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Presentation on theme: "WEEK 2 – OVERVIEW OF THE BRITISH POLITICAL SYSTEM Joy Johnson."— Presentation transcript:


2 Lecture and seminar Need to understand: The institutions The political context The issues key text: Morrison, Essential public affairs for journalists, ch 1 Jones, et al, UK Politics If time: Kavanagh and Cowley, The British General Election of 2010 2

3 British Constitution – United Kingdom of Gt. and Northern Ireland There are two broad constitutions that nations have written or unwritten UK does not have a written constitution 3

4 Primary sources of the UK’s constitution Statute –individual laws, known as ‘Acts of Parliament’ Common Law – judge-made or ‘case’ law Conventions – customs, traditions and long standing practices Treatises – history works of legal/and or constitutional authority Treaties 4

5 Sovereign in Parliament – (You tube coverage) 5

6 The monarchy Constitutional monarchy Queen – titular Head of State Figurehead with little real power Power rests with government And Parliament Royal Prerogatives (exercised by Parliament) Core funding by civil list out of public money Morrison p21 6

7 Historical context Westminster model Parliamentary Democracy MPs elected on first past the post Majority party leader becomes Prime Minister (& First Lord of the Treasury) and selects his cabinet Accusations of an elective dictatorship come with landslide majorities 2010 saw new circumstances 7

8 Crown the symbol of authority Parliament is sovereign Representative Parliament Parliamentary sovereignty Constitutional monarchy (crown the symbol of executive authority) The elected overtook the unelected Issue: contemporary debate over reform of the House of Lords Referendum in Scotland 8

9 Monarchy above the fray of party politics Monarchy has to be seen to be separate Monarchy has to avoid controversy Abdication crisis 1936 Edward and Wallace Simpson Marital problems in the 90’s Charles interfering over planning decisions Queen and the formation of new government 9

10 re6G1hTlrEo 10

11 Charles intervenes – abuse of a privileged position (?) 11

12 Consequences of Hung Parliament 2010 British General Election Labour lost No one party won overall majority Resulting in first coalition government for over sixty years Cameron made a bold offer to the Liberal Democrats to form coalition (not thought of as natural allies) – David Laws 22 Days In May an insider’s account 12

13 Prime Minister Brown stands down 13

14 Gordon Brown stands down 14

15 Prime Minster Cameron goes to see the Queen 15

16 2010 coalition government Queen had to be kept out of the process in forming a coalition government Not for the Monarch to work out who could command confidence in the House of Commons Palace to be observer not participant Incumbent Prime Minister (Brown) would remain in office until new government apparent Evidence to select committee Kavanagh & Cowley, The British General Election 2010 p205 16

17 First draft (?) 17

18 odonnell-to-publish-cabinet-manual A cabinet office source said: "It's a mixture of convention and constitution, for the first time written down in one place." O'Donnell has previously stressed that he is not aiming to produce a blueprint for Britain's first written constitution or advocating introducing one, but that if there was a political decision to introduce one the cabinet manual might be the start of it. O’Donnell stood down at the end of the year 18

19 19

20 Cabinet leadership split /cabinet-secretary-social-policy-kitemark /cabinet-secretary-social-policy-kitemark 20

21 Queen’s speech delivered in House of Lords 21

22 Queen’s speech (government ‘s programme) xgQ xgQ 22

23 Next Queen’s Speech Next Queen’s Speech is not expected to take place until after the local elections in May. But with a new legislative programme being drawn up, Whitehall departments are now making their bids for a slot. 23

24 24 Parliamentary Sovereignty Parliament (body of MP’s following election) can make laws Can also repeal laws Any one Parliament not bound by the actions of a predecessor (it is the sovereignty of Parliament that the Euro sceptics claim the European Union threatens)

25 Parliamentary privilege Constitutional principle fundamental to the working of the Parliament Allows MPs and peers to raise issues on the floor of the Chambers without fear of prosecution or defamation 25

26 MPs not above the law 26

27 MPs not above the rule of law Supreme Court rule on MPs attempt to cite privilege and be tried in Parliament and find against the MPs 27

28 Contempt of Parliament (p11) 28

29 Separation of Powers Executive (the government) Legislature (Parliamentary) Judiciary (the courts 29

30 Rule of law One of the twin pillars of the constitution Essential feature of a free society Subordinate to first pillar – parliamentary sovereignty Could pass a measure undermining or destroying the rule of law 30

31 31 ASSUMPTIONS BEHIND THE BRITISH POLITICAL SYSTEM To provide for rule (decision making) subject to consent. Consent provided by Parliament, via election. Representative status meant Parliament provided legitimacy; Parliament sovereign. Parliament provided consent for executive actions - Ministerial responsibility - Government confidence This consent provided the (only) link between executive action and popular will.

32 32 ASSUMPTIONS BEHIND THE BRITISH POLITICAL SYSTEM MPs represent constituents in Parliament "Representative government in Britain has historically been conceived, and functioned, as a means of legitimating executive power." David Judge, Political Institutions in Britain, 2005: 28

33 33 ALTERNATIVE WAYS OF ORGANISING POLITICAL POWER Popular sovereignty Use of referendumsSwitzerland, US, Italy, Australia Limits on government power Written constitutionUS, Germany Checks on government power Federalism, bicameralism, judicial review US, Germany, Australia

34 34 OLD ASSUMPTIONS UNDERMINED Growth in government: Public spending and size of government departments. (this coalition government committed to cutting the size of government and spending) Rise of disciplined political parties.  Executive dominance over Parliament. Sovereignty of Executive not of Parliament.

35 Power of the Prime Minister ‘first among equals’ Margaret Thatcher regarded as powerful Prime Minister yet she was brought down by her Cabinet over Europe and popularly the poll tax Tony Blair was also powerful yet he couldn’t sack his Chancellor and resigned before he wanted Cameron – reports that he is strengthening the centre 35

36 From sofa government to Cabinet government Blair’s sofa government - criticism that small elite governed without civil service note taking Coalition return to cabinet government (still an inner circle/kitchen cabinet) Tensions exist 36

37 Prime Minister and his Deputy 37

38 38 THE MAJORITARIAN OR ‘WESTMINSTER’ MODEL Parliamentary sovereignty Plurality electoral system  Two party system  Single party majority governments Strong party discipline (and collective cabinet responsibility) Executive control over Parliament Centralisation of power; weak sub-national government

39 Is the system broke First past the post (FPTP)) usually produces majoritarian government 2010 hung Parliament FPTP – winner takes all Claims that the system is broken – multiple parties, Conservatives in the South, with the North and Scotland – Labour AV referendum defeated 39

40 40 ALTERNATIVES TO ‘WESTMINSTER’ MODEL Presidential model Separation of executive and legislature President not dependent on legislature Checks and balances Power-sharing or ‘consensus’ model Representation of minorities; winner doesn’t ‘take all’ Power is shared or dispersed, not hoarded or concentrated Source: King, 2001: ch2; Shaw, 2004;

41 41 ALTERNATIVES TO ‘WESTMINSTER’ MODEL (pre-2010) Westminster Single party government Executive dominates legislature Two party system Plurality electoral system Unitary Unicameral No formal constitution; weak judicial oversight Consensus Coalition government Legislature stronger in relation to executive Multi-party system Proportional system Federal Bicameral Written constitution; strong judicial oversight Source: King, 2001: ch2; Shaw, 2004;

42 42 EVALUATING THE WESTMINSTER MODEL Strengths Accountability via elections Government stability Government decisiveness Weaknesses Little accountability between elections Weak representation of minorities Policy instability Sources: King, 2001: pp10-12, 43-50; Shaw, 2004; Wilson, 1994

43 43 CHANGES TO THE WESTMINSTER MODEL Devolution: Scotland, Wales, N Ireland, London Judicial review: Human Rights Act Reform of House of Lords New electoral systems: devolved and European legislatures Bank of England independence Freedom of Information

44 44 THE ‘HOLLOWED OUT’ STATE Source: Based on Richards & Smith, 2002: Fig 2.1; also Kavanagh et al, 2006: Fig 3.4 EUROPEAN UNION INTERNATIONAL (eg. WTO) WESTMINSTER / WHITEHALL PRIVATISATION / MARKET TESTING QUANGOS/AGENCIES eg. Bank of England Economic regulators Student Loan Company

45 45 SEMINAR QUESTIONS 1.How would you characterise the Westminster model? What has changed? 2.To what extent is the Westminster model descriptively accurate? Is the state ‘hollowing out’? 3.Rule of Law 4.Separation of Powers 5.Civil list

46 Reading Coalition Agreement – Political reform Morrison ch1 46


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