The way UK is ruled can be called, parliamentary democracy, but also as a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elisabeth II as the official head of state (By the way, the UK don’t have a written constitution, but instead based on the laws of the country)
Today, power is shared by the tree elements if the central government at Westminster: the Crown, and the two chamber of Parliament – House of Lords and the House of Commons. The government appoints ministers to have special responsibility in these regions. In addition, they delegate some powers to the local governments throughout the country.
In 1997, a referendum was held in Scotland and Wales on devolution, or the decentralization of political power. The Scottish people voted for their own parliament with the right to collect regional taxes. In Wales a majority voted in favor of a Welsh assembly.
Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state in Britain. Her power is almost totally symbolic, as it is in all the other European monarchies today. She doesn’t have much work except to open and closes Parliament and she also gives the Royal Assents to bills (Norsk = lover) from Parliament by signing them. She can also give people who deserve it the title of Lord or Lady.
Negative sides with the Monarchy in general is the expenditure (Norsk = utgifter).
The British Parliament – “Westminster“
Formally speaking, Parliament consists of the Monarch, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. But because the monarch’s role is rather formal, Parliament usually refers to the two houses only. The house of commons consists of elected members and has more power than the House of Lords. The two houses meet in separate chambers at opposite ends of the palace.
Parliament has three major tasks:
Legislation (or law making)
Control of government spending
Keeping an eye on the government
Suggested laws, or bills can come from either the House of Lords or the House of Commons, but must be discussed and approved by both houses.
The House of Commons
After the parliament election in 2001, 659 members were returned to the House of Commons. They are known as MP’s (Members of Parliament) and represent 529 constituencies (voting districts) in England, 72 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland, 659 in all. The number of MPs is regulated periodically to correspond the increases and decreases in population in the different consistencies
The speaker is elected by the entire House and is responsible for the orderly conduct of business (no one wants the job). The speaker must not take sides in the debate. The person elected to be the speaker has the privilege to sit in the House of Lords when he or she steps down.
MPs are paid salaries, unlike their counterparts in the House of Lords, who can only claim expenses. On weekends, MPs are expected to return to their constituencies to be available for their constituents (the people from the district they represent.
The House of Lords
The House of Lords represents the beginnings of Parliament, the time when churchmen and noblemen were called in to advise the monarch. The Lord Chancellor, a senior law officer, presides over the House. Unlike the speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chancellor is not impartial – he or she can take sides in a debate. The House of Lords main function is to reviewing panel for legislation from the House of Commons. They can improve and amend bills before turning them. This is intended to protect the country from hastily passed laws with unforeseen consequences. Throughout the last century, many people have pointed out that the House of Lords was outdated and undemocratic.
The Government – “Whitehall”
After a general election, the Queen asks the leader of the majority party to take on the function of Prime Minister and form a government. This system is called parliamentarianism, and is followed by several democratic nations among then Norway. On behalf of the monarch, the Prime Minister then appoints government ministers, junior ministers and ministers of state from the ranks of the MPs in the House of Commons. All members of the government must come either from the House of Commons or the House of Lords. These Ministers are responsible for ministries (statsråd) or departments which take care of certain policy areas.
The Prime Minister then appoints approximately 20 important ministers to sit in the Cabinet. Cabinet was an old word for a small room and is used to designate this small selection of ministers who work closely with the Prime Minster.
Parliamentary elections are called general elections because every seat in the House of Commons is contested on the same day, everywhere in the country. A general election must be held at least once every five years. However, the Prime Minister can call one whenever he or she wants. Of course the government follows the opinion polls very closely and tries to call an election when their party is at the height of popularity.
The First-Past-the-Post or Simple Majority System
Each MP in the House of Commons is elected to represent a certain constituency, or voting district. Each constituency sends only one representative to Parliament. Candidates are nominated by the local branches of the political party, but independent candidates are rarely elected. The candidate who gains the most votes in the constituency is returned as Member to the Commons. The winning candidate might have only a few more votes than his or her opponent, and still win the seat. This system is called The First-Past-the-Post. MPs are expected to represent local interests.
When a MP dies, resigns, or is promoted to the House of Lords, a by-election must be held to replace him or her in the constituency.
RESULTS FROM THE GENERAL ELECTION, JUNE 2001
Labour, 413 seats won in Parliament
Conservatives, 166 seats won in Parliament
Liberal Democrats, 52 seats won in Parliament
Others, 28 seats won in Parliament
Who can Vote?
Everybody over the age of 18 can vote in Parliamentary elections as long as they have lived in their constituency recently, are registered as voters and are not members of the House of Lords. Citizens can also lose their right to vote if he or she is mentally disturbed or convicted criminals.
Each of the major regions of the UK is subdivided into self-governing districts and can make their own regulations, or by-laws (vedtekter). They have considerable freedom in this respect, but local laws in England must be accepted by the central governments.
The Conservative Party
The conservative Party emerged as a modern mass party in the 1860’s and was in governments position alone or in coalitions for about two thirds of the 20th century. The old Conservative Party supported a strong Monarchy the Church of England\, and the rights of the land-owning aristocrats. They took the land of many Irish people, and therefore it’s not strange that they have been called over the years thieves.
Ideologically, the Conservative Party has emphasized patriotism and family virtues such as duty, loyalty, hard work and thrift (sparsommelighet) they received most of their support from the wealthier classes. But today we find Conservative voters in all social classes.
The Labour Party
When the right to vote was extended to all men at the end of the 1800’s, the Labour Party emerged. It was founded by the trade union movement, and the original Labour supporters were of course eager to forward the interests of the workers in Parliament and to get class representatives elected. They believed that people should have equal opportunities and should be awarded according to merit, rather than according to birth or class belonging. One of Labours’s major goals was to create a welfare state in Britain: a state which would provide for its citizens from “cradle to grave”, or even from “womb to tomb”. Everyone was to have a secure income, and access to housing, education and health care.
The Liberal Party
This party was the main opponent of the Conservatives until the beginning of the 1900’s. It was established in the 18th century. They believed that the Parliament, rather than the monarch, should have the most power. Their main objective today is to make a new electoral system in order to make government more democratic.
The Labour Party realized that they would have to change their image to get more votes, because they seemed old fashioned. In the 1990’s Labour leaders realized that they would have to modernize their party if they were to have any hope of winning a general election. Tony Blair became the chairman of the New Labour. New Labour worked hard to create a new image. Blair and his supporters used professional public relations managers, or “spin doctors”, to reach to more voters.