POL203 Lecture 3 29/09/10
•1. Written docs: Magna Carta, 1689 Bill of Rights, and the 1911/49 Parliament Acts, Seminal legal
texts: Bagehot, Dicey, Marshall
oQueen wanted to pay texts, but constitution said that taxes would be raised for the Queen,
she was not to pay.
•2. Unwirrten practices: (a) Doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty “What the Queen enacts in
Parliament is law.”; even a “written” British constitution can always be amended by the next
oBritish take this idea of PS very seriously.
oReason UK has problem with European integration.
oUK has high patriotism.
•(b) Conventions: broadly held views of what is and what is not acceptable behavior.
oChange over time.
oWhy is it now that British feel that if a major change is wanted, there must be a
Bc of former history with split of Labour Party.
Not legally needed to hold one in UK, but is a convention.
•Unconstitutional can thus only mean contrary to convention; thus broad contours outliner before
also make up the British constitution.
•Parliamentary sovereignty undermined by: Britain’s accession to the EU and by
devolution/incorporation of ECHR.
oAlways have to check the Parliament is in accordance with EU legislation.
•Traditional argument = provides flexibility, evolves in response to changing social and political
oGerman and Austrain law dictates how much foam is on a beer.
oIn Britain, it is governed by convention.
•Came under sharp criticism following cases of abuse in Nrthern Ireland (torture in the form of
oInstances of discrimination that would not stand in a policy with a written constitution
(lack of family reunification, differential age of consent)
oAnti-terrorism legislation was introduced every year during the crisis.
oLed to movement for a written constitutin because of the misuse and discrimination
oHas not succeeded, though the incorporation of the ECHR has given the UK a regional
bill of rights.
•2.5 Party System, much like the UK.
oEmerged at three key junctures: 1867 reform act extending the vote to propertied males
o1918: representation of the People Act, all men and only women over 30!
oFreezing hypothesis: developed in response to the British party system by Stein Rokkan
Should all these political movements become separate political parties?
•E.g. student, women and gay party??
Class divisions: conservative and labour parties.
Parties form the basis of British politics – they are the anchor of the entire
o1. Prime Minister of the largest party in parliament is asked by the Queen to form a govt.
o2. Govts. Rule with the confidence of the House. And the Government may fall at any
time. Confidence is expressed thru the parties.
o3. Members of the party forming the govt. are bound by the doctrine of collective
responsibility to vote with the party. The corollary doctrine is Cabinet responsibility,
allowing dissent within but not outside f the Cabinet. Collective responsibility if
enforcing thru the “whipping System”
o4. The Opposition and the Shadow Cabinet are not bound by these ecotrines to the same
degree, but tend to follow…
•Dominant: Conservative, Labour and Liberal
o2005: elections: 61% turnout; Cons 32.3% (198 seats up 32); Labour 35.3.% (356 seats
down 56); LB 22.1% (62, up 10)
o2010: 65% turnout; Conservatives 307 seats (36.1% of the vote); Labour 258 (29% of the
votes), LB 57(23% of the vote)
oRegional/Nationalist: Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru, Ulster Unionist, SinnFein,
SDLP (Social Democrat and Labour Party)
oExtreme Right: British Nationality Party
oHigh degree of institutional continuity: from the decline of the Liberal party from 1916,
2 parties have dominated.
oStability: share of the vote for the major parties has been constant.
oBest/worst performances: cons. 49.4% (59)/30.7% (97); Labour 48% (45)/27.6% (1983)
Any prediction of how badly Labour would do this year had clearly forgotten
Class basis of British politics, much of it is convention based on class.
Contrast with Weimar, French 4th (and 5th) Republic(s)
Cohesion: whipping system means that governments can rely on vtes of party
Dominance of Conservative Party.
•Britain has among the strongest party systems in the world
•Votes against the government are rare
•Once a government has a majority, it can enact legislation almost unfettered during its term of
•Political success for aspiring politicians depends almost entirely on its party.
•Does the legislature have any existence outside of the party?
oWhat does it do if they parties do not?
oWhat it is not:
bc of former history with split of labour party. not legally needed to hold one in uk, but is a convention: unconstitutional can thus only mean contrary to convention; thus broad contours outliner before also make up the british constitution. Parliamentary sovereignty undermined by: britain"s accession to the eu and by devolution/incorporation of echr: always have to check the parliament is in accordance with eu legislation. Parties form the basis of british politics they are the anchor of the entire political system: 1. Prime minister of the largest party in parliament is asked by the queen to form a govt: 2. And the government may fall at any time. Confidence is expressed thru the parties: 3. Members of the party forming the govt. are bound by the doctrine of collective responsibility to vote with the party. The corollary doctrine is cabinet responsibility, allowing dissent within but not outside f the cabinet.