The political system of Great Britain

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2000

4 Pages

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The British System of Government

Britain is a constitutional monarchy. That means it is a country governed by a king or a queen who accepts the advice of a parliament. It is also a parliamentary democracy. That is, it is a country whose government is controlled by a parliament which has been elected by the people. The highest positions in the government are filled by the members of the directy elected parliament. In Britain, as in many European countries, the official head of state, whether a monarch (as in Belgium, the Netherlands or Denmark) or a president (as in Germany, Greece or Italy) has little power.

The Parliament

The British Parliament is divided into two houses. The first one, which is less important, is the House of Lords. It can be described as politically conservative. It consists of different groups. There are the Lord Spiritual. Those are archbishops and bishops. Furthermore the Lords Temporal. These are heriditary peers, which got their titles from their fathers or grandfathers, and life peers, which got their titles for their whole life, and finally there are the Lords of Appeal, which are the High Court Judges. The Lords` main functions are to examine and to discuss the Bills introduced in the House of Commons. They can also delay the legislation for a year, but they can´t stop those Bills completly. They have also the function to introduce Bills which are mostly unimportant and non-controversial. They must approve a Bill, before it becomes an act. The power of the Lords has decreased dramatically. There was even a strong movement to abolish the House of Lords completely.

The second House is the House of Commons. The 651 Members of Parliament (MPs) who sit in the Commons are elected representatives of the British people. Each MP represents one of the 651 constituencies into which the UK is divided. The House of Commons has a maximum term of five years, at the end of which a general election must be held. However, a general election can be called in the government at any time. MPs sit on parallel rows of seats known as benches with those who support the government on the one side and the opposition on the other. The important persons are the front-benchers, the less important ones are the back- benchers. The Commons` main functions are to define and to pass the laws and regulations governing the UK

and to examine closely all the activities of the government.

The Government

The most powerful person is the Prime Minister. He is the leader of his party, he is the head of the government and has a seat in the House of Commons. He chooses the Cabinet-Ministers, who are the Foreign-, Home- and Defense-Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He recommends a number of appointments to the monarch. The Cabinet takes decisions about new policies, the implementation of existing policies and the running of the various government departements. The most popular Prime Ministers are Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and present one, Tony Blair.

The Monarch

For the evidence of written law only, the Queen has almost absolute power, and it all seems very undemocratic. She is the head of state, the head of the Church of England and the Head of the Armed Forces. Every autumn at the state opening of parliament Elisabeth II. makes a speech. In it, she says what "my government" intends to do in the comming year. And indeed, it is her government - not the people`s. As far as the law is concerned, she can choose anybody she likes to run the government for her. The same is true for her choices of people to fill some hundred other ministerial positions. And if she gets fed up with her ministers she can just dismiss them. Officially speaking they are all "servants of the Crown". Furthermore nothing the parliament has decided can become law until she has agreed to it. There is also a principle of English law, that the monarch can do nothing that legally wrong. But these facts are only written law. In reality it is very different. Of course she cannot choose anyone she likes to be Prime Minister, but she has to choose someone who has the support of the majority of MPs and the House of Commons - because "her" government can only collect taxes with the agreement of the Commons, so if she did not choose such a person, the government would stop function. With parliament it is the same story - the Prime Minister will talk about "requesting" a dissolution of parliament when he or she wants to hold an election, but it would normally be impossible for the monarch to refuse this request. So in reality the Queen cannot actually stop the government going ahead with any of its politics. Important roles of the monarch are the following ones: It is argued that the monarch could act as a final check on a government that was becomming dictorial. Second, the monarch has to play a very practical role as being a figurehead and representing the country.

The souvereign reigns but does not rule.

The Party System

Britain is normaly described as having a two-party-system. This is because, since 1945, one of the big parties has, by itself, controlled the government, and members of these two parties have occupied more than 90 % of all the seats in the House of Commons. One of the two big parties is the the Conservative Party, also known as the Tories, which is right of centre and standing for hierachical interference in the economy. They would like to reduce income tax and the give a high priority to national defence and internal law and order. A famous Tory is John Major, the former Prime Minister. The second big party is the Labour Party, which is left of centre and stands for equality, for the social weaker people and for more government involvment in the economical issues. Another smaller party is the Liberal Democratic Party. It was formed from a union of Liberals and the Social Democrats - a breakaway group of Labour politicians. It is regarded to be slightly left of centre and has always been strongly in favour with the European Union.

In countries like England which have a two- party- system there`s often a so- called shadowcabinet. This is the group of politicians which would become ministers if their party was in government. They`re the speakers of the main opposition party.

The situation in Scotland

On May 6th 1999 the Scottish people voted for the first Scottish Parliament since 1707 when Scottish an English parliaments were united. There was a Scottish movement who wanted devolution especially when the Tories did not represent Scottish wishes and needs. Tony Blair`s landslide victory 1997 gave new hope before the first parliament was finally perfect. Since then there is a proportional election in Scotland just like the one we have in Germany. Now there is a host of parties in parliament. The coalition consists of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The parliament now can pass laws on education, health, culture, the environment and agriculture.

Wales and Northern Ireland- where Mr Trimble is in charge of the whole government and Gerry Adams e.g. is aminister also have a parliament now, but they don`t have as much rights as the Scots do.

At last you can say it could happen, that Britain one day gets federalistic.

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The political system of Great Britain
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Stefan Schneider (Author), 2000, The political system of Great Britain, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 1/6/2001


    Sehr interessant und ausführlich!
    Mein Komplement!

  • guest on 2/25/2002


    das rettet mir das leben... ich hoffe ich kann damit min. 10 NP ergattern und mein durchkommen dieses jahr sichern...

  • guest on 5/13/2002


    Ich hasse Englisch,will aber nicht im ABitur durchfallen. Muss daher ein Referat abliefern.DANKE!

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