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The United Kingdom. Historical Evolution of British Politics Magna Carta (1215) – King John agreed to consult the nobles before he made important decisions,

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Presentation on theme: "The United Kingdom. Historical Evolution of British Politics Magna Carta (1215) – King John agreed to consult the nobles before he made important decisions,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The United Kingdom

2 Historical Evolution of British Politics Magna Carta (1215) – King John agreed to consult the nobles before he made important decisions, in particular regarding taxes Limited government – restrictions on the monarch began with the Magna Carta

3 Historical Evolution of British Politics The Glorious Revolution (1688) – officially established Parliament as the ruling body of Great Britain. The agreement signed between William & Mary and Parliament was known as the Bill of Rights

4 Legitimacy The government of Great Britain has developed gradually; tradition is a primary source of stability Great Britain ’s constitution is unwritten having evolved from different documents (Magna Carta, English Bill of Rights), common law, legal codes, and customs The UK has rational legal legitimacy, stemming from its democratic constitution and government

5 Political Culture Noblesse Oblige Important tradition in British politics The duty of the upper classes to take responsibility for the welfare of the lower classes Legacy of feudal times (Lords protected serfs) Reflected in willingness of British citizens to accept a welfare state Margaret Thatcher ’ s administration challenged this by significantly cutting social services and social welfare programs

6 Political Culture: Extension of Voting Rights Great Reform Act of 1832: About 300,000 men gained right to vote, House of Commons gained more power in relation to House of Lords Reform Act of 1867: electorate reaches 3 million, many working class people allowed to vote Representation of the People Act of 1884: electorate is further expanded to make sure that majority of electorate is working class Women ’ s Suffrage: all women over the age of 28 and all men over 21 granted the right to vote in By 1928, all women over 21 allowed to vote.

7 Political Beliefs & Values Through 1960s British political culture characterized by: Trust Deference to authority Pragmatism Harmony High voter participation The “Collectivist Consensus”

8 Collectivist Consensus Began during WWII with Churchill’s emphasis on putting class differences aside in order to work together to defeat Germany Churchill headed an all-party coalition government during WWII (He was originally elected as a Conservative) The spirit of collective consensus continued beyond the war well into the 1960s

9 Collectivist Consensus Both Labour and Conservative parties supported the development of the modern welfare system Beveridge Report – adopted by both parties during the war; made all citizens eligible for health, unemployment, pension, and other welfare benefits National Health Service (1948) – created under the leadership of the Labour Party

10 Political Beliefs & Values continued: “ Politics of Protest ” 1970s and 1980s Less supportive of collective consensus Support for free market economy Decreasing support for labor unions Increased violence in Northern Ireland

11 Voter Turnout

12 Political Culture Insularity Feeling of separation, in particular from the continent of Europe Sense of exceptionalism Euroskepticism Different from isolationism

13 Political Culture: Multi-nationalism Although the UK has a relatively large amount of cultural homogeneity (Anglo/white), it is divided into four nations England Scotland Wales Northern Ireland

14 England Largest region of Great Britain Makes up 2/3 of the land mass English have dominated the other nationalities historically, and still hold a disproportionate share of political power

15 Scotland History of resistance to English rule Strong sense of national identity Has its own flag Recently granted its own parliament and regional assembly (devolution) Scottish National Party – political party of the region of Scotland

16 Wales Located west of England Plaid Cymru – Welch national political party Strong sense of national pride reflected in its flag and Welsh language Granted their own assembly (devolution)

17 Northern Ireland The Irish Republican Army (IRA) used guerrilla tactics against British officials and citizens Sinn Fein – political party of the IRA Under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the IRA decommissioned its weapons in exchange for some self rule. An assembly was created for Northern Ireland (devolution)

18 Devolution British government is a unitary system (centralized control) Starting in the 1970s the Scots and Welsh made an aggressive push for political autonomy in their regions Devolution – the turning over of some political power and autonomy to regional governments The Labour Party had supported the idea of devolution since the 1970s

19 Devolultion Margaret Thatcher ’ s administration blocked devolution Under Tony Blair ’ s New Labour Party the idea of devolution was instituted In 1999, referendums in Scotland and Wales successfully passed, and each established their own regional assemblies: powers of taxation, education, and economic planning In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement established an assembly for Northern Ireland

20 Ethnic Minorities Make up about 8% of the British population Indian (23%) Pakistani (16%) Afro-Caribbean (13%) Black African (11%)

21 Education & Political Elite Recruitment “ Public schools ” originally were intended to train boys for “ public life ” in the military, civil service, or politics Majority of Britain ’ s political elites go to public boarding schools Currently only about 65% of British 17-year olds are still in school, the lowest number of any industrialized society Oxbridge (Oxford-Cambridge) – the most important portal to membership in the elite classes and political recruitment is through these two prestigious universities

22 Labour Party Largest party on the “ left ” of political spectrum Began in 1906 as alliance between trade unions and social groups that were strengthened by expansion of workers ’ rights Traditionally labor unions have provided majority of funds for the party

23 Labour Party Early history of the party was defined by controversial Clause 4 that called for nationalization of the “ commanding heights ” of British industry Trade Union Council (TUC) – a coalition of trade unions generally associated with the Labour Party, has traditionally been a force in British politics Growing moderation of the Labour Party was reflected by removal of Clause 4 in early 1990s

24 Labour Party in 1990s Shift in policies toward more centrist views Moderate-centrist views have continued under leadership of and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ( ) Tony Blair adopted “ Third Way ” platform and createed the “ New Labour ” Party

25 “ Third Way ” Moderate Centrist alternative to “ Old Labour ” Party on left and Conservative Party on right Initiated by Tony Blair in the late 1990s Attempting to redefine and balance following policy issues: Evolving relationship between government & economy British relationship with EU Balancing act between the United States and European Union Devolution

26 Tony Blair

27 Conservative Party Characterized by Noblesse Oblige Power centered in London Party organization viewed as elitist Leadership must submit to annual leadership elections Weakened by division of party in late 1990s: Traditional Wing(one-nation Tories) – values noblesse oblige and elitism, supports Britain ’ s membership in EU Thatcherite Wing – strict conservatives, support full free market, known as “ Euroskeptics ”, feel EU threatens British sovereignty

28 Thatcherism Reforms instituted by Margaret Thatcher in 1980s Privatized business and industry Cut back on social welfare programs Strengthened national defense (staunch anticommunist) Got tough with labor unions in response to Labour Parties’ distinct movement left, which had strengthened labor unions politically

29 Thatcherism Returned to market economy Resisted complete integration into the European Union Replaced property tax on houses with a poll tax on individual adults Froze income tax increases Foreign policy dominated by securing British interests internationally

30 Margaret Thatcher

31 Conservative Party Dominant party in Great Britain between WWII and late 1990s Main party on the right Traditionally pragmatic as opposed to ideological Historically has supported a market controlled economy, privatization, and fewer social welfare programs – symbolized by Margaret Thatcher in 1980s Under Prime Minister John Major ( ) and David Cameron (2010-present) gravitated towards center and away from Thatcherism

32 David Cameron

33 Liberal-Democratic Party Attempted to create strong “ in the middle ” compromise to the two dominant parties Won a party high 26% of vote in 1983, but because of single-member district plurality system only secured 23 seats in Parliament Secured only 62/650 MP seats in 2005 even though it won 22% of the popular vote Also managed to gain support on issues such as health, education, the environment, and the Iraq War

34 Other Parties Scottish National Party Plaid Cymru – Welsh nationalist party Sinn Fein – political arm of the IRA Democratic Unionist Party – led by Protestant clergymen National Front -racist and nationalist

35 Voting Patterns Conservative Party Middle and upper classes Educated Residents of England, mostly rural and suburban areas Labour Party Traditionally supported by working class Residents of urban and industrial areas (Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle)

36 Interest Groups Between , business interests and trade union organizations fiercely competed for influence over the policy-making process Trade Union Congress (TUC) – represents coalition of unions, had great deal of political power at one time and government often consulted them on important policy decisions – traditionally aligned with Labour Party Confederation of Business and Industry (CBI) – a coalition of business groups and private interests, usually supportive of the Conservative Party

37 Media British newspapers reflect social class divisions They are divided between quality news and comments that appeal to the middle and upper classes, and mass circulation tabloids that target working and lower classes British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) – government funded and guaranteed independence Usually respectful of government officials

38 Tabloid Journalism

39 Elections Members of Parliament (MPs) are the only national officials that British voters elect Elections must be held at least every 5 years, but Prime Minister may call them earlier Officially elections occur after the Crown dissolves Parliament, but that always happens after the Prime Minister requests it Power to call elections very important – the Prime Minister always calls elections when he or she thinks that the majority party has the best chance to win

40 Elections “ Winner-take-all ” system Single-member district plurality system Each party selects a candidate to run for each district “ First-past-the-post ” winner MPs do not have to live in the district in which they are running, therefore party selects who runs in what districts

41 Elections Party leaders run from safe districts – or districts that the party almost always wins Political neophytes are selected to run in districts the party know it will lose They are usually happy just to receive more votes than the party usually gets in that district

42 U.S. vs British Elections United States Parties are less powerful Members must live in districts Party leaders run in their respective districts Individual votes for four officials on national level Between 30 and 60 percent of the eligible voters actually vote First-past-the-post, single- member districts; virtually no minor parties get representation Great Britain Party determines who runs where Members do not have to live in their districts Party leaders run in “ safe districts ” Individual votes for only one official on the national level About 70 to 80 percent of the eligible voters actually vote First-past-the-post, single- member districts; some representation from minority parties, but still less than if they had proportional representation

43 Prime Minister & Cabinet Prime Minister “ First among equals ” Member of Parliament and Leader of majority party Speaks legitimately for all Members of Parliament Chooses cabinet ministers and important subordinate posts Makes decisions in cabinet, with agreement of ministers Campaigns for and represents the party in parliamentary elections Shapes cabinet decisions into policy Cabinet The cabinet is the center of policy-making in the British political system As leaders of majority party elected by the people, they take “ collective responsibility ” for making the policy of the country The cabinet is the target of lobbying by interest groups

44 Problems Facing the UK

45 Comparing Executives Prime Minister of UK Serves only as long as he/she remains leader of majority party Elected as MP Has an excellent chance of getting his/her programs past Parliament Cabinet members are always MPs and leaders of the majority party Cabinet members not experts in policy areas: rely on bureaucracy to provide expertise President of the US Elected every four years by an electoral college based on popular election Elected as president Has an excellent chance of ending up in gridlock with Congress Cabinet members usually don ’ t come from Congress (although they may) Some expertise in policy areas; one criteria for their appointment; head vast bureaucracies

46 Parliament House of Commons Party that receives the majority of the plurality of the votes becomes the Majority Party in Parliament, the party with the second most votes becomes the “ loyal opposition ” Coalition government occurs when no party wins a majority

47 House of Commons: Set-up House of Commons set-up with long benches facing each other Prime Minister sits on front bench of majority side, directly in the middle Directly across from the PM sits the leader of the “ opposition ” party Between members of the majority and opposition parties is a long table Cabinet members sit on the front rows of the majority party side “ Shadow Cabinet ” – influential members of the opposition party sit facing Cabinet members of majority party on the opposing side Backbenchers – less influential members of both parties sit in the rear benches on both sides of the meeting hall as well

48 House of Commons

49 House of Commons: Debate “ Government ” – consists of cabinet secretaries who sit in the first rows of the majority party side, including the PM, that are most influential in making policy Question Time/Question Hour – the hour the prime minister and his cabinet must defend themselves from inquisitive attacks from the opposition party as well as direct inquiry from members of his/her own party Speaker of the House – presides over the debates in Parliament, the speaker is suppose to be objective and often is not a member of the majority party. Their job is to let all speak without letting the debate get out of hand. Because of a lack of checks & balances between branches in British politics the opposition party is seen as the “ check ” on the majority party within Parliament, this “ check ” power is best utilized during times of debate over policy

50 Party Discipline Party discipline very important in British politics If party members do not support their party leadership, the “ government ” may fall into crisis A failed vote of confidence dissolves the government and the prime minister calls for new elections.

51 Vote of Confidence Vote on a key issue within the party If the issue is not supported, the cabinet by tradition must resign immediately, and new elections for MPs must be held as soon as possible This is usually avoided by settling policy differences within majority party membership If the party loses a vote of confidence, all MPs lose their jobs, so there is plenty of motivation to vote the party line

52 Blair ’ s Vote of Confidence Higher Education Bill Vote of confidence took place in 2005 Bill squeaked by with an approval vote of 316 to 311 The bill proposed raising university fees, a measure criticized not only by the opposition, but by outspoken MPs from the Labour Party as well The vote narrowly allowed Blair ’ s government to remain in control of the Commons

53 Parliamentary Powers Debate and refine potential legislation They are the only ones who may become party leaders and ultimately may head the government Scrutinize the administration of laws Keep communication lines open between voters and ministers

54 House of Lords Only hereditary parliamentary house in existence today Hereditary peers : hold seats that have been passed down through family ties over the centuries Life peers : people appointed to nonhereditary positions as a result of distinguished service to Britain Lords have gradually declined in authority over last 4 centuries The House of Lords has been reduced by half

55 “Powers” of the House of Lords Since the beginning of the 20 th century the House of Lords ’ only powers are: To delay legislation To debate technicalities of proposed bills Lords may add amendments to legislation, but House of Commons may delete their changes by a simple majority vote

56 House of Lords Reform

57 Bureaucracy: Civil Servants Hundred of thousands of civil servants in the UK They administer laws and deliver public services Most do clerical and routine work for the bureaucracy A few hundred directly advise ministers and oversee work of departments Top civil servants and bureaucrats usually stay with their departments, while ministers are party officials who move with party demands Therefore, top civil servants often have a great deal of input into policy-making

58 Judiciary Branch In Britain, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty (parliament ’ s decisions are final) has limited the development of judicial review British courts can only determine whether government decisions violate the common law or previous acts of Parliament By tradition British courts cannot impose their rulings upon Parliament, the prime minister, or the cabinet Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 – provides for a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to take over the existing role of the law lords Most judges are not MPs and few are active in party politics; most were educated in public schools and the Oxbridge connection


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