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Main features of a parliamentary government?

  • The executive and legislative branches are fused

  • Parliamentary elections decide on the government, government is therefore accountable to parliament, can remove with a vote of no confidence

  • Collective government, executive branch is led by a prime minister who in theory is “first among equals”

  • Separate head of state, the head of the executive branch (PM) is not the head of the state. The latter is a ceremonial role in this case the monarchy

Head of state: The chief public representative of a country, such as monarch or president

Legislature: The branch of government responsible for passing laws

Parliament: An assembly that has the power to debate and make laws

The Westminster model: Key features are parliamentary sovereignty (supreme law making authority), an uncodified constitution, cabinet government, FPTP, two-party system and a unitary state


Two chambers in the legislature, the house of lord and the house of commons. The lower is usually elected in a general election and tends to be the dominant chamber. The composition of upper hours varies: can be directly elected or indirectly elected.

  • Benefits: upper house provides checks and balances, provides greater scrutiny and revision of legislation and can represent different interests

  • Problems: Institutional conflict between the two houses may emerge, producing legislative gridlock, indirectly elected upper house may frustrate the will of the democratically elected lower house

House of Commons

  • Lower house in parliament

  • Dominant chamber for over a century


  • Parliamentary sovereignty: Gives parliament legislative supremacy. Parliament has ultimate law-making authority in the UK. Parliament can legislate on any matter of it's choosing and these laws cannot be overturned by higher authority

  • Motion of no confidence: This is when the house of Commons can remove the government by a vote of no confidence. The convention of collective ministerial responsibility states the whole government must resign and parliament dissolve itself. Only been four since 1895

    • Most recent one: 1979 James Callaghan's Labour government, did not have majority, initiated by the opposition

Composition of the House of Commons

  • Consists of 650 MPs

  • MP is elected from a single-member constituency

  • 140 MPs hold ministerial power in government in 2009

  • Main opposition appoints 'shadow ministers'

  • Ministers and shadow ministers are known as frontbenchers as the occupy the benches closest to the floor of the chamber

  • Backbenchers are those who do not hold a ministerial or shadow ministerial position

Each party appoints a number of MPS to act as whips. 3 main roles:

  • Ensure MPs attend parliamentary divisions (votes) or approve absence of MPs when their vote is required

  • Issue instructions to MPs on how to vote. A 'three-line whip' is a strict instruction that an MP must attend and vote according to the party line, or face disciplinary action. For example Labour's three-line whip on gay marriage

  • Enforce discipline within parliamentary party. Whips seek to persuade wavering MPs to vote with their party providing assurances, making offers and issuing threats. Can expel…


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