The British political system is based on a constitutional monarchy. The monarch of the UK is the head of state, and the elected Prime Minister is the head of government. The form of government is parliamentary that has got two chambers, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. UK government is formed under majority elected in the House of Common in general elections. Executive power is exercised by the UK government and the semi-autonomous governments of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The legislative power is held by the government and the two Houses but is mostly exercised by the Houses after the debate.
The UK political system is marked by multi-party rivalry and the two most important rivals in politics are Conservative Party and the Labor Party. Although there are other parties, these two parties usually maintain a majority in the general elections. The Parliament is the supreme legislative body and its head is the Monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II.
The two houses are also called lower and upper houses. The lower or House of Commons has members who are elected by general elections under the electoral system that are held periodically after every 5 years. The prime minister and his Cabinet (the ministers) are elected from the House of Commons. The government is formed by the majority party in the House of Lords. The Queen appoints the Prime Minister considering his or her support in the parliament. Such a government may be forced to dissolve the government or resign in case of a successful Vote of no No-Confidence. The head of the house is the Speaker of House. The upper or House of Lords is not elected by the general public rather appointed by the present and past governments. This house has representatives of the Church and peerage as its members.
The constitution of the United Kingdom is not codified or written formally; rather it consists of conventions, rules, and statutes. All the legislation done under the powers of the parliament is within the constitutional conventions. Under the constitution, the head of state and affairs is the Monarch. The executive power that is held by the government is exercised on behalf of the monarch, who is considered the sovereign. The powers of the executive are exercised by the civil servants. The civil service is the neutral, subordinate-to-executive, common infrastructure that works similarly regardless of the political party in power. Its job is to implement the policies of the present government and carry out the administrative part of the government.
The third important component of the government is the Judiciary that is independent of the Executive and the Legislature. United Kingdom’s legal system is a combined law of Britain and the devolved states of Scotland and Wales. The law is interpreted and implemented by the legal courts. The Supreme Court is the highest legal power that has its subordinate courts. The lower courts are independent but only their decisions can be challenged in the Supreme Court. The higher court for appeals is the House of Lords.
Differences between Us and British Political System
- The primary difference is the form of government. As opposed to a parliamentary system of democracy, the US has a presidential democracy form of government.
- The president is elected directly by the general public, while the congress is elected in separate elections. This keeps the separation of powers.
- The legislative power is held by the congress while the executive powers are with the president. The US president specifies the names of his vice, secretary of state, and others aides before the election. These appointments cannot be the elected congressmen.
- No member of government is allowed to be a member of the senate; a concept supporting separation of powers. While in the UK the minister has to be a member of parliament.
- The elected US president makes a few thousand political appointments. While in UK Prime Minister appoints his Cabinet of several ministers from the parliament.
- The US has a written constitution, while Britain has no written formal constitution; rather it is in form of constitutional conventions and small statutes.
- The transition of power from the previous to the new president in the US takes more than 3 months. While in the UK the previous Prime Minister evacuates the 10-Downing Street within hours after losing the elections.
- Unlike Britain where the Prime Minister and his cabinet are answerable to the parliament, the US president is not questionable by the senate; however, any new law or regulation signed by the president has to be passed through the senate.
- UK parliament may pass vote-of-no-confidence to dissolve the government. US congress cannot do so.
The United Kingdom devolution- A dilemma of Union
The United Kingdom is governed under three independent elected houses in Britain, Scotland and Wales. The voices for complete independence have not been silent ever since the formation of a union. The Scottish and Wales parliaments work under devolved powers. There has been a debate on the extent and strength of devolution, autonomy, and similar laws in these states for a long. The recent attempt to clearly define the concept of devolution is the Calman Commission’s report. The commission came as a response to growing public concerns for the devolution of any power still with Westminster. But most of the analysts now regard the union as valid on grounds of common civic and political values and needs (Wallace). The basic job of the commission was to analyze and find evidence on the use of the basic formula of public spending setup by population share in the late 1970s.
Kenny Farquharson on other hand is enraged by the findings and work of the commission. According to his view, the commission goes beyond the limits to discuss the concept of “Britishness”. He strongly criticizes the commission’s idea of ruling out the full fiscal autonomy for the reason that it would be inconsistent with the idea of union and Scotland being a part of the United Kingdom. One of the very basic purposes of the commission was to find evidence on the mishandling of funds by the representatives under the reserved powers. The report has been criticized to the limits of having a bias in favor of those British who oppose the idea of financial autonomy for the North. He alleges the commission on having done Westminster’s “dirty work” rather than the work conferred by the Scottish parliament.
The article calls for the commission to stick to the basics, where it had the job of finding the ideal framework for devolution, with economical autonomy for Scotland and civic rights. The article markedly makes one feel how the idea of devolution has been evolved by the Scottish people and the efforts in the Union and grievances not replied by the Westminster over the years.
- Farquharson, Kenny. Calman oversteps the boundaries. 2008. Scotland on Sunday.
- Wallace, Jim. We must seize this opportunity to make devolution work. 2008. The Guardian UK.