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									Politics in Britain
The political system


Domestic economy


Legislature Executive Bureaucracies Political parties


Interest groups

Domestic culture

Domestic society

United Kingdom
• Size
– about two times that of the state of Mississippi

• Population
– about 59 million – non-white immigration since WWII
• from South Asia, West Indies, and East Asia • 4.6 million (8% of total population)

– Europeans?

United Kingdom > Great Britain
• United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
– created in 1801

• Great Britain
– England – Scotland – Wales

Historical evolution: gradualism
• Historical challenges to all industrialized democracies:
– Building the nation-state – Defining the relationship between church and state – Establishing liberal democracy – Dealing with the impact of the industrial revolution

Monarch versus Parliament
• • • • • 1215: Magna Carta 1500s: the Church of England 1642-60: Civil War and Restoration 1688: Glorious Revolution 1701: Act of Settlement
– royal succession

• Early 1700s: emergence of prime minister

Unwritten constitution
• Lack of a written constitution

Parliamentary system
• Parliament selects the prime minister
– prime minister is not elected by popular vote – normally the head of majority party or coalition

• Cabinet responsibility to parliament
– major legislation and votes of confidence
Majority party voters Minority party


Prime minister & cabinet

British government
• Government
– Queen’s, Tony Blair’s, or Labour government

• Whitehall Street
– executive agencies

• Downing Street
– prime minister’s residence

• Westminster
– parliament

Democratization continued
• 1832: Great Reform Act (men’s suffrage) • 1911: Reform of House of Lords • 1928: Right to vote for all adults

Electoral system
• Single-member district • First-past-the-post (winner-take-all) system

Election results

• The House of Commons
– 659 members – voting is 100% along party lines in most votes – party versus constituency interests

• the House of Lords
– is not elected

• reforms

House of Commons
• the government gets its way • MPs weigh political reputations • MPs in the governing party have opportunities to influence government • MPs talk about legislation • MPs scrutinize administration of policies • MPs publicizing issues


Domestic economy


Legislature Executive Bureaucracies Political parties


Interest groups

Domestic culture

Domestic society

Parties and interest groups
• Postwar collectivist consensus until 1970s • consensus about role of government for the collective economic and social good
– state should take expanded responsibility
• economic growth and full employment

– state should provide social welfare
• public education, health care, etc.

– publicly owned sector (1/5 of total production)

Collectivist Consensus
• Both Labour and Conservative gradually expanded the role of government • Party identification, electoral behavior, and occupation were strongly correlated
– most of working class voted Labour – most of middle class voted Conservative

Margaret Thatcher
• Economic stagflation in 1970s • Neither party was able to manage economy well • 1978-79 “winter of discontent” strikes • Thatcher’s alternative vision
– cut taxes, reduce social services – stimulate the private sector – market and “businesslike” methods

Margaret Thatcher
• Served (1979 - 1990) longer without interruption than any other British prime minister in 20th century

Welfare state
• Even under Thatcher and Major, Britain experienced real growth in both social services and health care provisions

Margaret Thatcher
• 1979-1984 government spending actually rose from 39% of GNP to 44% of GNP
– 1890: 8% – 1910: 12% – 1920: 26%

• 1989 survey: less than 1/3 approved of the “Thatcher revolution”

New Labour Party
• 1997 electoral victory • the largest majority in parliament (419/659) that the Labour Party has ever held • Conservative vote fell to its lowest share since 1832 • Tony Blair: “New Labour is a party of ideas and ideals, but not of outdated ideology. What counts is what works.”

Tony Blair & “Third Way”
• “Third way” alternative to collectivism and Thatcherism:
– rejected the historic ties between Labour governments and the trade union movement – reversed the tendency to provide centralized statist solutions to economic and social problem

• A vague philosophy to draw support from across the social-economic spectrum.

% Voted for Labour Party
• • • • • • • Year 1974 1979 1983 1987 1992 1997 Working class 57% 50% 38% 42% 45% 58% Women 38% 35% 26% 32% 34% 49%

Hypothetical voter distribution


social-economic spectrum


Interest groups
• Civil society
– institutions independent of government

• Interest groups influence politics
– not by contesting elections – regardless of which party wins

• Distance between party and interest groups
– Interest groups criticize partisan allies

Interest groups
• Organizations of British businesses
– Confederation of British Industries
• dominated by large firms

• Organizations of British labour
– Trades Union Congress (TUC)
• 38% of workforce is unionized • 90% of unionized workers are affiliated with TUC

– affiliation with the Labour Party

Interest aggregation
• Political demands of individuals and groups are combined into policy programs
– farmers, environmentalists, business, etc.

• substantial political resources
– popular votes, campaign funds, legislative seats, executive influence, etc.

• competing policy goals are compromised to produce a single governing program

Interest aggregation

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