player's Guide - Part 1
Posted by: Dan - 08-23-2019, 09:54 PM - Forum: New Players - No Replies

Guide to Politics UK

Introduction


Being a politician is not easy. The pressures of being an office holder have always been great, and wielding power properly has been a topic of debate since the dawn of Politics. Role-playing a politician is all about giving people a glimpse of what it might be like to be in a position of power, to give them the opportunity to experience what it might be like to make all the tough calls and to debate in the hallowed halls of Parliament.

In this thread you will find an outline of what a political simulation is, and how it is played. There will be sections covering character creation, role-playing a politician, and participating in elections. This handbook, which focuses on simulating British politics and government, should give you a good understanding of what Politics UK is and how it works, and it will be constantly updated and improved based on suggestions provided by players.

Character Creation




Politics UK is, of course, based on an internet forum. Anyone with an approved account is eligible to play. To do so, you have to create a character. The first thing that needs to be said about character creation may sound pretty simple but you will find that it's not always the case: there is a difference between yourself and the character you play in the game. 



Even if your character has the same beliefs as you, even if the character has the same name as you, you are two different entities, and there is a clear separation between being "in character" and "out of character". Blurring that distinction will lead to much unnecessary stress and hassle. Keep this in mind at all times and, when you feel the distinction blur, take a break for a few hours, or even a few days, then come back.



With that out of the way, the most important aspect of creating a character for a political simulation is your back story/biography. It should be appropriate and provide an explanation for the political outlook your characters takes at the outset (there's obviously space for evolution, much like in real life, naturally). Your biography should be plausible and sensible or, in one word, realistic. You cannot go from medical school to Head of the Neurological Department at Super-Duper-Hospital in 5 years, for example. Use common sense and you will naturally tend to make choices that will be accepted without problems.



Your background information may end up being used against you by opponents, with effect depending on your position and political stances. For example, if you are appointed Minister of State for Families and you have been a bachelor all your life, this will probably be noted by the unfriendly press. Also, using your biography for your gain only works if your character actually acts in a way consistent with the biography you have provided. It's not enough to say "I went to Cambridge!". Saying "in all my years as a teacher, I encountered many students who did X, and now we have a report that discusses that issue", for example, will probably be more effective. You need to remember that making up biographies is easy. Living up to them, though, may not be. 



There are some limits to what you can include without express consent from a A-Team member. This tends to include previous positions of power, such as being Mayor of a given city, or serving in a previous Administration in some capacity. Players with some experience who restart may be given the opportunity to play as such characters as a reward to their devotion to the game, however. Again, though, making up that you served in Government before is easy. Living up to that claim is, again, what's hard. Whatever you include in your biography, make sure you know enough to role-play it adequately. You don't need to be an expert, but some research will not go amiss if you need to brush up on some issue or other. When you are in a position of power, that research becomes mandatory if you really want to experience the game to the full, as well as take advantage of all that political simulations have to offer as spaces for open debate on several important issues. At the very least, this involves the occasional trip to Wikipedia, one of your best friends when you need to quickly learn a little bit about a given issue.



Frequently players will ask, "Can I be a knight or lady?" While that is a perfectly acceptable desire, typically honours like knighthood are awarded for service to the game or as a reward for a tremendous job as a player. So please do not automatically make yourself a Dame. Check with a member of the A-Team first.


If you want to add a little extra something to your character, though, Governments, NGOs, trade unions, business conglomerates and many other associations have websites with graphs, studies, reports, policy proposals, etc. Having a look at a couple of these to produce your own, in game, report on a given policy will make that report not only more impressive, it'll also give you the edge during the debate on the issue, because you've actually studied it and know it. Spin may be crucial in everyday political life, but good spin always has a modicum of truth behind it. If you just make things up, you will end up contradicting yourself, which will not look good. Establishing a position grounded on presentable facts and figures will have the exact opposite effect. Keep all of this in mind when you post your character’s biography in the appropriate forum

Being a politician



Being a politician involves a number of activities, not all of which are necessarily simulated. Even so, Politics UK tends to adhere to a policy of either realism or at least verisimilitude. You are expected to portray a character that could conceivably be elected for the constituency you have picked. If you role-play a character that does not fit in with the place you picked, your re-election hopes will be slim.



How do you get re-elected, you ask? Well, the focus will be on your activity on behalf of your virtual constituents, as well as how well you do in the press. The focus will be different depending on the specific setting, of course. Essentially, you will have to put out press releases, draft legislation (if you are in government), develop policies and platforms or manifestos, and you will have to participate in debates in Parliament and ensure that everyone knows about what you, or you and your party, are doing. If you sit on a seat which traditionally belongs to your chosen party then you are usually guaranteed re-election to Parliament. If everyone in your team works hard, then your party may get a much better chance of getting into Government.



Unlike political parties in the United States or even Canada, British party structure tends to more formal. Typically party whips are followed. Your fortunes as a Member of Parliament are strongly tied to those of your party. Also parties play a significant role in selecting candidates, so while it is okay to be an individual and look after your constituency, you do not want to upset your party completely. You may find the whip withdrawn and your reelection chances lessened (although this rarely happens). Regardless, the most successful players in these games tend to be those who can work well together as a team, even when the political party structure is loose.



Working Together as a Party



Unless you are an independent or the sole player in a regional party, you will be part of a team. Essentially, we can begin by saying that being a part of a team requires the same in Politics UK as it does elsewhere, and that is, essentially, an ability to work with others. It should be noted, however, that this does not mean that your character need necessarily be a team-player. You, however, should be able to play your character in such a way where, despite all his faults, (s)he adds to the game. 



Knowing the difference between “out of character” (OOC) and “in character” (IC) actions is crucial. Just because someone’s character is your opponent does not mean that the person playing it is. Conversely, though, you should remember that people are playing characters in different teams, which means taking care about what you discuss out of character. Leaks are a part of political life everywhere, but in political simulations they are a tricky business. Because there are two personas involved, you and your character, the fact that you tell a friend of yours in a different party something out of character can be construed as a leak, even though it was you and your friend, and not you personally, who were talking.



Therefore, you should take care not to discuss secret in character matters with other people out of character, especially if that person’s character is in a different team. Unless you wish to leak (which is not really advisable), of course, or you trust that person a great deal. As a rule of thumb, don’t discuss whatever is in your party headquarters with anyone outside your own party. Better safe than sorry, given that consequences for leaks can be severe, both out of character and in character. Your character’s political life will suffer a blow if it’s found out that he’s leaked, and you will no longer be trusted as a player.



Being on a team also means belonging to a hierarchically constructed group. You will have a Leader, a Deputy Leader and assorted other people with important positions, and you may not be the important guy or gal pulling all the strings. Making connections by talking to people is the best way to integrate into the group, usually via some sort of messenger service (Telegram is Politics UK's preferred messenger). These chats lead to backroom dealings very similar to those that occur in real life, with various plots and negotiations always taking place at the same time. Still, as in real life, if you have a united party, you will be much more likely to succeed. (For the sake of players who don't use Telegram, please consider having important conversations in the Party HQ).



This doesn’t mean bowing to the Leader’s every whim, however. Usually, some sort of system is developed where people provide input to the various decisions before they are taken, either by the Leader or through a vote. A good Leader knows how to delegate, and also knows that she must be fair (or at least, and being a bit cynical here, appear to be fair). Dictatorial Leaders end up in the guillotine. Negotiators tend to last a whole lot longer, especially if they add decisiveness to their list of qualities. Knowing your party and its members inside out will be important for a good Leader to make decisions and appoint people to various positions, and having trusted lieutenants will make a Leader’s job a whole lot easier.



Meanwhile, those who aren’t leaders are stuck doing the grunt work, right? Wrong. Firstly, because the Leader should also do his or her part of the grunt work. Secondly, because this makes it sound like the grunt work isn’t important, when it is. If everyone is developing and researching policies and engaging in internal debate about issues, that leads to a dynamic party. Being a member of a party is precisely about being dynamic and pro-active.



You do not need to adhere to all of the views espoused by the Leadership, but you should consider the principle of collective responsibility when it comes to party policy – you should either defend it in public, whether you believe in it or not, or you should shut up externally and try to change the policy behind-the-scenes. If you find yourself at odds with the entire direction of the party and this leads to a clash, resolving it diplomatically is a much better way of handling it than through a pie fight in front of television cameras.



If you simply cannot stand being in the party you are in, then consider either a break or a restart. A change of pace in a different party may be just what the doctor ordered, or you may create a new character to role-play in such a way that it either doesn’t hurt the party, or it hurts the party less. Whatever you do, though, do not identify too much with a given character. Keeping a degree of separation between yourself and your character is a good way of maintaining your sanity, because your character will be attacked, and those attacks will be vicious and brutal.



Having discussed what it is like to be in a team generically, it is now time to acknowledge that there is some specificity to being in different teams, i.e. in different parties, and address those issues. Essentially, you have three types of parties in a political simulation: big parties, small parties and regional parties. Being in Government is also different from being out of Government, too, and all of this should be taken into account when playing a political simulation. Often these parties tend to operate in different styles as well, perhaps due to the party's constitution or to the mentality of the players in them, which should be noted when deciding how to play your character.



Being in Government



When you are in Government, you may either be Prime Minister, Secretary of State or a backbencher. These three roles are different and different things are expected from you. It should be noted that even small parties may enter Government when there is a coalition because of a minority Parliament (i.e. no political party has more than 50% of the seats in Parliament, being therefore unable to pass bills on its own), though that is a rare affair in British politics, as they tend to crumble pretty quickly.



As a backbencher, you are a Member of Parliament and, even though you follow the whip of a party that is in Government, you do not have any governmental responsibilities yourself. Being active in Parliamentary debates and in the press are the best ways to get a position, as well as promoting internal debates on issues you think should be handled and being pro-active about proposing solutions to problems - internally, though, especially if you disagree with current Government policy, even if backbenchers are free from collective responsibility. It should be noted that backbenchers get away with more than people in Government, so you can be more vicious or sarcastic, or make stronger, less nuanced cases against the Opposition as a backbencher and that may actually help improve your personal popularity.



As a Secretary of State or Minister of State, you will be given one portfolio and you will have to implement policies related to that portfolio, as well as react to any scenarios thrown at you related to your portfolio. This means writing studying the issues you wish to deal with, contacting the civil service, negotiating with interested parties, writing reports on the issues, making Ministerial Statements and introducing and defending legislation. You will need to defend yourself in Parliament and in the press while still being able to implement your agenda. To be a Minister or Secretary of State it is also advisable to have a firm grasp of Parliamentary procedure – if you know how to answer difficult questions and how to successfully defend the legislation you are piloting through Parliament will make your time as a Cabinet minister much easier and also much more enjoyable.



As Prime Minister, in addition to what was said in the last article about being Leader, you are expected to articulate the global vision of your Government and to provide leadership for the entire country, not just to your party. You must be a statesman. You will have to react quickly and decisively to the more important crises, and you will have to set the legislative agenda for your Government. Selecting and sacking Secretaries of State is not easy, and you will need to ensure that collective responsibility is maintained – you need to ensure that the Government speaks with one voice, be that yours or that of the Minister whose portfolio is being discussed. Finally, you will need to ensure that steady stream of Governmental proposals are flowing through Parliament or being accomplished in other ways.



Being in Opposition



Being in Opposition typically means you are a member of the second-largest party, in number of seats, in Parliament, and you are not in Government. The Official Opposition forms a Shadow Cabinet, which includes people that “shadow”, i.e. directly oppose, criticise or deal with, their equivalent members in the Cabinet (i.e. in Government). Again, you can be a backbencher, a Shadow Cabinet Member (Shadow Secretary of State, in the UK, or Critic, in Canada) or Leader of the Opposition.



As a backbencher, what was said about Governmental backbenchers can be said here. You will debate motions, debate bills, attack the Government in the press, etc. If your activity is impressive enough, you may be promoted to the Shadow Cabinet, which will mean dealing with specific portfolios. Again, Opposition backbenchers get away with more than Shadow Cabinet members, though, naturally, there are limits of respectability that should be maintained.



When you are promoted to the Shadow Cabinet, you will have to deal with a specific portfolio and a specific Cabinet Member to shadow. You will have to criticise Government policy (when it’s advantageous to do so, though, you may even support Government policy, especially if you can claim they’re copying you), and you will have to make it clear that you would be ready to take over that portfolio and do a better job than the incumbent. This means your own reports and your own policies, constructive criticism when possible and harsh criticism when necessary. As with being a Cabinet minister, it is advisable to have a firm grasp of how Parliament operates and what kind of questions and queries can be wounding or hard-hitting, and which ones can't.



As Leader of the Opposition, your role is akin to that of the Prime Minister, the person you shadow. You have to make sure the population sees you as a better leader, as a man with the characteristics they would like to see leading their Government. Blatant partisanship and unstatesmanlike outbursts will make your life as Leader of the Opposition very difficult. You have to maintain your sobriety and react as quickly as possible to a crisis yourself, proposing quality solutions as quickly as possible.



Being a Third Party



Third parties tend not to be in Government, given how rare coalitions are (and how fast they tend to crumble). Third parties have small core voters and a great deal of protest voters and little media attention to begin with. Backbenchers, spokespeople (members of the party assigned a specific portfolio do discuss) and Leaders must, therefore, have higher levels of activity than average, and also make an attempt to maximise the quality of their output. Reports, speeches and media activity must be prepared thoroughly and attempts should be made to either seize the agenda or out-gun one of the main parties on a given issue or, hopefully, issues.


Being in a regional party means, in addition to what’s already been said, knowing the region in question backwards and forwards, which should mean ample research if there’s unfamiliarity at the beginning. You must know the people of the region, the issues that matter and the issues that make your party tick. These are usually restricted to only one member each, so activity and quality will be paramount to whether you will be able to make a splash or not. Being in a third party, however, also gives you a lot more freedom to manoeuvre – meaning that you can often afford to spend much more time developing a coherent policy platform and focusing on important issues that the main parties have tended to forget – preferably ones that appeal to your target voters and demographic groups.

Reacting to Scenarios

In General



Politics UK runs on scenarios. There are two ways you may be forced to deal with a situation: you either create it yourself or the A-Team (or a fellow player) thrust it upon you. Once you learn that something is going on, you will be expected to act on it, and what your character does or fails to do, as well as what your party members and opponents do, will all be taken into account when determining the endgame of the scenario.



Let’s be clear about something from the start: Politics UK is, essentially, a debating game. You will go from defender to attacker and back again depending on the issue, in a perpetual effort to one-up the other side. How your character debates is up to you, the honesty of your character is also up to you, and you are essentially free to roleplay any sort of politician you want, as long as your character is somewhat realistic and plausible.



Debates occur in press offices, in Parliament, in the Media, wherever. Topics go from whether or not the British Monarch should be allowed to marry Catholics to stem-cell research and whether or not Taiwan should be provided with aid. You will have to deal with the tactics and strategies of other players at all times in a game of spin that may throw you off balance at times, if you’re not careful, much like it does in real life to some people.


Let’s now discuss, then, the different venues where you will have to make the case for your political positions.

House of Commons



In political simulations, like in real life, you will be expected to come up with policies and, when the time comes, legislation to implement these policies. You have to write your own bills and policy reports yourself, from scratch, and they cannot be copied from an outside source.



When drafting policies, you will often end up writing either an outline of your ideas in the form of a platform or a fully-fledged manifesto with more detailed explanations. You will be able to write reports on specific issues, or issue policy papers with short summaries. It’s up to you and your strategy. What you write and defend and, importantly, whether or not you eventually act on it, will be taken into account when deciding your success or that of your party.


Having drafted those policies and defended them in the press, the time comes to introduce a bill in Parliament. Parliament is a generic term to refer to the legislature. Parliamentary work is the bread and butter of political simulations. It’s how you get to implement your policies or debate broader issues that affect the virtual country and your virtual constituents. These debates will be followed by the press and your ability as a Parliamentarian will be important for the rise and fall of your political career. Effective debaters, who can skilfully use their performance in Parliament to help their press image, tend to be rewarded with important promotions, while the opposite is true for people unable to defend their own ideas properly.

Parliamentary Etiquette 



Parliament will have rules of conduct that should be respected. While partisan attacks are expected, downright insults are not, and profanity will get you kicked out of the chamber, to your embarrassment and that of your party’s. Conduct yourself with a level of dignity and respect and you will only be helping your own cause, even if you are constantly delivering blows to the other side. Being a whiny brat will get you nowhere.



Parliament also includes certain specific rules of conduct. You will be unable to refer to other members directly; you will need to address the Speaker at all times, as a sign of respect. Moreover, you will not be able to refer to other people by name – only the Speaker can do that. “The honourable gentleman”, “my honourable friend” or similar are appropriate forms of address for ordinary members. Members of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom should be referred to as “Right Honourable” something or other, e.g. “the Rt. Hon. Member for Chelsea” to refer to a possible Leader of the Opposition. You do not have to say "I yield" at the end of a statement.



Researching Legislation



Before they are enacted, laws come to Parliament in the form of bills. In order to introduce a bill to Parliament, though, you need to write it. You may not copy and paste real life bills, you need to draft them yourself. You may however use real life bills for inspiration. 



To draft a bill, you need to familiarise yourself with legal language at least slightly, to ensure that your bill will look authentic. Moreover, you will need to understand and study the issue you wish to address with that bill, and you need to ensure that what you write in your bill reflects the solutions you think are best. Preparing good bills may require you to read a couple of reports on the issue, a small trip to Wikipedia (or, better yet, to NGOs or think tank websites, or even official Governmental websites) to familiarise yourself with a few concepts, and then careful negotiation with all interested parties to ensure support.



Imagine that you wish to craft a bill that will create incentives for the proliferation of technology clusters. The first thing you need to do is to learn what drives technology clusters to appear, then you need to figure out how the Government can help with those issues and then cost the proposal to make sure you can afford it. To do this, and even after this is done, you can contact interested parties (e.g., in the case of the example, universities, businesses and the like) and ask them for their views on the issue. If you can, getting a relevant organisation to endorse your bill will be a good way to enter the debate, and a good way to get an endorsement is to make them a part of the drafting process.



Debating Legislation



In the United Kingdom, bills are read three times and two debates are held: after first reading, the Leader of the House is allowed to either move the bill forward or not; after second reading, a debate on the principles of the bill ensues, including proposed amendments, which may be accepted or rejected by the person who proposed the bill; after third reading, a final debate on the whole of the bill ensues, after which the bill is put to a vote.



While debating a bill, you should usually try to restrict your comments to the bill at hand and try to ensure that you add something new with each new post you make. Defending your bill requires preparation, it requires knowing the issue at hand and knowing how the bill you propose will address it backwards and forwards. For that reason, writing your own bills, though it may seem complicated at first, will help you immensely once the debate comes along.



Attacking the bill is about reading through the bill thoroughly and trying to find difficult questions to ask, as well as coming up with suggestions to improve the bill (at least in your character’s view). Blind partisanship will only get you so far. When you engage in debate, the best strategy to come out on top is to look as though you know the issue yourself, and that your proposals will help improve the bill. Naturally, if the bill is deemed unsalvageable, or if it’s not in your best interests to be bipartisan on the issue (e.g. it’s an issue that’s quite unpopular and the bill is pretty lousy), you should try to portray the bill in that light, while continuously asking difficult questions.



Finally, using quotes from debates in a press release is a good way of ensuring those damaging quotes will come to the attention of the press in the way you wish them to. Quoting out of the context, however, is a bad idea, because after that’s been demonstrated, you will look extremely sleazy. Interpreting a full quote your way is a much better way of dealing with the matter.



Motions



Parliament can adopt non-binding motions on all possible issues. Making sure the motions you present are relevant is important, even if in real life most are not (e.g. “That this House congratulates Manchester United for its win of the Premier League this season.”). You have to remember that, in the game, fewer motions will be presented, which means that each one will get a great deal of attention if it strikes a chord. Choosing your topics carefully is important to ensure that if you use a Parliamentary motion to launch a public debate on an issue, then that issue will be picked up by the press. It may be advantageous to consider which issues are difficult points for the Government – for example a government may be split over the correct approach to European relations, or to economic management – and then to consider issues where your party is relatively strong.



Introducing a motion about the need for improving standards in schools can be a good way to start a debate on the subject. For that to happen, though, the motion needs to be more than a platitude. Though it obviously does not need to have as much substance as a fully-fledged policy, it needs to show that you know what you want and where you want to go. “That this House believes that our education system needs to improve” will tend to get you worse traction than “That this House believes that examination standards need to be raised if our education system is to improve”. Focus is important to ensure that you get the attention you want.



Ministerial Statements



In the United Kingdom, Secretaries of State are expected to inform Parliament of their activities. These Ministerial Statements then (in the game) lead to a debate on the topic they cover. During a crisis, for example, the Home Secretary may go to Parliament to explain what is being done to capture terrorists responsible for setting off a bomb in London or the Secretary of State for Health may discuss the latest NHS wait times.



It is important to inform Parliament first, then the Press afterwards. It is a matter of respect for the elected representatives of the people, and you will not seem like a publicity hound if your statement is about a new Governmental programme. As always, maintaining a degree of respectability is important for the political survival and credibility of a politician.



Question Time



Due to the necessity of Governmental accountability to Parliament, each Minister has to attend a weekly question and answer session where Members of Parliament can ask them questions pertaining to Government policy and his or her portfolio. Question Time is often an exciting time, when the best Parliamentarians engage in a duel of wits through cleverly phrased questions and equally witty answers. If you are witnessing an exchange between top performers, Question Time is Parliament at its best.



When it comes to simulating Question Time, several rules and restrictions have been imposed to maintain sanity, much like in real life. The amount of questions you can answer is limited, and Shadow Cabinet members may only ask questions to the person they shadow. Also, and this bears emphasis, questions should pertain to that Minister's portfolio and to Government policy, and the Minister has to provide an answer to the question, even if that answer does not technically answer the question itself.



Questions during Question Time should be framed in a way that leads you to win the argument if your premise is accepted. Moreover, they should be focused on issues that matter to people, and they shouldn't be asked at random. You should think through a series of questions and possible answers and then you should be flexible and adapt that strategy to the answers provided. Once you get enough answers that you like, you should put them in context and write a press release about them, pointing out how they prove that Minister is not doing a good job.



When answering questions, you should do your best to at least pretend to address the issue at hand. Accepting a damaging premise should be avoided unless it's painfully obvious you've made a mistake. If that's the case, you should pre-empt the matter and say so yourself, first, and correct it as soon as possible. If that proves to be impossible, however, accept the mistake and readily deal with it, to minimise any press release attacking you on the matter.



If you do know the answer to the question, give a thorough reply and, if it's clear the other side is simply grasping at straws, point that out. Turning a possibly damaging question into a problem for the person who asked the question is an art form that, if you learn it properly, will probably not only make your star status rise, it will also reduce the amount of questions you receive. In summary, then, knowing which answer to give to which question is vital for your survival as a Minister.



Final Thoughts on Parliament


Your activities in Parliament will be the focus of your stay in that august chamber. Debating bills, motions and Ministerial Statements will be your job, and doing it right will lead to promotions and increased fame, especially if you accompany those good performances with a steady stream of well-argued press releases, good interviews and intelligent speeches. The legislative power is in your hands – use it wisely.

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