British political system
He happily acknowledges that the legacy of British rule here in India has him the praise of a political enemy - the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. . the relationship between India and Britain as a "shared infatuation". Peter Ronald de Souza and E. Sridharan, eds., India's Political Parties, New and International Relations, Routledge, New Delhi and Abingdon, UK, To simplify British political history very much, it has essentially been a struggle to . houses of the American Congress or the Indian Parliament (although both of .. It is responsible for all international relationships, especially.
The powers are delegated from the monarch personally, in the name of the Crown, and can be handed to various ministers, or other officers of the Crown, and can purposely bypass the consent of Parliament. The head of Her Majesty's Governmentthe prime minister, also has weekly meetings with the sovereign, where she may express her feelings, warn, or advise the prime minister in the government's work.
The United Kingdom Government[ edit ] The monarch appoints a Prime Minister as the head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdomguided by the strict convention that the Prime Minister should be the member of the House of Commons most likely to be able to form a Government with the support of that House. In practice, this means that the leader of the political party with an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons is chosen to be the Prime Minister. If no party has an absolute majority, the leader of the largest party is given the first opportunity to form a coalition.
The Prime Minister then selects the other Ministers which make up the Government and act as political heads of the various Government Departments.India and UK Trade Relations: What Future after Brexit?, SSAI, SOAS University of London
About twenty of the most senior government ministers make up the Cabinet and approximately ministers in total comprise the government. In accordance with constitutional conventionall ministers within the government are either Members of Parliament or peers in the House of Lords. As in some other parliamentary systems of government especially those based upon the Westminster Systemthe executive called "the government" is drawn from and is answerable to Parliament - a successful vote of no confidence will force the government either to resign or to seek a parliamentary dissolution and a general election.
In practice, members of parliament of all major parties are strictly controlled by whips who try to ensure they vote according to party policy. If the government has a large majority, then they are very unlikely to lose enough votes to be unable to pass legislation. They are responsible for chairing Cabinet meetings, selecting Cabinet ministers and all other positions in Her Majesty's governmentand formulating government policy.
The Prime Minister being the de facto leader of the UK, he or she exercises executive functions that are nominally vested in the sovereign by way of the Royal Prerogatives. Historically, the British monarch was the sole source of executive powers in the government. However, following the lead of the Hanoverian monarchs, an arrangement of a "Prime Minister" chairing and leading the Cabinet began to emerge.
Over time, this arrangement became the effective executive branch of government, as it assumed the day-to-day functioning of the British government away from the sovereign. Theoretically, the Prime Minister is primus inter pares i. While the Prime Minister is the senior Cabinet Minister, they are theoretically bound to make executive decisions in a collective fashion with the other Cabinet ministers.
Cabinet meetings are typically held weekly, while Parliament is in session. Government departments and the Civil Service[ edit ] The Government of the United Kingdom contains a number of ministries known mainly, though not exclusively as departments, e. It was before the country achieved a near universal franchise and before the last extension of the franchise to year olds. Another important feature of British political history is that three parts of the United Kingdom - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - have a special status and have local administrations with a wide range of responsibilities.
So the British political system does not have anything equivalent to the federal system of the 50 states in the USA. The final important part of British political history is that, sincethe UK has been a member of what is now called the European Union EU.
This now has 28 Member States covering most of the continent of Europe. Therefore the UK Government and Parliament are limited in some respects by what they can do because certain areas of policy or decision-making are a matter for the EU which operates through a European Commission appointed by the member governments and a European Parliament elected by the citizens of the member states [for a guide to the working of the EU click here ].
However, in a referendum held on 23 Junethe British people narrowly voted that the country should leave the European Union a decsion dubbed Brexita process that was activated in March but will take two years and be very complex. The year was a special year for the British Parliament as it was the th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament the first gathering in England that can be called a parliament in the dictionary sense of the wordalong with the th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document that set the scene for the later de Montfort Parliament.
The most important practical power is the choice of the Member of Parliament to form a government, but the monarch follows the convention that this opportunity is granted to the leader of the political party with the most seats in the House of Commons or who stands the best chance of commanding a majority in a vote of confidence in the Commons. Although any remaining powers of the monarchy are largely ceremonial, the Royal Family does have some subtle and hidden influence on the legislative process because of a little-known provision that senior royals - notably the Queen and her eldest son the Prince of Wales - have to be consulted about legislation that might affect their private interests and given the opportunity to have such legislation amended.
Traditionally the choice of monarch has been determined on the hereditary and primogeniture principles which means that the oldest male child of a monarch was the next in line to the throne. Under the terms of the Act of Settlement ofthe monarch and the monarch's spouse could not be Catholics because the UK monarch is also the Head of the Church of England.
Inthe primogeniture principle was abolished, so that the next in line can now be a female eldest child, and the monarch can marry a Catholic but not himself or herself be one. In classical political theory, there are three arms of the state: The executive - the Ministers who run the country and propose new laws The legislature - the elected body that passes new laws The judiciary - the judges and the courts who ensure that everyone obeys the laws.
In the political system of the United States, the constitution provides that there must be a strict division of powers of these three arms of the state, so that no individual can be a member of more than one. So, for example, the President is not and cannot be a member of the Congress. This concept is called 'separation of powers', a term coined by the French political, enlightenment thinker Montesquieu. This is not the case in the UK where all Ministers in the government are members of the legislature and one individual, the Lord Chancellor, is actually a member of all three arms.
One tends to find unicameral legislatures in smaller nations such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Israel and New Zealand, although China and Iran are two larger nations with a single legislative chamber but neither of these countries is a democracy.
The British Parliament is often called Westminster because it is housed in a distinguished building in central London called the Palace of Westminster which stands out because of the clock tower at the south end this is the Elizabeth Tower and it houses Big Ben and the tower with a flag at the other end this is the Victoria Tower.
The House of Commons This is the lower chamber but the one with the most authority. The House of Commons sits each week day for about half of the weeks of the year. The precise hours of sitting are: Unlike the Speaker in the US House of Representatives, the post is non-political and indeed, by convention, the political parties do not contest the Parliamentary constituency held by the Speaker.
Politics of the United Kingdom
The House of Commons currently comprises Members of Parliament or MPs the number varies slightly from time to time to reflect population change. This is a large legislature by international standards. The Coalition Government of passed legislation to reduce the number from toas part of a wider change to the number and size of constituencies, but Parliament blocked the process of redrawing boundaries that is necessary before an General Election can be held with fewer seats. Rather oddly but deliberatelythere is insufficient seating capacity in the chamber of the House of Commons for all the MPs.
Members do not sit at desks like most legislatures but on long, green-covered benches and there is only seating capacity for MPs out of the total of The origin of this strange arrangement is that the Commons first home was the medieval St Stephen's Chapel in the Palace of Westminster which could only fit around Members. Equally odd is that Members vote votes are called 'divisions' by physically walking through one of the two lobbies which run along the side of the Commons chamber.
These lobbies are the 'aye' lobby and the 'nay' lobby. This archaic procedure means that votes take a long time to conduct and it is not unknown for a member accidentally to walk into the wrong lobby.
The votes are counted by 'tellers' who then return to the chamber to announce the numbers to the Speaker. Each member in the House of Commons represents a geographical constituency. Typically a constituency would have around 60, voters, depending mainly on whether it is an urban or rural constituency. The largest constituency in the country is the Isle of Wight with aroundelectors, while the smallest is Na h-Eileanan an Iar formerly known as the Western Isles with an electorate of only arouind 22, The Coalition Government of intended to make the size of constituencies more equal in terms of electors, but so far the legislation has not been implemented.
Every citizen aged 18 or over can vote once in the constituency in which they live. Voting is not compulsory as it is in Australia. In the last General Election of May Most democratic countries use a method of election called proportional representation PR which means that there is a reasonable correlation between the percentage of votes cast for a particular political party and the number of seats or representatives won by that party.
In this system, the country is divided into a number of constituencies each with a single member and the party that wins the largest number of votes in each constituency wins that constituency regardless of the proportion of the vote secured.
The simple majority system of election tends to under-represent less successful political parties and to maximise the chance of the most popular political party winning a majority of seats nationwide even if it does not win a majority of the votes nationwide. Until recently, in the UK unlike many countriesthere was not fixed term parliaments. A General Election - that is, a nationwide election for all seats - was held when the Prime Minister called it, but the election could not be more than five years after the last one and it was usually around four years after the last one.
The Coalition Government of passed legislation to provide for fixed five-year parliaments which meant that the next General Election was scheduled for May However, the Prime Minister Theresa May was able to call a snap General Election for 8 June by winning a Commons vote of more than two-thirds to activate provision for an early election in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
The result of the last General Election was as follows: In practice, the Speaker is not counted against any political party because he or she is required to be neutral and therefore traditionally he or she is not opposed by other parties in the election.
In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein - which won 7 constituencies in - does not take its seats. Its main roles are to revise legislation and keep a check on government by scrutinising its activities. Sinceits power to block "money bills" is limited to one month and its power to block other bills is limited to one session, so ultimately it cannot block the will of the House of Commons.
Furthermore, sincethere has been the Salisbury Convention that the House of Lords will not oppose a measure that was specifically mentioned in the last election manifesto of the political party forming the Government. The House of Lords is an utterly bizarre institution that has no parallel anywhere in the democratic world. The explanation for the unusual nature of the Lords goes back to the beginning of this essay: There is no fixed number of members in the House of Lords and the number fluctuates because of deaths, retirements and new appointments, but currently there are almost members - many more than in the House of Commons, more than the combined houses of the American Congress or the Indian Parliament although both of these nations have a federal systemand the second biggest legislative body in the world after the Chinese National People's Congress which is effectively a rubber-stamping body.
The number was actually halved to in the reforms of but, since then, succesive Prime Ministers especially David Cameron have been adding new life peers much faster than members are dying.
Independence: Do Indians care about the British any more? - BBC News
Indeed the last Coalition Government added over Ironically the size of the House of Lords continues to rise at the same time as the House of Commons has legislated to reduce its size although the legislation has not been implemented. Historically most members of the House of Lords have been what we called hereditary peers. This meant that years ago a king or queen nominated a member of the aristocracy to be a member of the House and, since then, the right to sit in the House has passed through the family from generation to generation.
Clearly this is totally undemocratic and the last Labour Government abolished the right of all but 92 of these hereditary peers to sit in the House. Almost all the other members of today's House of Lords are what we call life peers.
This means that they have been chosen by the Queen, on the advice of the Government, to sit in the House for as long as they live, but afterwards no member of their family has the right to sit in the House. Almost are former Members of Parliament. Others are distinguished figures in fields such as education, health and social policy. A small number of other members - 26 - are archbishops and bishops of the Church of England. The archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of London, Durham and Winchester automatically take seats in the Lords, while the further 21 seats are allocated on the basis of length of service.
Iran is the only other country in the world that provides automatic seats for senior religious figures in its legislature. There is no retirement age for peers and the average age is an incredible Since the House of Lords is composed in a totally different manner from the House of Commons, the Government of the day - which usually has a majority in the Commons does not have a majority in the Lords.
So, currently there is a Conservative Government in power, but only around of the members of the Lords most appointed but some hereditary take the Conservative whip. There are approaching Labour Lords and about Liberal Democrats.
There is nowhere near sufficient seating capacity in the chamber of the House of Lords for all the peers. Members do not sit at desks like most legislatures but on long, red-covered benches and there is only seating capacity for peers out of the total of Aroind Even on a 'whipped' vote, a couple of hundred peers will not turn up. House of Lords reform is unfinished business. The Parliament Act of first raised the prospect of an elected upper house but it has still not happened.
There is a cross-party consensus that it should become a mainly elected body, although there is as yet no agreement on the details of the next stage of reform. House of Lords site click here BBC live broadcasting of Lords proceedings click here Some distinguishing features of the British Parliamentary system Much of the work of Parliament is done in Committees rather than on the floor of the chamber.
The House of Commons has two types of committee: Select Committees are appointed for the lifetime of a Parliament, 'shadow' the work of a particular Government Department, conduct investigations, receive written and oral evidence, and issue reports.
Membership is made up only of backbenchers and reflects proportionately the balance of the parties in the Commons. General Committees previously known as Standing Committees are temporary bodies, most of them Public Bill Committees formed to examine the detail of a particular piece of proposed legislation and consider amendments to the Bill. Membership includes Government and Opposition spokepersons on the subject matter of the Bill and overall membership reflects proportionately the balance of the parties in the Commons.
The House of Lords only has Select Committees it does not need Standing Committees because the details of Bills are considered on the floor of the chamber. Finally there are some Joint Committees of the Commons and the Lords. Discussion and debate involve quite a gladiatorial or confrontational approach. This is reflected in the physical shape of the chambers.
Whereas most legislatures are semi-circular, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are rectangular with the Government party sitting on one side and the Opposition parties sitting on the other side. The House of Lords alone has cross-benches for independent peers. It is quite normal for speakers in debates to be interrupted by other members, especially of another party, and, in the Commons, cheering and jeering is a regular occurrence.
Questions can be asked on any subject. This is frequently a heated affair with the Leader of the Opposition trying to embarrass the Prime Minister and it is the one part of the week's proceedings guaranteed to attract the interest of the media.
This is mainly because in the Commons there is a strong 'whipping' system in which political parties tell their members how to vote on every significant division though a weekly set of instructions. The importance of actually being present to vote in the manner instructed depends on whether the 'whip' is one-line, two-line or - the most serious - three-line.
Even when there is a rebellion by members of the majority party, the Government usually obtains its wish because all Ministers and their Parliamentary Private Secretaries PPSs are required to vote for the Government or resign their Ministerial or PPS position.
The official record of the proceedings of the Commons and the Lords is called Hansard. The press and broadcasters are present all the time and live audio and visual broadcasting can take place at any time. At the beginning of each annual session of the Parliament, the main Bills to be considered are announced by the Queen in a speech opening that year's session of Parliament.
All legislation has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. In each House of Parliament, a proposed piece of legislation - called a Bill - goes through the following stages: Under normal circumstances, all these stages must be completed in both Houses in one session of Parliament; otherwise the process must begin all over again.
Debates on most Bills are timetabled through a programme motion when Government and Opposition agree or an allocation of time motion which is popularly known as a 'guillotine' motion when Government and Opposition do not agree. As well as almost all legislation coming from the Government, almost all successful amendments originate from the Government. Ultimately, exactly the same text of a Bill must be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
If the House of Lords approves an amendment to a Bill from the House of Commons, then the Bill returns to the Commons for further consideration. Usually the Lords amendment is not accepted by the Commons which is, after all, the elected chamber with the the democratic mandate. If the Lords insists on passing the amendment - or something like it - again, then the process of the Bill passing back and forth between the two Houses is known colloquially as "ping-pong".
The House of Lords has much more limited legislative powers than the House of Commons. Money Bills can only be initiated in the Commons and the Lords can only reject legislation from the Commons for one year. Furthermore there is a convention - called the Salisbury Convention - that the Lords does not block legislation in fulfillment of the election manifesto of the elected Government.
This process of enacting legislation applies to what is called primary legislation which starts as a Bill and finally become an Act.
Another type of legislation is called secondary or delegated legislation which is usually more detailed. The power to make specific pieces of secondary legislation comes from specific pieces of primary legislation. A piece of secondary legislation - formally called an Order-in-Council - is not even debated unless it is particularly controversial and then it cannot be amended but simply approved or opposed.
In practice, the last time Parliament rejected a piece of secondary legislation was in In recent years, the number of Bills passed by Parliament has remained broadly constant at around 50 a year. However, these Bills have become longer and, in the past few years, about 3, pages of primary legislation, as well as around 13, pages of secondary legislation, have been processed by Parliament.
The reality, therefore, is that Parliament provides increasingly less scrutiny of a lot of legislation. This situation could become even worse as Parliament attempts to deal with all the legislation needed to take the UK out of the European Union Brexit. Political parties began to form during the English civil wars of the s and s. First, there were Royalists and Parliamentarians; then Tories and Whigs. Whereas the Whigs wanted to curtail the power of the monarch, the Tories - today the Conservatives - were seen as the patriotic party.
Today there are four major political parties in the British parliamentary system: The Conservative Party frequently called the Tories - the centre-Right party, currently led by Theresa May, which since has been in Government either in coalition or alone since The Labour Party - the centre-Left party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, which was last in Government from to The Scottish National Party - the party supporting Scottish independence, which is led by Nicola Sturgeon The Liberal Democrat Party known as the Lib Dems - the centrist, libertarian party, led by Vince Cable, which was the junior member of the Coalition Government of In recent years, Britain has seen the rise of the UK Independence Party UKIP led by Nigel Farage until Maywhich was formed in but achieved some spectacular performances in local and European elections in May In the general election of Mayit won In addition to these five parties, there are some much smaller UK parties notably the Green Party and some parties which operate specifically in Wales Plaid Cymru or Northern Ireland such as the Democratic Unionist Party for the loyalistsand Sinn Fein for the nationalists.
Each political party chooses its leader in a different way, but all involve all the Members of Parliament of the party and all the individual members of that party. By convention, the leader of the political party with the largest number of members in the House of Commons becomes the Prime Minster formally at the invitation of the Queen.
- Independence: Do Indians care about the British any more?
Political parties are an all-important feature of the British political system because: The three main UK political parties in the UK have existed for a century or more and have a strong and stable 'brand image'. It is virtually impossible for someone to be elected to the House of Commons without being a member of an established political party. All political parties strongly 'whip' their elected members which means that, on the vast majority of issues, Members of Parliament of the same party vote as a 'block'.
Having said this, at least until the general election, the influence of the three main UK political parties was not as dominant as it was in the s and s because: The three parties have smaller memberships than they did, since voters are much less inclined to join a political party. The three parties secure a lower overall percentage of the total vote, since smaller parties between them now take a growing share of the vote.
Voters are much less 'tribal', not supporting the same party at every election, and much more likely to 'float', voting for different parties at successive elections.
The ideological differences between the parties are less than they were, with the parties adopting more 'pragmatic' positions on many issues. For decades, therefore, the combined share of the vote taken by Conservatives and Labour diminished as the two-party model fractured. The last election dramatically reversed this trend as the two parties took The Liberal Democrats, the Greens and especially the UK Independence Party all did badly and now only have a mere 13 seats between them.
In the past, class was a major determinant of voting intention in British politics, with most working class electors voting Labour and most middle class electors voting Conservative.
These days, class is much less important because: Except at the extremes of wealth, lifestyles are more similar. Class does not determine voting intention so much as values, trust, competence and in Scotland nationalism. In the British political system, there is a broad consensus between the major parties on: The number of Ministers varies from administration to administration, but typically there will be aroundthe 20 or so most senior being Cabinet Ministers.
The Ministerial and Other Salaries Act, passed inlimits prime ministers to ministerial salaries being paid at any one time with a maximum of 95 ministers in the House of Commons.
All Ministers are subject to the Ministerial Code which sets out they should behave in fulfilment of their duties. Historically most British governments have been composed of ministers from a single political party which had an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons and the 'first-past-the-post' FPTP electoral system greatly facilitates and indeed promotes this outcome.
However, occasionally there have been minority governments or coalition governments, especially in recent years. Then there was Liberal-Labour Lib-Lab Pact of when I was a Special Adviser in the Home Office during which time the Labour Government lost its majority but had the general support of the Liberals who did not actually join the government.
For five years, the UK had its first coalition government in 65 years when, in Maythe Conservatives went into coalition with the Liberal Democrats because in the General Election they did not secure a majority of the seats. Then, at the General Election of Maythe Conservative Party won an overall majority and the normal arrangement resumed of all Ministers coming from the same party.
However, at the General Election of Junethe Conservatives failed to win an overall majority resulting in what is called a 'hung parliament' and so the party is governing with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party DUP of Northern Ireland.
This is not a formal coalition but a 'confidence and supply' agreement in which the DUP has undertaken - in return for a comprehensive package of measures and funding - to support the government on key votes. Constitutionally the head of state is the monarch who is a hereditary member of the Royal Family. However, the monarch has very few formal powers and stays above party politics. He or she receives a weekly oral report from the Prime Minister, a tradition which began with King George I in because this German had struggled to follow the English deliberations of his Cabinet.
Therefore, in practice, the most important person in the British political system is the Prime Minister. In theory, the Prime Minister simply choses the ministers who run Government departments and chairs the Cabinet - the collection of the most senior of those Ministers.
In practice, however, the Prime Minister is a very powerful figure and increasingly has been behaving much like a president in other political systems, especially in the area of foreign policy.
I have personally met four British Prime Ministers: The official residence of the Prime Minister is at 10 Downing Street in central London - a location I have visited about a dozen times - and the country residence of the Prime Minister is at Chequers in Buckinghamshire.
One British Prime Minister has been assassinated: Spencer Perceval was shot dead in the House of Commons in Prime Minister click here Government Departments The most important political departments are called: The Treasury - In most countries, this would be called the Ministry of Finance. It is responsible for the raising of all taxes and the control of all government expenditure plus the general management of the economy.
It is responsible for criminal matters, policing, and immigration.