Government Structure and Bodies

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy: Queen Elizabeth II is the official Head of State. The Queen rules symbolically; in reality, power belongs to Parliament. So, although the Queen 'opens' Parliament each year and laws are passed in her name, the Queen herself plays no part in determining decisions made in Parliament. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties.

The Constitution of the United Kingdom consists mostly of a collection of written sources, including statutes, judge-made law, and international treaties. The UK Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the power to change or abolish almost any element of the constitution.

The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world—a legacy of the British Empire. The Parliament of the United Kingdom that meets in the Palace of Westminster has two houses: an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords, and any Bill passed requires Royal Assent to become law. It is the ultimate legislative authority in the United Kingdom.

The House of Lords is made up of people who have inherited family titles and those who have been given titles because of their outstanding work in one field or another. There are 675 members of the Lords. The main job of the House of Lords is to 'double check' new laws to make sure they are fair and will work.

For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 650 constituencies. Each constituency elects one Member of Parliament by simple plurality. General Elections are called by the Monarch when the Prime Minister advises. Though there is no minimum term for a Parliament, the Parliament Act (1911) requires that a new election must be called within five years of the previous general election.

The position of Prime Minister, the UK's head of government, belongs to the Member of Parliament who obtains the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons, usually the current leader of the largest political party in that chamber. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are formally appointed by the Monarch to form Her Majesty's Government, though the Prime Minister chooses the Cabinet, and by convention the Queen respects the Prime Minister's choices. The Cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the Prime Minister's party in both legislative houses, and mostly from the House of Commons, to which they are responsible. The executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, all of whom become Ministers of the Crown.

2.Answer the questions to the text:

1. Why is Great Britain known as a constitutional monarchy?

2. What are the formal functions retained by the Queen?

2. What are the main principles of the British Constitution by which Great Britain is governed?

3. What is the structure of the government in Great Britain?

4. How is Parliament elected in the United Kingdom of Great Britain?

4. Who takes the position of Prime Minister in the UK?

5. Whom is the executive power exercised in Great Britain?

6. Who appoints the Prime Minister and Cabinet?

3.Do you agree with the following statements? Why?

1. Parliament is made up of three parts:

1. The Queen

2. The House of Lords

3. The House of Commons

2. The Queen doesn’t have any recognized responsibilities in the British monarchy.

3. Parliament is where politicians (MPs) meet to decide laws and make decisions for the United Kingdom. It is not the same as the Government (which runs the country). One of the jobs Parliament does is to check that the Government is running the country properly.

4. The election of all Members of Parliament (MPs) for each constituency (local area) is called a General Election. In the UK they vote for the best candidate in the local area to be represented in the House of Commons.

5. Each MP represents one of 650 constituencies (areas) in the UK and is a member of a political party.

6. General elections have to take place at least every four years and are called by the Prime Minister (the leader of the Government).

7. British voters do not choose their Prime Minister (PM). He/she is voted for within their political party.

8. In the 2007 General Election the Labour Party won the most seats, its leader at the time, Tony Blair, was asked to form the government.

1.Read the text and give a brief description of the British party system.

Major Political Parties

Three parties currently dominate the national political landscape in Britain: the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour Party has only been in government for four short periods of the 20th century. It was last in government between 1997 and 2010 under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The party won a 179-seat majority in the 1997 general election under the leadership of Tony Blair, its first general election victory since October 1974. The party's large majority in the House of Commons was substantially reduced to 66 in 2005. Having won 258 seats in the 2010 general election, the Labour Party is the Official Opposition today.

The Labour Party has historically been a left-of-centre one. It was broadly in favour of socialism and advocated socialist policies such as equality of opportunity, social justice, economic planning, public ownership of key industries, government intervention in the economy, redistribution of wealth, increased rights for workers, the welfare state, publicly-funded healthcare and education. Beginning in the late-1980s and subsequently under Tony Blair, the party moved away from socialist positions and adopted free market policies, leading many observers to describe the Labour Party as Social Democratic or Third Way, rather than democratic socialist.

The Labour Party was supported by the trade unions, the working class and some of the middle class. Its electoral strongholds are historically in Scotland, south Wales and the Midland and northern English industrial cities. But traditional class-based support has changed with more social and job mobility. Tony Blair modernized the party by moving to the centre, captured some voters from the Conservatives and distanced himself from the trade unions.

The modern Conservative Party was founded in 1834 and is an outgrowth of the Tory movement or party, which began in 1678. Today it is still referred to as the Tory Party and its members as Tories. The Conservative Party is a right-of-centre party. It regards itself as a national one and appeals to people across class barriers. It emphasizes personal, social and economic freedom, individual ownership of property and shares, law and order.

The party’s support comes mainly from business interests, the middle and upper classes, but a sizeable number of skilled workers and women vote Conservative. Its strongholds are in southern England, with scattered support elsewhere in the country.

Currently the Conservatives is the largest political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to a centre-right philosophy of conservatism and British unionism. The Conservative Party won the largest number of seats at the 2010 general election, returning 307 MPs, though not enough to make an overall majority. As a result of negotiations following the election, they entered a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats to form a majority government. Its party leader, David Cameron, is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

David Cameron announced his intention to reform and realign the Conservative Party, saying they needed to change the way they looked, felt, thought and behaved, advocating a more centre-right stance as opposed to their recent staunchly right-wing platform. Although Cameron's views are probably left of the party membership and he has sought to make the Conservative brand more attractive to young, socially liberal voters, he has also expressed his admiration for former PM Margaret Thatcher, describing himself as a "big fan of Thatcher's. Since the election of David Cameron, the party policy has increasingly focused on social and quality of life issues such as the environment, government services (most prominently the National Health Service and the Home Office) and schools.

The Liberal Democrats are the third-largest party in the UK Parliament, behind Labour and the Conservatives. They were formed in 1988 by a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. Promoting social liberalism, Lib Dems seek to minimize state intervention in personal affairs: they oppose what they call the 'nanny state'. While objecting to state limitations of individual rights, they favour a welfare state that provides for the necessities and amenities of life.

They support multilateral foreign policy. The party opposed British participation in the War in Iraq and support withdrawal of troops from the country. The Lib Dems are the most pro-EU of the three main parties in the UK. The party has strong environmentalist values – favouring renewable energy and commitments to deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Since their foundation, the Lib Dems have advocated an electoral reform to use proportional representation (a system which would increase their number of seats), replacing the House of Lords with an elected chamber, and cutting government departments.

1.Answer the questions to the text:

1. How many major political parties are there in Great Britain? What are they?

2. What is the current ruling party in the UK? Who is its leader?

3. What is the largest opposition party?

3. What are the modern concepts of the three parties?

2.Agree or disagree with the statements.

1. The main political parties represented in Parliament today are the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrats.

2. The party with the most MPs after a general election usually forms the Government. The next largest party becomes the official Opposition.

3. The modern Labour Party is supported by the trade unions, the working class and some of the middle class.

4. The current leader of the Conservatives acts as the Leader of the Opposition, heads the Shadow Government, and is a left-of-center politician.

5. The Conservatives are a political party with centrist policies, advocating an electoral reform with a view to use proportional representation and replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber.

4.Points for discussion:

1. The role of the parties in British society.

2. Is a multi-party system an integral feature of the political life of a country?

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