Politics_in_Great_Britain1 - Politics in Great Britain More...

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Unformatted text preview: Politics in Great Britain More than just bad teeth, double decker buses and royal misbehaviour... Historical background Democracy in Great Britain (a.k.a. the United Kingdom) the result of evolutionary, not revolutionary process Monarchs initially ruled according to divine right of kings (absolutism) First significant break with monarchic principles: English Civil War of 1640's, when defeat of royal army by Oliver Cromwell resulted in execution of Charles I and brief republican period Monarchy restored in 1660 under Charles II King Arthur Greatest of all English monarchs Historical background, cont. Favorable factors for eventual emergence of British democracy State institution (Parliament) that served as incubator for elites dedicated to rule of law (partly as a means of defending themselves from monarchy interelite rivalries were less critical than conflict between elites and throne) English nationalism based in part on pride in homegrown democratic institutions such as Parliament (democratic political culture) Historical background, cont. Early development of private enterprise and accumulation of national wealth, coupled with development of middle class Political parties that promoted democracy among disadvantaged (esp. working class) Civil society (e.g. trade unions) Educational system that, while dominated by elite, fostered freedom of thought The importance of geography Insular geography gave political system "breathing room" by reducing likelihood of invasion and reducing need for standing army Geography also encouraged the development of strong navy that later gave UK advantage in scramble for colonies British Empire fostered democracy at home by absorbing surplus population (emigration) and by increasing size of markets for British companies (thereby increasing national wealth); effects on colonies' politics more ambiguous Challenges to democratic rule in UK Problem of heterogeneity: UK formed by forcible inclusion of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales by England; Ireland independent since 1920s but problem of 6 Northern Ireland counties remains Elites granted power to masses slowly Severe class inequalities International environment not always supportive of democracy Emergence of Parliament as political institution First included bishops, landowners, knights and other prominent individuals 1215: King John forced to sign Magna Carta (Great Charter) that limited crown's powers visvis taxation, judicial appointments, private property Magna Carta designed not to promote democracy but to defend feudal privileges Parliament, cont. Two houses gradually developed Crown viewed Parliament as instrument of House of Lords: "Lords Spiritual" (bishops) and "Lords Temporal" (members of nobility) House of Commons: elected members of propertyowning elites at town and county level; included lesser knights and prominent citizens ("burgesses") monarchic rule, not a constraint upon it Parliament, cont. Glorious Revolution, 1688: Catholic monarch James II tried to restore Catholic political and religious supremacy; Parliament invited William of Orange from Netherlands to assume throne, James II exiled in bloodless overthrow Event known as "Glorious Revolution"; established parliamentary supremacy; Great Britain thereafter a constitutional monarchy Parliament, cont. Parliament the supreme political institution in the country as well as highest judicial authority (no equivalent to Supreme Court to limit prerogatives of Parliament) Fusion of powers of legislative and executive branches British parliamentary system also known as Westminster system Diagram of parliamentary system Government (Prime Minister and other ministers) Monarch responsible to House of Commons Symbolically designates ELECT Voters Expansion of franchise in UK Pre1832: propertyowning males only (apx 5% of adults over 21) Great Reform Act (1832): franchise expanded to about 7% of total population; still limited to propertyowing males 1867: franchise expanded to 16% of population (some urban workers) 1884: all males >21 y.o. who owned a home (28% of those in age group) 1918: all males over 21; women over 30 allowed to vote as well (female voting age lowered to 21 in 1928) 1948: plural voting for certain elites eliminated 1969: voting age lowered to 18 Nationalism and Political Culture England perhaps the first country to develop a national consciousness as result of religious developments (Protestant Reformation produced a purely "English" or Anglican church) as well as political ones (English people as free and equal individuals under law) nationalism linked to the way the English governed themselves Deference and reverence for symbolism: traditional British attitudes Private enterprise/middle class Growth of commercial agriculture in 16th and 17th c. led to rise of commercial farmers in countryside and gradual migration of peasants to cities; middle class growth was indispensible both to economic expansion and democratic development At same time social stratification along class lines became more severe Shrubberies: one of the first industries in the English countryside "I am Roger the Shrubber I arrange, design, and sell shrubberies..." Rise of Political Parties Dominated by two major parties, Labour Party and Conservative Party Emerged in 19th century: Tories and Liberals Tories defined by devotion to absolutist monarchy, aristocratic rule, House of Lords, Anglican Church Liberals preceded by Whigs: favored limited monarchy constrained by House of Commons Common positions: support for crown, parliamentary authority, elite (rather than mass) democracy, Protestantism instead of Catholicism Political Parties, cont. Both parties committed to political moderation, compromise, desire to avoid radical outcomes (e.g. French Revolution); later both supported restricted franchise, cabinet accountability to Parliament Organizations began to solidify by middle of 19th c. Conservatives under Disraeli: advocates of landed aristocracy; Liberals under Gladstone supported middle class, free trade, laissezfaire capitalism Both parties feared rise of working class; Labour Party formed in 1906; Liberals began to decline Parties, cont. Labour Party supported peaceful extension of workers' rights via participation in political process rather than revolutionary action Rejected dictatorship; strong religious beliefs among many members precluded support for atheistic Marxism Gradual consensus emerged among all major parties: democracy, limited monarchy, mixed economy with roles for state and markets alike Postwar British Politics Threeparty unity coalition held power during WWII; Prime Minister was Winston Churchill Following WWII voters ousted Churchill and elected Labour government under Clement Attlee; nationalized Bank of England, railroads, utilities, etc. Established National Health Service (NHS) Labour government laid foundations of British welfare state Postwar, cont. Conservatives accepted most features of welfare state, did not try to roll back most welfare programs; expanded spending on health, education, housing Broad acceptance across political spectrum of need for collective (statecentered) solutions to social and economic problems Increased trade union militancy in early 1970s accompanied by widespread economic downturn Split within Labour Party Labour split between moderates who favored limits on government spending and a significant role for private enterprise against party's left wing, which favored increased nationalization (government ownership) of the economy and higher taxes; left also opposed US dominance of British foreign policy agenda Labour lost noconfidence vote in 1979, leading to Conservative victory under Margaret Thatcher Behold her Maggietude Sigh... The Thatcher Revolution Favored private sector over state; strongly opposed to further policies of nationalization Wanted to scale back growth of welfare state and attacked "culture of dependency" Promoted privatization of stateowned enterprises and sought to encourage entrepreneurialism ("enterprise culture") Took on labor unions Embraced monetarism (control of inflation via control of money supply) Thatcher's mixed record Inflation: reduced from 21% in 1980 to 2.5% in 1986 Growth: modest rates of growth but accompanied by widening gap between rich and poor and between prosperous south and declining north Trade unions: reduced number of strikes; Conservatives won 37% of working class votes in 1987 Privatization: BP, Rolls Royce, Jaguar and other stateowned firms sold to private sector Thatcher's mixed record, cont. Unemployment: little success in reducing unemployment; rose to 10% by 1987 Spending and taxes: government spending actually rose during her administration; VAT raised to cover budget shortfalls Social issues: mixed record on gender issues; won working class support for encouraging home ownership Foreign policy: strongly supported US policies, opposed further diminution of British sovereignty via increased EU participation Splits within Conservative Party led to her ouster as party leader in 1990; John Major took over as Conservative boss John Major's government, 199097 Major led Conservatives to another electoral victory in 1992 Conservatives increasingly split between those supporting EU and those opposed Vow to lead efficient and honest government undercut by sexual scandals (especially among outspoken "family values" supporters in govt.) and financial misconduct; Tories trounced by Labour in 1997 Social class in British politics Hypothesis: if voters choose leaders according to their class interests, then working class voters should choose Labour Party candidates and middle and upperclass voters should opt for Tories Hypothesis contradicted by evidence: "working class Tories" often supported Conservatives, while some ostensibly middle and upperclass voters supported Labour Centrist platform adopted by Blair in 1997 drew numerous Conservative stalwarts into Labour camp Conclusion: British voters have not always consistent voted along class lines; class matters, but it is not the whole story British Democracy Today Parties, Elections, and State Institutions Party Organization in Britain Parties wellorganized at national and local levels Each party has own internal bureacracy Only duespaying members can vote in constituency meetings where candidates for parliamentary elections are chosen Parties, cont. Party leadership critical in British parties; no real equivalent in US British system requires that PM be member of Parliament PM directly chosen by very small number of voters --since he/she is also an MP, voters in constituency who cast vote for that MP also "elect" the PM Party professionals play much more important role in choosing candidates than in US (no primary elections as in American system) Current status of parties Conservatives: a party in decline; internally divided over issue of EU integration; average age of member over 60 yrs.; membership has fallen from 750,000 in early 1990s to about 320,000 now; no dynamic, charismatic leader capable of taking on Tony Blair Current status of parties, cont. Labour Party: has moved closer to the center over the past 10 years; trade union financial support, which was over 95% in 1983 (when Labour reached its nadir in terms of total vote share) has declined to about 40% in 1997 (when Blair led party to victory) Membership has oscillated with Blair's popularity Party leader selected by electoral college made up of trade union reps, House of Commons and EU parliament MPs, and duespaying members National Executive Committee controls party bureaucracy and policy agenda Current status of parties, cont. Liberal Democrats: Descendants of old Liberal Party; merged with Social Democrats (SDP) in 1988 (SDP formed by centrist Labourites who disliked party's leftward drift) Positions itself as centrist alternative to Labour and Conservatives ProEU, constitutional reform (e.g. PR); opposed to UK's participation in Iraq Minor parties Scottish National Party advocates national independence for Scotland Welsh Nationalist Party (Plaid Cymru) wants more autonomy for Wales Northern Ireland: divided between Unionists (who favor continued rule from London) and Republicans (who seek closer ties with Ireland); each faction also divided between hardline and moderate factions Really minor parties Legalize Cannabis Alliance (in financial trouble since members constantly forgetting to mail in dues) Monster Raving Loony Party Church of the Militant Elvis Party Fancy Dress Party Elections: Nominations and Financing Nomination controlled by party personnel Potential candidates interviewed by selection committee and then vetted by local constituency membership Based on membership data, fewer than 1 percent of British voters participated in party nomination process in 1997 (compare with about 30 to 40% of US voters in primary elections) Party's national leadership can veto candidate choices--much tighter party discipline Campaign Financing Elections not announced far in advance PM can ask Queen to call for elections at any time Parliament "dissolved" during election period and no new legislation enacted During elections, parties issue "manifestos" (similar to party platforms but taken more seriously than in US) No paid political ads on TV or radio Limits on campaign spending by individual candidates; nonetheless costs have risen recently Effects of electoral system As noted earlier, SMD system punishes smaller parties (an illustration of Duverger's Law in action) Small parties with diffuse nationwide support fail to win seats in Parliament and have called for adoption of PR system Reform of electoral laws suggested but not adopted to date (neither large party has incentive to enact reforms) Parliament Queen opens Parliament after elections, gives speech announcing new government's legislative priorities and plan of action Government writes Queen's Speech, contents of which are then debated Government confirmed by first vote on legislation Legislative Process Bills must be passed by majority of those present and voting in both houses; two houses do not consider legislation simultaneously (unlike US) Legislative process rests on principle of party discipline ("whips" monitor party reps in Parliament to ensure bloc voting) Those who vote against party leadership may be punished by exclusion from party meetings; party unanimity maintained about 90% of the time Legislative process, cont. Cabinet and PM sit in front rows Party blocs sit facing one another Opposition forms "shadow cabinet," a mirror image of sitting government (each member gets portfolio corresponding to cabinet post); shadow cabinet's primary function is to challenge PM; also, if government falls, shadow cabinet will be ready to assume power in government Legislative process, cont. Government sets legislative agenda Most bills amended in standing committees which are less formalized than committees in US Congress Well over 90% of governmentdrafted bills passed into law; more efficient than US system "Private member" bills may be introduced but not to spend money or raise taxes Legislative process, cont. Parliamentary questions: "question time" devoted to interrogating PM and ministers Questions drawn by lottery since there are more questions than time No equivalent in US--State of the Union speech is monologue, not dialogue Ministers must think quickly on their feet Legislative process, cont. Votes of confidence: Commons may vote to unseat government in vote of confidence; government can also ask for vote of confidence to assess level of support within party Since 1885 only two governments unseated: Labour minority government under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and James Callahan's Labour minority govt in 1979 Membership composition of House of Commons Conservatives: primarily from professions and business sector Labour: large delegations of manual workers and teachers Fewer lawyers in Commons than in US Congress High proportion of Oxford and Cambridge grads (though declining) Composition of Commons, cont. Proportion of women in Parliament has slowly been climbing (in 1997 they were about 19% of total); most of these have been Labour MPs Nonwhite minorities have not been strongly represented in Commons; public opinion data reflects deep concerns over embedded racism in British society House of Lords 1,294 members at start of 1999 Bishops of Chuch of England; hereditary peers (who may pass on their membership to an heir) "Life peers" named by Queen; citizens who have made noteworthy contributions to British society recent life peers include Margaret Thatcher and Andrew Lloyd Webber (sadly, I'm not kidding...) Most nonclerical members are affiliated with political party House of Lords, cont. Lords can only delay but cannot veto legislation passed in Commons Labour government has reduced number of hereditary peers to 92 members Lords can propose and pass legislation of their own which then must be approved by Commons House of Lords also highest court in UK (no separation of powers between legislature and highest court in country) The Government Chief decisionmaking body of executive branch All must be MPs Cabinet includes PM and most powerful ministers (apx 20) Each cabinet minister responsible for area of policy (health, trade, industry, Silly Walks) Some ministerial responsibilities Health Industry Silly Walks Relationship between executive and legislature Government accountable to legislature but cabinet exercises more power in terms of agenda setting and invoking party discipline PMs powers stem from custom (not codified in constitution): can fire cabinet ministers, highlevel bureaucrats Government proposes money bills Executive styles have varied: Thatcher and Blair strong, dynamic leaders; Attlee and Major more lowkey, consensusoriented Once decisions have been made, cabinet falls into line behind decision (principle of "collective responsibility") Civil Service (bureaucracy) Conflicts between elected politicians (MPs) and career civil servants more likely in British system than in US; PM can only fill about 100 slots in bureaucracy (compare this with the 2,000 3,000 appointed positions in US) Higher civil service has reputation for honesty and professionalism Bureaucracy has shrunk by about 20% since 1979 (currently at less than 500,000) The Monarchy A living symbol of historical continuity Queen retains legal authority to designate PM, dissolve Parliament, call parliamentary elections Nominal commander of armed forces and head of British Commonwealth Monarch's powers are actually limited in fact; cannot refuse to approve legislation (Royal Assent) without creating political crisis (last refused in 1707) Contemporary Issues and Challenges in UK Northern Ireland: England dominated Ireland from 14th century on; Irish loyalty to Catholic Church deepened political tension between rulers and ruled Northern Province of Ulster (6 counties) remains loyal to UK 3,200 people killed in sectarian violence since 1969 Peace accord in 1998 brokered by US led to some devolution of power from London to Northern Ireland; hardliners on both Catholic and Protestant sides still oppose agreement Devolution in Scotland and Wales Unlike US, UK a unitary state (that is, sub national political units have little power) Wales and Scotland formally incorporated by England into UK by Both regions have demanded greater autonomy Scottish legislature established in 2000 Welsh legislature also established; less power than Scottish (also less pressure for autonomy than in Scotland) Economic issues in UK Government has controlled spending but at cost of deterioration in public services Public has signalled willingness to pay higher taxes in return for better services (esp. NHS, a crucial issue in a country with aging population) Labour under Blair has also sought greater private sector investment EU issue: public still opposes adoption of Euro; referendum likely in next two to three years Foreign Policy Issues Blair government has closely supported US foreign policy, esp. after 9/11/01 Most MPs and constituents supported actions in Afghanistan Tough antiterrorist laws passed; clampdown on asylum seekers and immigrants Iraq policy has cost Blair public support as well as support within party--strong criticism from some Labour MPs Further explorations of UK politics Constitutional "Revolution" and the effects of the Blair Prime Ministership Constitutional Politics in UK UK lacks formal written constitution; constitution is collection of fundamental laws and customary practices UK also lacks bill of rights for citizens Socialization process of political elites in small country leads to reluctance to change political procedures or institutions Laws may still be changed by simple majority of House of Commons Why reform? 1997: Labour and Lib Dems had common constitutional reform platform; Conservatives opposed reform program British government among most secretive of Western democracies; governments in large cities not elected by residents; SMD system punished small parties despite widespread electoral support Both parties historically resisted reform Motivation for Constitutional Reforms Blair believed that British citizens needed to take more active role in government and that British politics had to become more participatory Labour also interested in constitutional reform as a means of ensuring that it never stayed out of power for 18 years again Forces favoring reform Other advocates of constitutional reform: Liberal Democrats, who not only favored electoral reform but also stronger protection for civil liberties and more decentralization Charter 88: a nonpartisan lobbying group; favored written constitution and bill of rights Scottish Constitutional Convention advocated devolution of power from London to Scotland Most discussion fueled by highly motivated minorities like Charter 88 and Electoral Reform Society; public interest in constitutional reform not substantial Incentives for Labour to promote reform Issue would help differentiate party from Conservative opponents (important since Labour's economic agenda was increasingly similar to Conservatives') Helped defuse threats to Labour support in Wales and Scotland Longterm prospect of allying with Lib Dems and forming "permanent" centrist government, thereby neutralizing threats from Left (more radical Labourites) as well as Right (Conservatives) Features of constitutional reform New regional legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland Number of hereditary peers in House of Lords reduced to 92 No significant action taken on electoral system reform European Convention on Human Rights adopted through Human Rights Act (Weak) Freedom of Information Act Direct election of mayors in London and other large cities New regional legislatures Scottish parliament more powerful in terms of taxation and policymaking authority than Welsh counterpart, although the latter is expected to demand greater powers Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led to creation of assembly in Belfast Ireland gave up territorial claim to province Continued resistance to agreement has led to multiple suspensions of local rule and direct control from London European Convention on Human Rights Convention was incorporated into domestic law effective 10/2000 British (rather than European) judges decide whether government is conforming to Convention Enhanced ability of British citizens to raise human rights issues in courts Parliament still retains authority to determine whether human rights verdicts will be followed Other reforms Some suggest that most significant reforms were not those passed by Labour but those enacted under previous Conservative governments: Joining the EC in 1972 Approving Single European Act (1986) Signing Maastricht Treaty (1992) EU law increasingly supersedes UK law Interpretations of Reform Popular social liberalism: social and constitutional reforms in Blair's first term a substitute for traditional Labour program of high spending Lukewarm reform: proposals are conceptually radical but moderate in effect Symbolic politics: highprofile reforms have dodged two most critical issues: electoral system reform and adoption (or rejection) of the euro; so far a cheap substitute for "real" politics Interpretations of Reform, cont. Doomsday scenario: constitutional reform is actually a smokescreen for Labour/Lib Dem plan to create a "permanent" centrist government through PR coalition government, a House of Lords composed of political appointees, and a more centralized EU "superstate" Constitutional incoherence: Britain lacks a clear set of constitutional principles as a result of Labour and Conservative reforms over past 25 years Possible implications of reform Continued erosion of parliamentary supremacy as result of regional devolution and disputes over jurisdiction House of Lords reform could lead to more symmetrical bicameralism Increased emphasis on human rights could lead to "creeping" judicial review over time "The Blair Moment" Iraq war has set back Blair's efforts to integrate the UK more closely with Europe Historical background: England tied closely to affairs of continent prior to 16th c. Transition to "island empire" changed relationship What made Britain an "island empire?" Superior bluewater navy to provide security Government defined its interests as trans oceanic rather than crossChannel; policy towards Europe was largely negative and reactive (prevent emergence of major European power by selective intervention in continental power struggles) What made Britain an "island empire?" Industrial revolution made Britain the first empire to be based on free trade Protestantism in Britain distinguished it from its traditional continental enemies, Spain and France (both of which were Catholic) Political developments differed: decline in in royal absolutism in Britain, increase on continent; British saw their political system as unique and superior to those in Europe Why the decline? Advances in military technology reduced strategic power of bluewater navy Britain failed to modernize economy by incorporating advances in science and technology in late 19th c. After WW2, Labour government under Attlee failed to solve structural economic problems and to modernize economy; also attempted to preserve UK's status as global power; no coherent system of economic planning (neither purely liberal state nor dirigiste--stateled--like France) Decline, cont. Nationalized industries--coal, steel, telephone, gas, railroads--were supported by state funding but not modernized so they became a drag on overall economy Transportation and health care sectors fell further behind their European counterparts Unions and management alike committed to inefficient and archaic work rules Labour moved so far to the left as to become unelectable by late 1970s Conservative response, 1979--97 Take nationalized corporations and state supported industries off life support to "sink or swim"; many sank, especially in industrialized north Unions weakened Labor force not retrained via educational programs so skills base did not increase Blair's strategy Give Britain new sense of purpose Promote economic growth Fight for social justice Reform political institutions Tie Britain's political and economic destiny more closely to Europe through increased participation in EU Economic reforms Bank of England given full independence (similar to US Federal Reserve) Blair pledged not to raise taxes or exceed spending caps Government exerted increased fiscal/budgetary control over bureaucracy Public still demanded increase in quality of public services which had declined badly Other goals Workforce reform Investment in education and workforce skills development Educational reforms thwarted by combination of low tax base (one of Labour's promises was to avoid tax increases) and need to expand number of slots available in higher education Outcome of Blair's economic policies High levels of growth Currency stability Increased employment rates Fewer boom/bust cycles Success of economic policies raised doubts about desirability of closer integration with EU Complications of UK's relationship with Europe Most British subjects see their political institutions as not only unique but also superior to those prevailing on the Continent Historical British ambivalence towards Europe; to draw closer to Europe Britain needs to improve its relationship with France, its chief rival on Continent; this in turn will affect UK's relationship with closest ally, the US Divisions between UK and France Both countries agree on importance of strengthened European integration Key difference concerns security issues--UK wants to maintain ties to US, France seeks more independent EU military force that could counterbalance US power Iraq war has led some in UK to question whether continued close cooperation with US is desirable Blair has been severely damaged by revelations of inadeqate or questionable intelligence leading up to war To exert meaningful influence in EU then UK must join euro zone ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/08/2008 for the course GOVT 203 taught by Professor Left during the Spring '05 term at William & Mary.

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