Politics of the United Kingdom BENEDICT S. GOMBOCZ
Overview of the United Kingdom’s political system United Kingdom is ruled by frame of constitutional monarchy, where Monarch (Queen) is head of state and PM of the United Kingdom is head of government. Executive power is executed by Her Majesty’s Government, on interest of and by approval of Monarch and also by devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland Executive. Legislative power is vested in two chambers of Parliament of the United Kingdom, House of Commons and House of Lords and also in Scottish parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Judiciary is independent of executive and legislature. Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is highest national court.
Overview of the United Kingdom’s political system – cont. British political system is multi-party system. Since the 1920s, UK’s two main political parties have been Conservative Party and Labour Party. Prior to rise of Labour Party in British politics, Liberal Party was other major political party alongside Conservatives. Although coalition and minority governments have been frequently occurring feature in parliamentary politics, plurality electoral system used for general elections tends to retain dominance of these two parties, but both have in the past century been dependent on a third, minor party to deliver working majority in Parliament.
Government of the United Kingdom Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy Monarch: Queen Elizabeth II Prime Minister: David Cameron MP Legislature: Parliament Upper house: House of Lords Lower house: House of Commons
Parliament of the United Kingdom Supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories. Located in Westminster, London. Parliament alone executes legislative supremacy, thus ultimate power above all other political bodies in the UK and its territories. Its head is the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. Bicameral parliament, with upper house, House of Lords, and lower house, House of Commons. Queen is third constituent of legislature. House of Lords includes two different types of members: Lords Spiritual (senior bishops of Church of England) and Lords Temporal (members of Peerage) whose members are elected not by population at large, but rather are nominated by Sovereign on advice of PM. Prior to opening of Supreme Court in October 2009, House of Lords carried out judicial role through Law Lords. House of Commons is democratically elected chamber with elections held at least every five years; two houses convene in separate chambers in Palace of Westminster (commonly called Houses of Parliament) in London. By constitutional convention, every government minister, which includes PM, are members of the House of Commons, or less often, House of Lords; are thus answerable to respective branches of legislature.
Parliament of the United Kingdom – cont. Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 after approval of Treaty of Union by both Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland passing Acts of Union. However, in practice, parliament was continuation of English parliament with supplement of English parliament with supplement of Scottish MPs and peers. Parliament was further expanded by approval by Parliament of Great Britain and Parliament of Ireland of Act of Union (1800), which ended Irish Parliament; 100 Irish members were added to Commons and 32 to Lord to create Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Has been referred to as “the mother of parliaments”, its democratic institutions having set criterions throughout the world, and UK parliament is biggest Anglophone legislative body in the world. However, John Bright, who coined this term, used it in allusion to England, not to her parliament. Theoretically, supreme legislative power lays in Queen-in-Parliament; in practice in modern times, real power lays in House of Commons, as Sovereign usually acts on advice of PM, restricting powers of House of Lords.
House of Lords Upper house of UK’s parliament. Like the House of Commons, it meets in Palace of Westminster. Independent from, and models work of, House of Commons; Lords share liability for making laws and checking government action. Bills can be introduced into either House of Lords or House of Commons; members of the Lords may also take on positions as Government Ministers. Has its own support services; these are separate from Commons, including House of Lords Library. Unlike elected House of Commons, most new House of Lords members are nominated; membership in House of Lords comprises Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. 26 Lords Spiritual currently sit in Lords by merit of ecclesiastic role in established Church of England. Lords Temporal makes up remainder of membership, of whom most are life peers who are nominated by Monarch on advice of PM, or on advice of House of Lords Appointments Commission. Membership was once right of birth to hereditary peers, but after a series of reforms, only 92 members (as of 1 July 2011) sitting by merit of hereditary peerage are left. Number of members is not fixed; House of Lords has 775 members as of 11 June 2012 (excluding 28 who are on leave of absence or otherwise are unfit for sitting), unlike House of Commons, which has fixed membership of 650 seats. Coeval of role of House of Lords is mainly to act as body of specialist knowledge that critically evaluates in bigger detail bills that have been confirmed by House of Commons. Frequently surveys and reforms bills from Commons.
House of Lords – cont. While House of Lords is unable unilaterally to keep bills from passing into law (excluding specific limited circumstances), its members can severely postpone bills that they believe are mistaken and therefore force government, Commons, and general public to rethink their choices. In this capacity, Lords act as constitutional safeguard that does not rely on electoral process and that can challenge the will of the public when majority’s wishes endangers constitutional principles, human rights or rules of law. In other nations, this position would be executed by Constitutional or Supreme Court, but British system’s importance on parliamentary sovereignty – instead of judicial review – means that this role cannot be properly achieved by British court system as all judicial decrees can be rejected by parliament. Speech from the throne, frequently known as Queen’s Speech, is delivered from House of Lords during State Opening of Parliament. The House additionally has a minor Church of England role in that through Lords Spiritual, Church Measures must be tabled within House.
House of Commons Lower house of Parliament of the United Kingdom which, like House of Lords (upper house) convenes in Palace of Westminster. Commons is democratically elected body comprising of 650 members known as MPs. Members are elected to represent constituencies by first-past-the-post, holding their seats until Parliament is dissolved. House Commons of England developed at some point in England during 14th century and became House of Commons of Great Britain following 1707 political union with Scotland and of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland following political union with Ireland prior to taking its current title after independence was granted to Irish Free State in 1922. Under Parliament Act 1911, Lords’ power to dismiss legislation was decreased to delaying power. Government is mainly liable to House of Commons and PM remains in office as long as he/she maintains its endorsement.
Major parties in House of Commons Conservative and Unionist Party Liberal Democrats Labour Party Democratic Unionist Party Scottish National Party † Sinn Féin Plaid Cymru-Party of Wales Social Democratic and Labour Party Alliance Party of Northern Ireland Green Party of England and Wales Respect Party Ulster Unionist Party Scottish Green Party Traditional Unionist Voice UK Independence Party British National Party †Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats as they prefer not swearing loyalty to the crown.
Minor parties Animals Count British Freedom Party Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR) Jury Team Liberal Party Libertarian Party National Liberal Party – The Third Way The New Party No Candidate Deserves My Vote! Peace Party (UK) Pirate Party of the United Kingdom Popular Alliance Science Party Social Democratic Party Veritas Party We Demand a Referendum
Parliamentary parties and seats after 6 May 2010 general election
Queen Elizabeth II Born 21 April 1926 in Mayfair, London. Constitutional Monarch of 16 sovereign states (known as Commonwealth realms) and their territories and dependencies since 6 February 1952. Also head of 54-member Commonwealth of Nations. Supreme Governor of the Church of England; carries title Defender of the Faith in some of her spheres as part of her full title. Became Head of the Commonwealth and queen regnant of seven independent Commonwealth nations, upon her accession: United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. Number of her spheres altered from 1956 to 1992 as territories gained independence, with some spheres becoming republics. Is additionally Queen of Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. Her rule of 60 years is currently second longest for a British monarch; Queen Victoria ruled longer at 63 years. Major events in her rule include the Troubles in Ireland, Falklands War, two wars with Iraq, and War in Afghanistan. There have been several times of personal sorrow for her, including her father’s death at 56, assassination of Prince Philipp’s uncle Lord Mountbatten, collapse of her children’s marriages in 1992 (believed a year later to be her annuls horribilis), 1997 death of her daughter-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales, and the deaths of her mother and sister in 2002.
David Cameron Born 9 October 1966 in London. PM of the United Kingdom since 11 May 2010, and First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service and Leader of the Conservative Party. Represents Whitney as its MP. Studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford, where he acquired first class honours degree. Subsequently joined Conservative Research Department, becoming Special Advisor to Normon Lamont, and later to Michael Howard. Was also Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton Communications for seven years. Lost his first candidacy for Parliament at Stafford in 1997, but was elected in 2001 as Member of Parliament for Oxfordshire constituency of Witney. Advanced to Opposition front bench two years later, rising rapidly to become head of policy co-ordination during 2005 general election campaign. Won Conservative leadership election in 2005, with public image of youthful, moderate candidate who would attract young voters. Conservative Party obtained 307 seats in hung parliament in 6 May 2010 general election; formed coalition with Liberal Democrats following five days of intense negotiations. Became youngest PM, at age 43, since Earl of Liverpool 198 years prior. Is head of first coalition government of United Kingdom since World War II.
Nick Clegg Born 7 January 1967 in Chalfont in St Giles. Leader of Liberal Democratic Party since 18 December 2007 and MP, representing Sheffield Hallam since 5 May 2005. Deputy PM since 11 May 2010 and Lord President of the Council; has special responsibility for political and constitutional reform in coalition government of which David Cameron is PM. Previously MEP and award winning journalist for Financial Times. Was elected to House of Commons at 2005 general election; became Liberal Democrats’ Home Affairs Spokesman on 2 March 2006, serving until 18 December 2007. Became Deputy PM after 2010 general election, at which Liberal Democrats formed coalition government with Conservative Party. Has contributed to many pamphlets and books on political issues, in addition to his parliamentary roles; has also had large number of jobs, such as being a ski instructor and working in the office of a bank in Helsinki. Attended University of Cambridge, University of Minnesota, and College of Europe in Belgium. Is fluent in English, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish. Is married to Miriam Gonzalez Durante.
Ed Miliband Born 24 December 1969 in London. Leader of Labour Party and Leader of Opposition since 25 September 2010. MP for Doncaster North since 5 May 2005, serving in cabinet of PM Gordon Brown from 2007 until 2010. He and his brother, David Miliband, were first siblings to sit in Cabinet at the same time since Edward, Lord Stanley, and Oliver Stanley in 1938. Graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford and London School of Economics; became television journalist and later Labour Party researcher, prior to his rise to one of Chancellor Gordon Brown’s fiduciaries and Chairman of HM Treasury’s Council of Economic Advisers. Was nominated by PM Gordon Brown as Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 28 June 2007 and served until 3 October 2008; later advanced to new position of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, serving in that capacity until 11 May 2010. Was elected leader of Labour Party on 25 September 2010.
Conservative Party Centre-right political party that adheres to philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. Biggest party in the United Kingdom; biggest single party in the House of Commons with 306 MPs, biggest party in local government with 9,391 councilors, and biggest British party in European Parliament with 25 MEPs. Governs in coalition with Liberal Democrats, with party leader David Cameron as PM. Informally referred to as the Tory Party or the Tories, it emerged in 1834 from original Tory Party, which dates back to 1678. Was one of two large parties in the 19th century, together with Liberal Party. Changed its name to Conservative and Unionist Party in 1912 after its merge with Liberal Unionist Party , though that name is not often used and is typically referred to simply as Conservative Party. Liberal vote decreased in the 1920s and Labour Party became Conservatives’ main rivals. Conservative PMs led governments for 57 years of 20th century, such as Winston Churchill (1940-45, 1951-55) and Margaret Thatcher (1979- 90). Thatcher’s tenure saw wide-ranging economic liberalisation, putting Conservatives firmly as most free market and eurosceptic of three main parties. Having been unable to form a majority, it returned to government in coalition in 2010 under more liberal leadership of David Cameron. Biggest British party with 25 MEPs, who sit with soft eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) parliamentary group; the party itself is member of Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) Europarty. Third-biggest party in Scottish Parliament and second-biggest in Welsh Assembly; are currently allied to Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) as part of Ulster Conservatives and Unionists arrangement, with UUP currently partaking in five-party Northern Ireland Executive.
Liberal Democrats Social liberal political party which advocates constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, environmentalism, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, baking reform and civil liberties. Founded 2 March 1988 by union of Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party. Had formed electoral SDP-Liberal Alliance for seven years before, since SDP’s creation; Liberals had existed for 129 years and were in power under leaders such as Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George. Nick Clegg was elected its leader in 2007. Obtained 57 seats at 2010 general election, making them third-biggest party in House of Commons behind Conservatives with 307 and Labour with 258. With no party acquiring overall majority, Liberal Democrats joined coalition government with Conservatives; Clegg became Deputy PM and other Liberal Democrats took up ministerial posts.
Labour Party Centre-left political party and one of two major British political parties along with Conservative Party. Founded in 1900, overtaking Liberal Party in general elections during early 1920s, with minority governments formed under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. Was in wartime coalition between 1940 and 1945, afterwards forming majority government under Clement Attlee; was also governing party from 1964-1970 and 1974-1979 under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, respectively. Was last in national government between 1997 and 2010 under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, beginning with majority of 179, which decreased to 167 in 2001 and 66 in 2005. Having won 258 seats in 2010 general election, it currently leads Official Opposition in the British parliament. Has minority government in Welsh Assembly; is biggest opposition party in Scottish Parliament with 13 MEPs in European Parliament, where it sits in Socialists and Democrats group. Member of Socialist International and Party of European Socialists. Its current leader is MP Ed Miliband.