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Poli Sci 2300- Britain

Political Science
Course Code
POLI 2300X
Peter Arthur

of 4
Friday, October 8, 2010
Political System
British governments personality:
oConstitutional monarchy
oUnitary system
oFusion of the executive and the legislature cabinet ministers – members of
oParliament is sovereign – impact of EU
oResponsible government – Cabinet is responsible to the Parliament
Cannot make decisions without support of Parliament
oMember of the EU
Not codified
“Can be more abstract, consisting of laws and customs, conventions; same as the
written one”
Constitutional principles come from:
oStatue law (acts of Parliament)
oCommon law (British courts judgments) -
oEuropean law (e.g., trade, agriculture, environment)
oCustoms and conventions (don’t have force of law)
oCommentaries (e.g. A Dicey)
oSupports of unwritten constitution – greater flexibility
oOpponents – potential for abuse of power by strong PMs
oGrowing support for written constitution
Monarchy = Rule By One
Britain has been a monarchy for centuries (except for 1639-1660)
Position by birth or hereditary – British kings and queens had monopoly over
state political power
Now, monarchy is a ceremonidal head of state
Monarch reigns but does not rule
Power of Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) is limited to:
oCalling new elections – If the Parliament loses confidence in PM/Cabinet
oThe power of veto
oConferring with the PM
oForming a government
oAddress to Parliament (annual State Opening of Parliament)
oSymbol of state
The Queen is popular but public support of monarchy has slipped
The Executive – The Prime Minister and Cabinet
PM is the head of government providing policy leadership and ensuring policy
implementation through the cabinet
Formal – PM sets national political agenda, oversees the military, leads his party
Informal – PM becoming very powerful
The Prime Minister
The authority of the PM
oPower to call elections to the HoC
oPower of appointment
Cabinet Government
oMembers appointed from within the Parliament
Cabinet – testing ground for aspirant PMs
Collective Responsibility – core of the cabinet government
Ministerial responsibility
oIndividual ministerial responsibility – management of own department,
responsibility to cabinet and legislature
oCollective ministerial responsibility
Vote of confidence is vital – losing confidence expedites resignation of the
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
British Westminster Model – followed in many countries with parliamentary form
of government
Three functions of British Parliament:
oLaws introduced, discussed, either rejected or approved
oAmending existing laws
oChecking and debating government policies
In majority situation, PM is too powerful because of party discipline,
backbenchers cannot do much. Cabinet
Branches unelected – undemocratic, irresponsible
Upper House – House of Lords, Lower House – House of Commons
House of Lords
Upper house: members either hereditary or appointed for life term
Less powerful body – its decisions can be overruled by the Commons
Unrepresentative and undemocratic
1999: PM Blair appointed Wakeham Commission
oAll appointed or fully elected
No political agreement making its future unclear
Four kinds of members:
oLife peers (appointed by the Queen on PM recommendations)
oLaw lords (12 nominated judges function as Supreme Court of appeal)
oReligious leaders (archbishops of Centerbury and York I& 24 bishops of
the Church of England)
oHereditary peers (number reduced to only 92)
This commission suggested transfer of function of law lords to a new Supreme
October 2009, this was implemented separating the Supreme Court from the
government and parliament
House of Commons (HOC)
HoC – more powerful compared to the Lords and the Crown because it’s elected
(650 members)
Three main functions:
oExercises legislative power in Britain by passing laws
oProvides finances for the state by authorizing taxation
oReviews and scrutinizes public administration and government policy
(making PM accountable)
Speaker in the HoC – neutral arbitrator
Party discipline is stricter in British system = backbenchers rarely oppose their
party positions
Interesting fact – “Leader of opposition and the shadow cabinet formally
recognized and salaried positions”
Party revolts normal – Margaret Thatcher lost leadership of her party
Judicial review – not done the way we see in the US
Octobner 2009 – Supereme Court set up with 12 members of the Law Lords
A commission is supposed to appoint new members as vacancies arise
European Court of Justice – “developing relations with the British gov’t as the US
CS has with state government”
oAct as a final court of appeal on matters of European law
Subnational Government
Britain: Unitary state; local government has no independent power