Unit 1.8 Political processes and goals (1).doc

Unit 1.8 Political processes and goals (1).doc

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Political processes and goals
The British political system
The British political system is often spoken of as a twoparty system. This does not mean that there
are only two parties, "but that there are only two parties (Labour and Conservative) with, a realistic
chance of winning a general election with a majority over all other parties. (For a while until the
1920s it was more of a threeparty system, as what was then the Liberal Party had a chance of
winning.) Some features are:
The British political system extends beyond general elections and the Parliament at
In Great Britain there are elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
Northern Ireland is included in the United Kingdom and has its own system of government.
There is an extensive system of local government. Although there are some
independent councillors, local government is also dominated by political parties.
The Liberal Democrats play a more significant role in local than in national
Using the firstpastthepost system, UK general elections are almost always won
outright by one party. However, if that did not happen, a third party could hold
the balance of power and play a role in a coalition government.
Because of the absence of coalitions in which several parties might work together in
government, British government is often referred to as an adversarial system, with the two
main parties (officially Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition) facing each
other in the House of Commons.
In local government, councillors are elected for 4 years but elections for a proportion of seats are
held each year. Local issues may be important hut national issues tend to dominate, and voters
may use a local election to register a 'protest vote' against the government. Turnout for local
government elections is often low and a number of candidates maybe elected unopposed.
However, because local electoral areas are small and party loyalties less established, smaller
parties and independents have more opportunities, and situations of no overall control' are not

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Outside England, the system is complicated by the inclusion of nationalist parties competing in just
one specific country. In Northern Ireland the system is further complicated because local elections
use a system of proportional representation known as the single transferable vote to elect the 108
members of its Assembly. The two major parties are the Democratic Unionist Party, supported
mainly by Protestants who favour the union with England, and Sinn Fein, led by Gerry Adams,
supported mainly by Catholics sympathetic to the Irish Republic.…read more

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Although the United Kingdom lacks a written constitution, it has what is known as a 'constitutional
monarchy'. The Queen acts as head of state but the responsibility for passing laws is Parliament's,
even though the monarch gives the royal assent to each bill that becomes an act of Parliament.
(This is a purely formal power and refusal would provoke a constitutional crisis.…read more

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The monarchy is an outdated institution,
It is undemocratic because it relies on an accident of birth.
It is a symbol of inequality.
Only formal and ceremonial responsibilities remain.
It is a waste of money.
The Commonwealth is an outdated institution and individual countries make their own
decisions.…read more

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At the heart of the executive are the prime minister and the senior
ministers, who are chosen by the prime minister as members of the cabinet.
The prime minister is the head of the government, chairing the cabinet, providing leadership and
being the government's national representative. He or she can be a powerful figure because of the
following functions of the job.…read more

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Recent prime ministers
The prime minister's office in 10 Downing Street has grown significantly in recent years and has a
staff of nearly 200, including some important civil servants and special advisers appointed from
outside government. A prime minister's leadership style is vital. Margaret Thatcher's forceful,
decisive and domineering style apparently involved little cabinet discussion eventually her ministers
struck back, most notably Geoffrey Howe in a powerful speech to the Commons.
Her successor, John Major, used a more conciliatory approach.…read more

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The cabinet's main functions are:
approving government business in Parliament
discussing major policy issues and reaching a decision on them
ratifying major decisions taken elsewhere ('rubber stamping', according to critics)
receiving reports on key issues and policy developments
helping to settle disputes that might arise between government departments
Key term
manifesto: a statement of party policies and beliefs usually drawn up at election time.…read more

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In 1928, when the voting age for women was reduced from 30 to 21, all UK adults (with a tiny
number of exceptions) were given the right to vote if they registered to do so (in 2005 there were 44
million names on the electoral register, although only 61 % actually voted). In 1969 the minimum
voting age was reduced to 18.
Traditionally, elections are held on a Thursday, with thousands of local polling stations open
between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.…read more

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elected in 2005 did not gain a majority of the votes cast
means that votes are of unequal value because constituencies vary in size and most seats
are 'safe' (almost impossible for any party to win other than the one that has held the seat for
many years)
offers only limited choice, especially as candidates are chosen by political parties tends to
divide voters geographically, with many Conservative voters in the south of England and rural
areas and Labour voters concentrated in the north,…read more

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This is a broadly proportional system that is likely to ensure that votes are of equal value. The
winning party or coalition requires more than 50% of the votes cast, and voters have a wider degree
of choice from a range of candidates. However, it is less accurate in matching seats to votes than
list systems it uses large multimember constituencies and it tends to lead to coalitions, where
minor parties can hold the balance of power.…read more


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