The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Britain has a Unitary Government, with a Bicameral Legislature. The upper house is the House of Lords and the lower house is the House of Commons. Britain also has a Parliamentary system paired with a Constitutional monarchy (marking the prevalence of British tradition and the shaping of political culture). Representatives in the legislature, referred to as MPs, are elected through a single-member district system (first-past-the-post) . The Monarch is the Head of State while the Prime Minister is the Head of Government. The Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons, making him or her indirectly elected. The United Kingdom is composed of four distinct regions: England (not to be confused with the UK itself), Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Political History of Britain

  • 1215: Signing of the Magna Carta- limited the power of the monarch requiring that the monarch consult with the nobles before imposing taxes. This was the origin of a constitutional monarchy.
  • 1532-36: Formation of the Church of England starts to reduce the role of religion as a divisive political force
  • 1640s English Civil War: resulted in a brief parliamentary dictatorship ending with the return of monarchy; results in the first political parties to form, the Whigs (pro-Civil War), and the Tories (anti- Civil War)
  • 1688 Glorious Revolution: the ousting of James II and placement of William and Mary with the condition that the king be accountable to Parliament and thus the establishment of a constitutional monarchy
  • 1800s: Gradual expansion of the vote to the middle/capitalist class and then to the working class
  • 1911: The House of Lords stripped of the last vestiges of relevant power
  • 1945-mid 70s Collectivist Consensus: Leaders from the Conservative and Labour parties agreed on most policy goals including guaranteed social services and government intervention in the economy
  • 1972: Britain joined the European Community
  • 1979-1990 PM Margaret Thatcher: Reduced social welfare state and involvement in economy. Began neoliberalism, also known as the revival of free-market economics.
  • 1990 - 2006 PM Tony Blair: Labour party and "third way" policies; "New Labour"; introduced minimum wage; created Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly (devolution) through the Good Friday Agreement.
  • 2006 - 2010 PM Gordon Brown: leader of Labour party; dealt with rising oil prices, rising inflation, and credit crunch; experienced decline in approval from himself and party especially after investigations of false party donation claims
  • 2005 - On the 7th of July, 4 homegrown Islamist terrorists detonated 3 bombs on the London Underground and 1 on a double-decker bus.
  • 2008 - Along with US and most of the world, stock markets plummet in value and a recession occurs
  • 2010- Election of new PM David Cameron (Conservative Party; youngest in the 20th and 21st century) after former PM Gordon Brown steps down. This is the first time since WWII that Britain has been faced with a Hung Parliament (Coalitio
  • Government)
  • 2013- Margaret Thatcher dies. Privatizes Heaven. (
  • 2014- Scottland Independence referendum

Political Institutions - Executive

Figure Head / Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II- the current monarch of the United Kingdom, and the head of the Commonwealth. As the Head of State, it is the Queen's duty to concentrate upon her image, receive foreign ambassadors, and represent the United Kingdom. She is a symbol of great national pride of the British. Her heir is her son, Prince Charles. Rather than being an important political figure who helps the executive and legislative in Britain, the queen is more a symbolic figure of Great Britain. She holds the responsibility of upholding British tradition rather than reforming government. This is because the royal family is not popularly elected, so present day government gives the royal family little political power. The reason that the royal family is still around is for a more symbolic and traditional reason, not a specific political one. She is also responsible for giving a speech similar to the state of the union address like the United States president gives which is written by the prime minister (currently David Cameron) and read at the opening of parliament.

Work Horse / Head of Government: Prime Minister (PM)
-current PM = David Cameron (Conservative-Coalition with Liberal-Democrat Nick Clegg)
-link between the monarch and the cabinet
-chief executive, legislator, diplomat, and administrator
-must be selected by majority vote of majority party in Parliament
-is usually the chief of party
-must first be elected to Parliament as an MP (Member of Parliament)
- elections held every 5 years per the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011
--can call "by-elections" (midterm elections) to fill vacancies
-can be ousted by a "loss of confidence vote," which is when the PM's party votes to remove the PM and assign a new one. A rare procedure that results only from widespread opposition to the PM within his own party.
-lives at 10 Downing St. (an apartment in London which puts the PM as an ordinary citizen) (the British White House)
-The previous PM, Tony Blair, started off very popular and engaging, but has recently had to step down over dissatisfaction with British involvement in the Iraq war.
-Largest check on the PM is his/her own party (this ranges from a slap on the hand for policy choices all the way to the vote of no confidence)
-In comparison to the U.S. Government, the PM comes to power in a similar fashion as the Speaker of the House.

No Dual Executive!
- Although the head of state (Queen) and the head of government (Prime Minister) are separate, the head of state has no political power, although in the past they did. The Prime Minister holds the executive power in Britain. This differs from Russia, where both the President (head of state) and the Prime Minister (head of government) have considerable political power.
*Comparison: Iran is also a dual executive, but the Supreme leader and President both hold a large amount of power.

Political Institutions - Legislative & Elections

-Britain is a constitutional monarchy
-Prime Minister holds a significant amount of political power because of British party loyalty
-Although the Monarchy (currently the Queen) must put its official "stamp" on everything, and many ceremonies are held, the Prime Minister is the one with the true power.
-minimal campaign time
-first past the post

external image parliament.jpg

-Queen Elizabeth II (queen for past 60 years): serves as a figurehead for the majority party in Parliament, who officially consents to laws but is generally powerless to make law, though she does exert power over public opinion. i.e. she reads a speech that involves phrases such as, "My government", even though the speech is written by the P.M. The queen is the perfect epitome of "head of state", she, as previously mentioned, is a symbol, while all the government officials under her have all the true legislative power and feel the heat or public consent, whichever it may be, from the general public. While the US has an executive that is both head of state and government, the Queen of England serves as the image of Britain. Interestingly, the Queen, although she abides by most of the majority party's issues and views, is a traditionally nonpartisan figure unlike heads of states of the other countries we have studied.
If you'd like to read her Majesty's tweets, visit here

-As of late 2011, sons and daughters of future UK monarchs will have equal rights to the throne based on birth order succession. Leaders in all 16 Commonwealth states where the Queen is head of state and monarch all approved of this change, which marks significant social change from the 1689 Bill of Rights and Royal Marriages Act of 1772. If Prince Will and Princess Catherine/Kate have a first-born daughter, she could be the next monarch! (Source: BBC News)

Fusion of Powers- connection of executive and legislative branches in parliamentary system
1) The House of Lords: the upper, and less powerful chamber that is unelected and comprised of hereditary peers, currently has 738 members
-Lords have little power with the only significant power being the power to postpone laws from being passed for up to one year and also to suggest amendments though they can take no action further than this.
-In 1997 reforms were promised by Tony Blair. So far the only one that has taken place is the ending of "hereditary peer", the process by which seats are passed down to children. Previously there were 1,219 members. Now there are fewer because of Blair's reform (738).
-Serves primarily as an institution of tradition within the British government.
-The House of Lords cannot delay a bill that affects taxes or public funds for more than a month.
-If the House of Lords blocks a bill, and the House of Commons passes it again, it is automatically sent for Royal Assent, which it means for all intents and purposes, it becomes law.

2) The House of Commons: the lower, and more powerful chamber with 650 members elected by the general electorate that exercises the main legislative power in Britain
-MPs represent single-member districts (plurality) elected in first-past-the-post (winner-take-all) elections: don't have to live in their districts, and aren't expected to necessarily represent the interests of their constituencies
- Structure: Majority party on one side, minority parties on the other (face each other... makes rowdy debates)
- Majority party (currently a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats): The party that has the majority of seats in the House of Commons. The leader of the majority party becomes the Prime Minister and forms the cabinet. In the House of Commons, the majority party rules essentially without opposition, meaning it can pass laws without the consent of the opposition party. There is very little internal descension because MPs who are not loyal risk being placed in bad districts for re-election as punishment. Loyal MPs are placed in safe districts and can rise within the party. This contributes to a system of very high loyalty. However, the minority party plays the role of the watchdog, criticizing the decisions of the majority party.With this, debates held on the floor are often a simple joke.
- Backbenchers: sit in the back of the house- are less experienced political leaders who hope to earn a seat near the front through party loyalty.
- Main legislative powers of the House of Commons: to pass laws, provide for finance, scrutinize public administration and government policy
-Only 19.8% of the lower house is Woman due to traditional socialization and role patterns that have stayed as apart of society

-> Cabinet: the PM selects the cabinet from MPs: governed by collective responsibility (individual ministers must publicly support all cabinet decisions) each cabinet minister responsible for a department, often aren't likely to be experts in their department because positions are assigned to correspond to the MP's position in their party's structure. All party members must be extremely loyal in order to even hold a position in the government. If they are not, they risk being taken off the ballot by party leaders.
- Collective responsibility: Behind closed doors, individual cabinet ministers may disagree, but publicly, they must support all decision made by the cabinet collectively. If a minister publicly dissents from the PM's government, he should expect to lose his position. Collective responsibility allows the party, rather than individual politicians, to wield more influence and enforce party discipline.
-Because of the large emphasis on party loyalty, independents are not encouraged and usually do not get the opportunity to run for office (since the candidates are chosen by the party leaders, who take loyalty into account).

-largest minority party (currently the Conservatives): their leader becomes the leader of the opposition and appoints a shadow cabinet corresponding to the cabinet of the majority party that criticizes the majority government. They challenge the government during Question hour and act as a Watchdog to activities in the parliament.

-Has the ability to take part in a vote of no-confidence. This allows for the house of commons to oust a cabinet member.

Electoral system
-->single-member districts, first-past-the-post, winner-take-all: The candidate with the most votes wins the office, and the candidate with the second (or third) most votes wins nothing. No majority is neccessary to win. This exaggerates the scale of victory to the largest party, and promotes a two party system, or in this case, a three party system. Only national direct election is for House of Commons in that specific district.
-->The leaders of the party choose who runs for election and what district they run in; party leaders will assign more prominent and necessary MP's to "safer" districts where they are more certain of a victory for their party in that district. Therefore, party loyalty is much stronger in the UK than in America, since candidates are beholden to their parties to ensure that they're on the ballot next election.
-->campaigns are much shorter than in the United States and typically only last about 30 days.
--> candidates more focused on campaigning, parties less ideological to gain more votes from moderates.
--> Unlike a proportional (party list) system (also known as proportional representation), single member districts discourage minor parties because there is no incentive for finishing second or third.
-->In addition, FPTP exaggerates the scale of victory of the winning party, since it's a winner-take-all system. Winners don't need a majority, only a plurality.
-->Regardless of the actual popular vote, the party in control of Parliament is determined based on who wins a majority of the single-member districts. Although it has yet to happen, since there is a major third party (the Liberal Democrats) that wins some seats, there is a possibility (as some speculate may happen this year) of a "Hung Parliament" in which no party wins an absolute majority of seats. In this case, two parties would be required to form a 'coalition' in order to gain majority contol in Parliament between them.
--> Timing of elections: Held every five years now per Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Was originally called by the Prime Minister sometime within five years of getting elected. The prime minister usually tried to call for an election when times are prosperous or when approval ratings are high. If Gordon Brown had known that the end of 2008 and the following year were times of global recession, he would have called for an election earlier during better times to improve his re-election chances. Because elections can be called at any time within a five year period, the members must always stay loyal to their party
--> Due to elections being so rare, British citizens are thought to have a lower political efficacy because they do not get to have a voice through elections very often. However, the televised debates between the PM candidates, introduced in 2010, have sparked interest in politics leading to a somewhat heightened political efficacy.
--> Majoritarian systems came out of the British system, which was inherited by the U.S. A majoritarian system is a electoral system that encourages dominance of one party in parliament.
--> MPs do NOT need to live in their district to run for that district's seat.

Political Parties

- Labour: the leading left-wing party, with the current leader being Gordon Brown(Also known as New Labour as titled by Tony Blair)
--> dominates along with the Conservative Party, making Britain a two-party dominant system
--> most popular with the working class, urban centers and London suburbs, Scotland/Wales, and Northern industrial cities (is being affected by immigration issues), middle class split with Conservatives
-->New Labour: Tony Blair and his "Third Way". He reconciled Labour's emphasis on the welfare with market economy. This method was very pragmatic. It should also be noted that the New Labour did, in fact, retain many of the Labour's traditional policies and stances, but moved significantly towards a more moderate-leftist aura.
-->The Labour Party emerged as a political grouping at the end of the 19th century, growing out of a complex of organizations, notably the trade unions. After the First World War Labour displaced the Liberal Party as the main political alternative to the Conservative Party. Labour governed the country in 1945-51, 1964-70 and 1974-79. It returned to power in 1997 after 18 years in opposition.
During its long period in opposition Labour was transformed. After a brief lurch towards the left at the beginning of the 1980s the party gradually moved back towards the political center, weakening its links with the trade union movement and downplaying its previous emphasis on redistribution in an effort to widen its appeal to the middle classes. Mr. Blair’s “new” Labour Party is centrist and un-dogmatic, but traditional supporters regret its abandonment of key tenets of socialist doctrine, and there is resentment over the tight control exercised by Mr. Blair.

- Conservatives (Tories): traditionalist right-wing party, currently led by David Cameron
--> dominates along with the Labour Party, making Britain a two-party dominant system
--> most popular with the upper class, center (urban and rich) London, as well as rural areas, middle class split with Labour
-->Although the Conservative Party is easily the most successful political party in the UK this century (in terms of general elections won), it suffered its heaviest defeat since 1906 at the general election in 1997 and recovered almost no ground at the last election in 2001. The party has had difficulty shaking off its tired image with voters and overcoming the bitter divisions, particularly over Europe, which have raged within it since Mrs. Thatcher was deposed as leader in 1990.
--> Similar in policy to the American Democratic party.
--> Has been able to gain support from traditional leftist party voters who are not in support of loose immigration laws because of their fear of job competition and cultural differences
-The conservatives according to the 1997 election make up about 30.7% of the vote in the U.K.
-->Currently has been fighting (with words of course) to keep Scotland within the UK, arguing against the Labour "Devolution Max" policy

- Liberal Democrats: a centrist-left party, currently led by Nick Clegg
-->generally gets about 20% of the vote, though because of the first-past-the post election system (winner-take-all) does not get many seats in Parliament; recently, they've concentrated on winning seats rather than having good percentages of the overall vote
--> popular with wavering Conservative or Labour supporters
--> As a result of the voting system, the Liberal Democrats’ representation in the House of Commons has always been much smaller than its share of the vote. Relations between the Liberal Democrat leadership and the Labour Party were quite close when the latter returned to office in 1997, but relations have since cooled and the two parties have gradually distanced themselves from each other.
-->Most significant third party.
--> Have gained a significant surge in support following the first ever Party Leaders' Debates during the 2010 election cycle, creating the possibility of a hung Parliament, in which no single party maintains a majority of seats in the House of Commons

Regional parties:
-Scotland, Wales (Plaid Cymru), Ireland: growth in support for regional political parties
-Scottish National Party (SNP): with Plaid Cymru (of Wales) has taken a few seats in Parliament, being more successful in the Scottish and Welsh regional assemblies
-Sinn Fein (affiliated with the IRA), Democratic Unionist Party (Protestants): most influential parties in Northern Ireland

*Parties in Britain are responsible, meaning that they act as they say they will. This requires individual legislators to do as the party wishes : strong sense of party discipline.

Parties in Britain also hold considerably more power than in many other developed democracies. Parties can control the electoral fates of candidates because candidates do not have to live in the district that they run in, so parties can take out or put in anybody they please. Compared to Presidential systems, parties thus dictate much of the agenda and individual legislators have very little prerogative to deviate from the party.

The British Constitution
-not a written document like the American constitution, but instead a mixture of customs, acts of Parliament, and common-law principles which effectively act as the set of rules of the British civil and political state
--> Magna Carta (1215) : historic start of the democratic, parliamentary system of government.
--> the unwritten British constitution allows an easier path of amending the laws and thus giving more freedom for change to protect the rights of the people while others think the unwritten status of the constitution makes it an easy way to eliminate the rights of British citizens, decreasing legitimacy in Britain. Also, a result from the unwritten status is that the monarchy retains only symbolic powers. Yet even though Britain has no constitution, its government is based upon the Magna Carta.
--> in 2000, Britain adopted the European Convention on Human Rights as domestic law, finally giving Britons the equivalent of a U.S. Bill of Rights

* Bureaucracy
-Cooperates regularly with key interest groups in policy making
-professional meritocracy: jobs awared based on merit and not on connections or seniority

* Non-elected Bodies
-regulatory agencies: supposed to oversee newly privatized companies (that usually have names beginning with "Of": Ofar for water, Oftel for telecommunications)
-QUANGOs (quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organizations): act like independent agencies that regulate health standards, develop human resources, and head university grants, etc., and act as public-private relationship supervisors

* Judiciary
-the courts are not supposed to rule on anything beyond a particular case or the constitutionality of a Parliament act, though recent trends have shown this changing
-Judges are independent from both the executive and legislature (and vice versa) and they do not get involved in political debate. Judges of the High Court cannot be removed from office without an address that was passed by both houses of parliament; naturally, this does not take into account age and health. Judges are almost immune from the risk of being sued or prosecuted for what they do in their capacity as a judge. Most of those in the Supreme Court sit in the House of Lords; this allows these judges to take part in debates and enact government legislation (this is a rarity).
- Britain has lost some of its autonomy to the EU by binding itself to the decisions of the European Court of Justice.
- Judges were appointed by the Crown on recommendation of PM or Lord Chancellor; however, the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 changes this process. Now, the Judicial Appointments Commission, composed of judges, layman and more, is given the right to appoint new members for Court.
Example: When Great Britain trades with other EU countries, GB must convert measurements to the metric system.

-Sovereignty: Parliament, specifically, the House of Commons, has total sovereignty (right to exercise the functions of a state without being subject to another authority). Even though the British monarch is referred to as the Sovereign, the monarch's true purpose is merely ceremonial.
-Impact of Supranational groups (regulatory organizations with some sovereignty over member states): The extent to which Britain should participate in the European Union has long been a point of contention. The adoption of the euro currency was one such issue; many believe Britain would enjoy the economic benefits of the largest global economy, others believe that the tradition of the GBP is more important. Britain decided to not adopt the Euro by means of the "opt out" clause. Many people in Britain are reluctant to participate more in the EU for fear of giving up British sovereignty.
-Impact of Globalization: Many British workers are losing jobs because companies are finding cheaper labor in other countries. Great Britain's membership in the EU has meant that many jobs are being lost to Eastern Europe due to lower labor costs and the flow of cheap labor to Britain. Also, Britain is in the midst of a immigration influx from asylum seekers from the Middle East. This is contributing to the rising unemployment rate.
-Fragmentation: UK controlled the entire island of Ireland until 1948 when southern Ireland became independent. UK held on to Ulster (Northern Ireland) due to its prosperity and the large number of Protestants. In 1969 there were a number of civil rights protests in Northern Ireland over discrimination and resulted in mass riots. This is when the British Army was sent to Northern Ireland and when the Irish Republican Army responded with terrorist attacks in England. The conflict was resolved with the Good Friday Peace agreement in 1998. The Republic of Ireland gave up its claim to Ulster (Northern Ireland). The UK gave governing responsibility to a provincial assembly made up of Catholics and Protestants. Also, The IRA promised to disarm and turn in their weapons to an international third party in order to work towards peace. Once this was done, the British Army in return promised to decommission their military barracks and leave the country. In addition, Scotland is looking to perhaps gain their independence via a 2014 Scottish parliament referendum.
-Trends toward Federal/Unitary:
- Although Great Britain is a de facto Unitary Government (since the Head of State and House of Lords are powerless), it has taken recent initiatives to give regional and local governments more control. In effect, this creates a slight shift towards a Federal Government. This is known as devolution. The mayoral elections, such as the one mentioned below, is an example of devolution. Another example would be the new regional parliaments of Wales Northern Ireland and Scotland.
-In addition, mayoral elections were just instated in London: currently, the mayor is the Conservative Boris Johnson, having won the election over Labour's Ken Livingstone
-->mayoral elections were meant to build higher political efficacy
-devolution: Giving of power from central government to a regional or local government. the government has recently given more power to the various states within Great Britain (Scotland and Wales).
--> N. Ireland: London has been giving the Northern Ireland more power over day to day governance, in accordance with the Good Friday Accords, while the IRA maintains good behavior. Northern Ireland consists of 6 of the 32 counties that the UK retained control over after signing the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. There has been an ongoing conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The Catholics generally want to join the Republic of Ireland, while Protestants, in this case also called unionists, wish to remain part of the UK. The most recent period of violence went from 1968-1994, and was mainly between the Provisional Irish Republican Army and various protestant paramilitary groups. Also, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police force in Northern Ireland, was generally considered to be pro-unionist. The Northern Ireland Assembly is Ireland's devolved legislative body, and is slowly gaining more power.
--> Scotland: independent legislature with direct elections, the power to tax itself, and administrative powers (control over schools, hospitals, and transportation). The largest party in the Scottish Parliament is the Scottish National Party, which supports Scottish independence from the United Kingdom; however, the SNP only holds a plurality in the Scottish Parliament. Other parties include Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. The Scottish Parliament chooses the First Minister of Scotland, who in turn appoints the Scottish cabinet.
--> Wales: has specific MPs and a National Assembly.

There are currently plans for a Scottish Referendum to be placed in 2014 to decide about the issue of Scottish Independence. The primary issues about independence are about the idea of an independent Scottish economy (right now a lot of Scotland has government support that is paid for with UK taxes), Scottish defense, and the relationship that would continue between Scotland and the UK and other supranational organizations such as the EU and NATO.

Democratization: Transition to a more democratic political system. Has been going on since Cromwell, but more populace participation has been occurring with the newest position in Brit politics, the Mayor of London.
Role of government in economy: Medical care guaranteed, some other aspects of welfare state. It used to be that the UK was essentially a socialist state where the government ran most things. However, with the introduction of Margret Thatcher who worked hard to push them back to the market economy structure, reduce the social welfare state, and privatize industries (her methods are known as Thatcherism). Blair's third way combines the best aspects of socialist goals commitment to equality with a market economy. He transformed the welfare state from one that just gives benefits to one that gives recipients skills to find jobs. Blair's "New Deal for the unemployed." Blair eliminated clause four which stated "workers have the right to control the means of production" which was the socialism clause. Blair does not reverse privatization. He establishes new regulatory agencies (QUANGOS) to oversee private firms.
Examples of Nationalism: Britain's refusal to adopt the Euro as its national currency, and the Falkland War in which Britain defended the Falkland Islands off the coast of South America from the invading Argentinians.
Status of Civil Liberties: Despite the fact that Great Britain holds no legitimate constitution, its civil liberties are upheld through the European Convention on Human Rights. The Human rights act of 1998 incorporates this directly into UK law, however post September 11 there has been controversy dealing with surveillance and detention without trial.
Civil Society/Social Capital: British civil society does not play as big a role in policy making as other countries. Most believe that the cabinet members should be dealing with the formulation of public policy while the role of civil society is simply to keep a check on the legislation that is produced.
Recent policy developments: Status of political legitimacy: Great Britain enjoys extremely high political legitimacy. Elections are very competitive, with power changing hands often, and as recently as 1997, from one party to the next.
-From Post World War II until 1975, it was a collectivist government
-Margaret Thatcher (PM 1979-1990) was convinced that collectivism had led to Britain’s decline by sapping British industry and permitting powerful and self-serving unions to hold the country for ransom. She wanted to jumpstart the economy by cutting taxes, reducing social services, and using government policy to stimulate competitiveness and efficiency in the private sector.
-Thatcherism embraces her distinctive leadership style, her economic and political strategies, as well as her traditional cultural values: individual responsibility, commitment to family, frugality, and an affirmation of the entrepreneurial spirit.
-The New Labour party committed to modernization that promised to fundamentally recast British politics. They rejected the notion of interest-based politics. They emphasized the virtues of a partnership with business. They promised new approaches to economic, welfare, and social policy that emphasized the rights of citizens to assistance only if they took the responsibility to get the needed education and training. They emphasized British leadership in Europe.
-Labour would transfer specified powers from the central government to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

-Great Britain encompasses Scotland, England, and Wales
-the United Kingdom encompasses all of Great Britain + Northern Ireland (also known as Ulster)
Social Cleavages - determined by:
-voting tendencies: see Parties
--> Socioeconomic status - due to institutionalized social classes
--> Public schools (American private school): social elites who often go to Eton for secondary school and then Oxford and Cambridge (which has graduated 1/2 of Conservative MPS), and trains mainly for public service
--> Grammar schools (American public school): middle-lower classes, 25% of Britons plan on attending college
-no significant gender gap in voting; young women vote the least and so politicians often try to win the female vote
--> "Blair's Babes": large number of female Labour MPs elected in 1997

Status of Efficacy: The English, though having higher voter turn outs than we do, are generally considered to have less political efficacy than Americans, partially because the government is more sequestered amongst the elites and there is no significant local government, although this is beginning to change. Also, elections are only held every five years in Britain, so although there is a larger voter turnout than in the U.S., British citizens are still not able to get involved in elections as often as American citizens.

Role of Interest Groups: - There are hundreds of interest groups. However, there is little lobbying done by them (unlike those in the US). The fewer interest groups with a direct influence on the law making process has lead to a corporatist system (a few groups that try to maintain good relationships with members of the House of Commons, especially with party leaders and ministers). Their influence depends on being able to shape the bill, not how it's dealt with on the floor of House
--> Interest groups are particularly valuable due to the information and expertise that the members have; this information triggers the government to seek advice when crafting legislation. However, during the Thatcher years, many interest groups and unions were completely shut out of the decision making process. Even as the Labour Party took power, the government has distanced itself from the interest groups, relying more on dynamic corporations.

Development of political elites: The conservative party was an elitist organization, as the roots of the organization lay in the nobility. However, the members of the conservative party took on the responsibility of helping the poor, supporting a welfare state where a primary goal of the government was to keep the economy healthy.

Political Party System
-combines long periods of domination by two parties with the presence of significant smaller parties
-represents a broad range of political ideologies

As of late, the UK has generally provided the means for devolution, giving more independence (as far as creating local policy, dealing with federal apportionments, and the like go) to regions that have typically represented essentially politically restricted regions of the UK (Scotland and Wales). Giving these regions more autonomy has led to a greater sense of political legitimacy for the national government.

British Political Culture:
-Lack of social mobility
-Structure of society solidified by British education
-The number one factor is political socialization (although recently it has been declining)
  • Upper class is usually more conservative
  • Middle class used to be conservative, but now is split with the moderate Labour party
  • Working class is strongly labour


Backbenchers - Backbenchers are the members of the British Parliament that are not considered party leaders. They sit in the back rows of the parliament building, hence the name, and only vote the way that their party wants them to vote. If they maintain a strict party discipline, they could be promoted to the front bench

Blair, Tony - Labour PM from 1997-2008 who continued many of Thatcher's privatization efforts. He made the Labour Party more moderate by striking out Clause 4 (the call for socialism) from the party platform. While Blair was seemingly elected for his 3rd Way platform of 'updated', less radical form of liberalism in 1997, he devolved to a pragmatic form of leadership that, on several occasions, that alienated the electorate. He is currently heading a U.N. conference trying to broker peace in the Middle East.

Collective responsibility - The idea that all cabinet members publicly support all of the cabinet decisions, even if they personally do not agree. A similar concept can be found amongst Politburo members in China. This also ties in with the concept of keeping the party line and plays a role in elections. As decisions are made by party as a "whole" if certain policy goes wrong, fault goes to the entire majority party.

Collectivist consensus - Cross-party British support for the welfare state from 1945 (end of WWII) to the mid 1970s. It can be compared to 1820s American politics, in the Age of Good Feelings and Monroe's presidency.

Conservative Party - Currently the second largest political party in the United Kingdom. More right wing than the Labour party, and is typically Euroskeptic (favors the Pound over the Euro) and more fond of privatization than nationalism. Currently headed by David Cameron. It was in power the longest during the 20th century. It is characterized by an elitist sentiment of responsibility for the lower classes.

Devolution - This is the movement away from a centralized government towards a more federal system of government. It's most notable in Scotland where the regional government has the power to tax and change educational policies. Scotland will be conducting a regional election on May 3rd, 2007 in which the Scottish Nationalist Party is expected to outpace the Labour Party for the first time. Will this trigger an independence movement?

Eurosceptic- one who is skeptical of the European Union and therefore opposes joining the EU, and switching currency from the Pound to the Euro. This is due to a large sense of nationalism among the English people.

First-past-the-post- This describes a single-member district system in which the winner is the candidate who gets the most votes Congressional elections in the U.S. operate under a similar system which is known to place more emphasis on individual candidates and less focus on political party affiliation as compared to proportional representation (a.k.a. party lists). Is a reference to horse racing in which only the first horse past the post recieves a prize. Encourages fewer parties because there is no reward for finishing in any place but first.

Good Friday Agreement - A cease-fire agreement between the British and the IRA. The British allow the IRA to dwell in Northern Ireland in exchange for annual quotas of weapons from the IRA fighters. Britain promised the regional government in Northern Ireland more local control under this agreement if the IRA disarms.

Great Reform Act- Law passed in 1832 that expanded the vote to more males; although only a small percentage of British citizens got the vote, it is widely seen as a key step toward democracy in Britain.

House of Commons - The House of Commons is the lower but more powerful chamber in Parliament This is the lower house in the Parliament and similar to other countries we have studied, the lower chamber has more power than the upper chamber. Compared to the Congress of the United states, it is generally agreed that the Commons has the stronger legislature because they pass more laws due to the majority party essentially controlling everything. Furthermore, because the majority party has such enormous powers in terms of passing legislation, the public views the party to be responsible for deficiencies in policy making. Also, there are no set election dates and almost no separation of powers with the weaker House of Lords.

House of Lords - Upper House of Parliament, but has a lot less power. The members of the chamber have traditionally been hereditary and through appointments, but recent initiatives by Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a comprehensive reform of the House of Lords by allowing more elected posts, reducing the amount of appointments based on hereditary descent through the establishment of an independent appointment commission , and reducing the membership from 731 to around 550. These reforms have increased the political efficacy of the citizens of Great Britain by reducing the aristocratic nature of the House of Lords and giving the voters more of a say in the membership body of the upper chamber, even though the chamber itself is still very weak and essentially pointless. In 1999, the House of Commons eliminated the hereditary lords and allowed for a number of seats in Lords to become directly elected positions.

IRA (Irish Republican Army) - The Irish Republican Army was founded during the Irish civil war in the early 20s, fighting against the British. However, elements of the IRA chose not to accept the Anglo-Irish treaty, and, for all practical purposes, became a terrorist organization in the mid 1920s. The IRA signed a cease-fire with the British in 1972, and effectively disbanded by the 1980s. A splinter group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) continued fighting with the British up to 1997 when they signed a cease-fire. In 2005, they destroyed most of their weapons (including enough Semtex to level a large part of London) under international supervision.

The British Judiciary: the lack of judicial review weakens the power of the British judiciary within the policy making process.
Labour Party- Was the ruling party from 1997-2010. They are seen as more left-wing, and believe in social programs as well as nationalization. Please note that Labour is actually spelled correctly with a U, you silly Americans.
(Early on in the drawing process, they were careful to catch the "IL" at the beginning of this artistic party emblem and party graphic designers were quick to remove it)

Liberal Democratic Party (Lib Dems)- In Britain, the number-three party and in some ways the most radical. It was created in 1988 by the merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. They are pro-European and for proportional representation in the government. Nick Clegg is the current leader of the party
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File:Conservative logo 2006.svg
File:Conservative logo 2006.svg

Conservative Party- Considered a right-winged political party. It currently has the largest amount of members in the House of Commons, but not enough for a majority. Therefore, the Conservative Party has formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats with the Prime Minister being the conservative David Cameron.

Maastricht Treaty- signed in 1992, it established the EU's framework (the European council, the courts, etc.), and set forth the Euro currency. It was approved through popular referendums and established an European citizenship.

Prime Minister (PM)- The Prime Minister of Britain is David Cameron. In the UK, the PM is the presiding and actual head of the government, as well as the head of the executive branch. He or she is appointed by the majority party of Parliament and is usually the party leader.
Current P.M. (and babe) David Cameron

QUANGOs (Quasi Non-Governmental Organizations)- these operate like independent regulatory agencies (FAA, FCC) in the U.S. They help to oversee industries (i.e. airlines) and public-private partnerships (i.e. private construction companies hired to rebuild British train lines.)

Question Hour- one hour per week in the House of Commons in which the opposition party is allowed to do some mudslinging at the ruling party, mostly at the Prime Minister, but also at other ministers. Question hour is normally pre-arranged by the organizers of each party, although the questions are usually without notice. Ministers may attempt to avoid questions, but lying or providing misleading answers is not permitted by standing orders.

Shadow Cabinet- a senior group of opposition spokespeople who together, under the leader of the opposition party, form an alternative cabinet to the government's. The members shadow or mark each individual member of the government and criticize them.

Thatcher, Margaret - Former Conservative female Prime Minister. She was a "Dry". She began the harsh process of privatizing the British economy (airlines, telecommunications, BP oil) even though the British labour unions didn't agree. Margaret Thatcher emphasized reducing state intervention while empowering free markets and entrepreneurialism. Her strong opposition to the Soviet Union won her the nickname the “Iron Lady.” She was the first women to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom.
Former Prime Minister (and not a babe) (debatable) Margaret Thatcher

Third Way- a position often taken by Tony Blair and previously Bill Clinton. It is a highly pragmatic approach to problem-solving. Through the Third Way, Blair led Labour away from strict socialism. Examples: GOP's welfare reform, increased public-private partnerships, Eliminates Clause 4, Quangos

Three-line whip - The three-line whip is a nickname for a very important vote that the party leaders needs all members to vote on. It received this name because all members will receive a note with the name of the legislation and it will be underlined three times. This tells the members that they need to vote the way the party wants.

Tories: In the UK, after the Tory Party was taken over by the Conservative Party, the term “Tory” became a nickname for a member of the Conservative Party, or the Party in general. The name “Captain Tory” is given to loyal Conservative supporters in the North East of England.

Trades Union Congress- Britain's leading trade union confederation. This is the centre for all trade unions in great Britain. Comprised of over 5 unions and 7 million members.

Ulster- One of the four Irish Provinces, and more generally, the 18 Northern Irish constituencies. It is the most prosperous with the only large-scale industrialization in the country. When southern Ireland became independent, the UK held on to Ulster (Northern Ireland) due to its prosperity and the large number of Protestants.

Important Personalities of the U.K.

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President Barack Obama with her Royal Majesty, The Queen.

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Conservative Party Leader David Cameron.

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Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown

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File:NickClegg worldeconomic.jpg

Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg

Enemy of the State as Decreed By Queen Victoria