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AP Comparative Government Great Britain. Britian’s Government Legitimacy. The government of Great Britain has developed gradually, so that tradition is a primary source of stability

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AP Comparative Government Great Britain

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AP Comparative Government

Great Britain

Britian’s Government Legitimacy

  • The government of Great Britain has developed gradually, so that tradition is a primary source of stability

  • Great Britain’s constitution is unwritten having evolved from different documents, common law, legal codes, and customs often referred to collectively as the “Constitution of the Crown” (Constitutional Monarchy)

  • Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights are central documents in the formation of the British “constitution”

Historical Evolution of British Government

  • Magna Carta(1215) – King John agreed to consult the nobles before he made important decisions, in particular regarding taxes

  • Limited government – restrictions on the monarch began with the Magna Carta

Historical Evolution of British Government

  • Parliament – term first used in 1236. The gathering of feudal barons summoned by the king whenever he required their consent to special taxes

  • By the 15th century, Parliament had gained the right to make laws.

Historical Evolution of British Government Part 2

  • English Civil War (1640s) – civil war between the supporters of the king and Parliament

  • Oliver Cromwell leads during this time until Parliament reinstates the monarch.

  • The Glorious Revolution (1688) – officially established Parliament as the ruling body of Great Britain. The agreement signed between William & Mary and Parliament was known as the Bill of Rights

Oliver Cromwell

Presentation of the English Bill of Rights

Historical Evolution of British Government Part 2 - continued

  • The Glorious Revolution also ensured the dominance of the Protestant Church of England (or Anglican Church)

    • The Church of England is the official religion of Great Britain today

    • Two dozen of its clergy sit as members of the upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords.

William & Mary

Historical Evolution of British Government Part 3

  • Industrial Revolution

    • Great Britain evolves from feudal society to one dominated by colonial mercantilism

    • Imperialism

    • Trade

Political Culture


  • Island

  • Small in size

  • No major geographical barriers (no major mountain ranges to divide country, etc.)

  • Temperate climate

  • Short supply of fertile soil

Political Beliefs & Values

  • Through 1960s British political culture characterized by:

    • Trust

    • Deference to authority and competence

    • Pragmatism

    • Harmony

    • High voter participation

Political Beliefs & Values continued: “Politics of Protest”

  • 1970s and beyond: Altered views

    • Less supportive of collective consensus

    • Support for free market economy

    • Decreasing support for labor unions

    • Increased violence in Northern Ireland

Political Culture Part II


  • Feeling of separation, in particular from the continent of Europe

  • Sense of exceptionalism

  • Has created friction with the EU

  • Different from isolationism

Political Culture Part III

Noblesse Oblige

  • Important tradition in British politics

  • The duty of the upper classes to take responsibility for the welfare of the lower classes

  • Legacy of feudal times (Lords protected serfs)

  • Reflected in willingness of British citizens to accept a welfare state

  • Margaret Thatcher’s administration challenged this by significantly cutting social services and social welfare programs

Political Culture Part IV:Multi-nationalism

  • Although Britain has a relatively large amount of cultural homogeneity (Anglo/white) it is divided into four nations

    • England

    • Scotland

    • Wales

    • Northern Ireland

Political Culture Part V:Extension of Voting Rights

  • Great Reform Act of 1832: About 300,000 men gained right to vote, House of Commons gained more power in relation to House of Lords

  • Reform Act of 1867: electorate reaches 3 million, many working class people allowed to vote

  • Representation of the People Act of 1884: electorate is further expanded to make sure that majority of electorate is working class

  • Women’s Suffrage: all women over the age of 28 and all men over 21 granted the right to vote in 1918. By 1928, all women over 21 allowed to vote.

Collective Consensus

  • Began during WWII with Churchill’s emphasis on putting class differences aside in order to work together to defeat Germany

  • Churchill headed an all-party coalition government during WWII (He was originally elected as a Conservative)

  • The spirit of collective consensus continued beyond the war well into the 1960s.

  • Both Labour and Conservative parties supported the development of the modern welfare system

  • Beveridge Report – adopted by both parties during the war made all citizens eligible for health, unemployment, pension, and other welfare benefits

  • National Health Service (1948) – created under the leadership of the Labour Party


  • Largest region of Great Britain

  • Makes up 2/3 of the land mass

  • English have dominated the other nationalities historically, and still hold a disproportionate share of political power


  • History of resistance to English rule

  • Strong sense of national identity

  • Have their own flag

  • Recently granted their own parliament and regional assembly (devolution)

  • Scottish National Party – political party of the region of Scotland


  • Became subject to the King of England in 16th century

  • Located west of England

  • Plaid Cymru – Welch national political party

  • Strong sense of national pride reflected in their flag and in their own language

  • Granted their own assembly (devolution)

Northern Ireland

  • Long history of conflict between England and Ireland, particularly over religion

  • After the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell attempted to impose Protestantism on the mostly Catholic Ireland

  • After WWI home rule was granted to Ireland except for the northeast corner where Protestants outnumbered Catholics, 60% to 40%

  • Home rule was granted largely because of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which used guerrilla tactics against British forces to secure independence

  • Sinn Fein – political party of the IRA

  • In 1949 the bulk of Ireland officially became independent

  • Northern Ireland remains under British control

  • Their continues to be a great deal of conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland

Education & Political Elite Recruitment

  • “Public schools” originally were intended to train boys for “public life” in the military, civil service, or politics

  • Majority of Britain’s political elites go to public boarding schools

  • Currently only about 65% of British 17-year olds are still in school, the lowest number of any industrialized society

  • Oxbridge (Oxford-Cambridge) – the most important portal to membership in the elite classes and political recruitment is through these two prestigious universities

Ethnic Minorities

  • Make up about 8% of the British population

    • Indian (23%)

    • Pakistani (16%)

    • Afro-Caribbean (13%)

    • Black African (11%)

Linkage Institutions

  • Political Parties

  • Interest Groups

  • Media

    • Print

    • Electronic

Labour Party

  • Largest party on the “left” of political spectrum

  • Began in 1906 as alliance between trade unions and social groups that were strengthened by expansion of workers’ rights

  • Traditionally labor union have provided majority of funds for the party

  • Early history of the party defined by controversial “Clause 4” that called for nationalization of the “commanding heights” of British industry\

  • Trade Union Council (TUC) – a coalition of trade unions generally associated with the Labour Party, has traditionally been a force in British politics

  • Growing moderation of the party reflected by removal of clause in early 1990s

Labour Party in 1990s

  • Shift in policies toward more centrist views

  • Shift in political platform originated with Neil Kinnock, party leader in the 1980s

  • Moderate-centrist views have continued under leadership of John Smith (1993-94) and Tony Blair (1997-present)

  • Tony Blair’s adopts “Third Way” platform and creates “New Labour” Party

“Third Way”

  • Moderate

  • Centrist alternative to “Old Labour” Party on left and Conservative Party on right

  • Initiated by Tony Blair in the late 1990s

  • Attempting to redefine and balance following policy issues:

    • Evolving relationship between government & economy

    • British relationship with EU

    • Balancing act between the United States and European Union

    • Devolution

Conservative Party

  • Dominant party in Great Britain between WWII and late 1990s

  • Main party on the right

  • Traditionally pragmatic as opposed to ideological

  • Historically has supported a market controlled economy, privatization, and fewer social welfare programs – symbolized by Margaret Thatcher in 1980s

  • Under Prime Minister John Major (1990-1997) gravitated towards center and away from Thatcherism

Conservative Party II

  • Characterized by Noblesse Oblige

  • Power centered in London

  • Party organization viewed as elitist

  • Leadership must submit to annual leadership elections

  • Weakened by division of party in late 1990s:

    • Traditional Wing(one-nation Tories) – values noblesse oblige and elitism, supports Britain’s membership in EU

    • Thatcherite Wing – strict conservatives, support full free market, known as “Euroskeptics”, feel EU threatens British sovereignty


  • Rightist reforms instituted by Margaret Thatcher in 1980s

    • Privatized business and industry

    • Cut back on social welfare programs

    • Strengthened national defense (staunch anticommunist)

    • Got tough with labor unions in response to Labour Parties distinct movement left, which had strengthened labor unions politically

    • Returned to market force controls on the economy

    • Resisted complete integration into the European Union

    • Replaced property tax on houses with a poll tax on individual adults

    • Froze income tax increases

    • Foreign policy dominated by securing British interests internationally

Liberal-Democratic Party

  • Alliance between the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties during the 1980s

  • Formally merged in 1989 into Liberal Democratic party

  • Attempted to create strong “in the middle” compromise to the two dominant parties

  • Won a party high 26% of vote in 1983, but because of single-member district plurality system only secured 23 seats in Parliament

  • Secured only 62 MP seats in 2005 even though they won 22% of the popular vote

  • Also managed to gain support in reference to their stance on issues such as health, education, the environment, and the Iraq War

Other Parties

  • Scottish National Party

  • Plaid Cymru – Welch nationalist party

  • Sinn Fein – political arm of the IRA

  • Democratic Unionist Party – led by Protestant clergymen

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