The UK Political System

The UK has a long and complex political history and is one of the oldest parliaments in the world but nowadays is officially recognised as a constitutional monarchy, which means The Sovereign is the Head of State whilst a democratically elected Parliament carries out the day-to-day running of the country and can create and pass legislation. This is set out in the Magna Carta and The Bill of Rights of 1689, which limits the powers of the Crown but also enables freedom of speech in Parliament as well as the requirement for regular general elections.

The British Government is elected democratically by the general British public in regular general elections, which tend to happen every 5 years. The head of the Government is the Prime Minister and they select a Cabinet of Ministers to represent the largest industries and public sectors areas across the country. Together, the UK Government Ministers hold legislative and executive power, meaning they have the power to remove old laws, introduce new ones and ensure they are upheld. Judiciary power, which prosecutes those who break the law, does not belong to the UK Government, instead to an independent authority ruling the courts and legal system. 

The UK Government is located at the Houses of Parliament in London and there are two chambers to the parliament – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The upper chamber, the House of Lords, is made up of members who are often not associated with any political party and generally maintain this position for life. They have experience in their sector with many achievements and can use this to ensure those elected are carrying out their responsibilities correctly. The House of Lords members are not elected by the general public but, instead, are nominated as experts in their fields. 

The lower chamber, The House of Commons, is currently made up of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs). The entire country is divided into 650 constituencies and each one votes for their representative in Parliament at the general election. In a first-past-the-post system, the political party with the largest number of MPs has the right to form the UK Government. If a party has a majority (i.e. over 325 MPs) it will be much easier to pass laws and get policies through Parliament. If a party doesn’t reach a majority, this a hung parliament and means political parties must make deals with each other to reach the majority threshold. 

Each MP represents their constituency and brings forward local issues to the national parliament. Most MPs hold weekly open sessions in their constituency, where locals can explain issues or simply get the chance to meet their representative. However, most local governing and decisions about day-to-day running of the constituency are made by local governments, also elected by the general public. Due to the local nature of the voting system, you may not see large-scale political events around voting season with the Prime Minister and Cabinet touring the country. Instead, they’re more likely to be canvassing their local area, winning over the votes of the local people. 

The leader of each political party is not voted for directly by the British people at a general election. Instead, the members of each political party, which includes donors, sitting MPs, trade unions and the general public who pay to be members of a political party, vote. A majority vote allows a candidate to become the leader of the party. However, they are held accountable by the MPs of their party. As we’ve seen recently in the UK, if MPs no longer believe the Prime Minister is doing their job, have broken rules or laws or simply don’t believe they’re doing good for the country, they can vote that they have “no confidence” in their leader. With a majority vote, they must leave the position and a new candidate takes over. If this happens in between general elections, they are not necessarily voted for by the general public. Instead by the MPs and the general public who pay to be members of a political party. Generally, when this happens the new Prime Minister will call an early general election to be able to govern with a mandate. 

All of the above is the general UK political system. However, with individual UK countries (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), we also have devolved governments, meaning Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own individual governments, but we’ll look at that in another post!


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