'Politics' with a big 'P' is concerned with how we, individuals and
groups, relate to the state. This book commences with a definition of political
activity with a focus on conflict, and government and democracy. Britain is,
arguably, the oldest democracy in the world, though it took many centuries for
it to evolve into its current 'representative' form. Conflict
resolution depends on the political system involved. The book draws together all
the elements of government, explaining the British system of governance, which
is democracy but utilises representatives. Civil service advises ministers and
carries out the day- to-day running of government. The book then describes the
transformation of the British system of governance from an absolute monarchy to
a representative democracy. It examines how economic changes have affected
Britain over the centuries, and presents some thoughts on the absence of a
modern British revolution. It presents an account of Britain's economic
history, the class developments and differences, and the absence of a modern
revolution despite astonishing levels of income inequality. Factors that might
influence the political culture of Britain are discussed next. The book also
touches upon the sources of British constitution, the process of constitutional
amendments prevailing in the U.S. and Britain, current British politics, and the
development of pressure groups in Britain. Finally, the history of party
government in Britain, and details of the Conservative Party, Labour Party, the
Social and Liberal Democrats, House of Commons, and Britain's international
relations are discussed.
between different types of constitution and even
between different constitutions of the same type. In essence, the BritishConstitution can be described as unwritten, unitary, parliamentary, monarchical and
flexible, whereas the American one can be seen as written, federal, presidential,
republican and rigid. There are qualifications to be made to this categorisation,
as we shall see in this chapter.
POINTS TO CONSIDER
➤ What is a constitution?
➤ How important are constitutions?
➤ What advantages are there in having a codified constitution?
➤ How important are
Walter Bagehot, the most famous authority on the Britishconstitution, made a distinction in the nineteenth century between those aspects which were ‘dignified’ – those that had a mostly ceremonial function, like the monarchy, Privy Council and, to a degree, the House of Lords – and the ‘efficient’ or ‘working’ aspects – like the Commons, departments of state and the law courts. (Moran, 2005, p. 71, points out that ‘dignified’ is not precisely the correct word to describe some of the behaviour of the Royal Family in recent decades.)
British commonwealthman,22 but there is also internal evidence that Mably had
read several of the French translations of British commonwealth works.23 There
are also echoes of Bolingbroke’s ideas in Mably’s work, not least in his concern
about the influence of the Crown over Parliament and about the impact of the
rise of wealth and luxury.
Through Stanhope, Mably offered an analysis of the British system that
was typical of the commonwealth tradition. A certain degree of admiration for
the Britishconstitution was combined with a concern that the Revolution of
Seventeenth-century England and eighteenth-century France
ancient civilisations, and of the huge political,
economic and cultural differences between the ancient and modern worlds. In
the American case, factors such as the availability of land in America, the relative
youth of the country, and the fact that their King had lived over 3,000 miles away,
again restricted the applicability of American ideas and practices in France.4
By contrast, Britain was a country closer in size to France, and there were
parallels in the histories and political systems of the two nations. The existing
Britishconstitution was of interest to some
. The constitution is revered and well known in the United States and is the final word in legal disputes.
The Britishconstitution, in contrast, is famously ‘unwritten’ and has emerged, piecemeal, over a thousand years. Much of it is written, in fact, in the form of statute laws, which describe how, for example, elections should take place; but it is ‘uncodified’ – not gathered together in one document. After a period of virtually absolute rule, the monarch was forced to seek finance from advisory gatherings of nobles and leading families. These gatherings began to
, calls, perhaps unimaginatively, ‘departmentalitis’ (Kaufman, 1980). Senior civil servants are clever and persuasive and it is not difficult for some ministers to passively accept the advice and become, in effect, an ‘agent’ for departmental interests.
It is a fundamental of the Britishconstitution that ministers are individually responsible to Parliament for the work of their department. (Historically, responsibility was to the monarch but when Parliament moved into the ascendant, so did the location of the responsibility.) In theory
. His swipe against the English was not a
total dismissal of the Britishconstitution. Indeed, he praised the
Westminster system in Lettres écrites de la montagne (III: 848). What he
merely wanted to show was that Britain – at that time the only major
power to hold elections – was not an ideal polity.
In developing a model of constitutionalism, Rousseau stressed that the
people should be entitled to veto legislation lest the enactments of the
representatives should be in contravention of the General Will, i.e. represent
the Particular as opposed to the General Will
The book provides an analysis of the contemporary state of the British constitution, identifying ambiguities and the changing relationships at the heart of the constitution. It offers a succinct and accessible overview of the core features of how the UK is governed – the key principles and conventions underpinning the constitution and how they are under pressure. It is essential for anyone wanting to make sense of the UK constitution in a period of constitutional turbulence, not least following the referendum to leave the European Union, three general elections in five years, major judgments by the UK supreme court, governments suffering major defeats in the House of Commons, and pressure for more referendums, including on Scottish independence and on remaining in the European Union. Each chapter draws out a core feature of the constitution, not least a relationship between different organs of the state, and offers an explanation of its shape and operation and the extent to which it is changing. It examines the key principles underpinning the UK constitution, the extent to which they are contested, and how political behaviour is shaped by convention.
revisionist views to find their way into common currency.
The public were happy to accept the view of Gladstone,
who contrasted the US Founders’ act of creativity with the
slow development of the BritishConstitution, which to him
had had an equally successful outcome; the full quotation
is indeed: ‘As the BritishConstitution is the most subtle
organism which has proceeded from the womb and long
gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever
struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.’5