Chapter 4 Britain Ben Rosamond Britain • The historical context: ancient and modern • Political institutions in Britain • Political parties in British politics • The European exception? Introduction • British political system has no distinct starting point • Pluri-national, yet centralized and unitary, state? • Recent governing dilemmas: – Role of state in economy – How to balance unitary state with plurinational society? The historical context: ancient • • • • Strange parliamentary rituals No written constitution Unelected second chamber Retention of a monarch The historical context: the modern • Managing the legacy of imperialism • Integration into the European Union • Devolution Political institutions in Britain: the Westminster Model • London is still centre of British politics: ‘Westminster Model’: – – – – – – – Unitary state Absolute Parliamentary sovereignty Cabinet government monitored by Parliament Single ‘opposition’ bloc in Parliament Two-party electoral competition ‘First past the post’ electoral system No written constitution, just norms/rules Challenges to the Westminister Model • Rise of party power creates unaccountable governments? • Core executive has increasing control over cabinet and media • Civil service has entrenched policy preferences • Globalization and European integration both challenge Parliamentary sovereignty • Post-1997 constitutional reform Political parties in British politics • First-past-the-post supports two-party system: Labour vs. Conservatives • One party normally forms majority government • But, recent rise of Liberals and declining turnout • Post-war divisions between and within the main parties around political economy and territorial scale The European exception? • First two applications to EC rejected by France • Europe has divided both Labour and the Conservative Party • UK negotiated opt-out from EMU in the Maastricht Treaty • Labour has recently sought to depoliticize the Euro question Conclusions • The 2000s are less politically and industrially conflictual than the 1970s • But, dilemmas remain: – Britain’s role in the world? – How to organize the British state?