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The British Parliament and the Electoral system

TheBritish Paliament consists of the House of Lords and the House of Commons and the Queen as its head.

The House of Commons play the major role in lawmaking. It consists of Members of Parliament (called MPs for short), each.of whom represents an area in Ensland, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. MPs are elected either at a general election, or at a by-election following the death or retirement of an MP.

Parliamentary elections must be held every fî ve years, but the Prime Minister can decide on the exact date within those fî ve years. The minimum voting age is 18, and the voting is taken by secret ballot.

The election campaignlasts aboutthree weeks. The election is decided on a simple majority - thecandidate with most votes wins. An MP who wins by a small number of votes may have more votes against him (that is, for the other candidates) than for him. Many people think that it is unfair because the wishes of those who voted for the unsuccessuful candidates are not represented at all. The British parliamentary system depends on political parties. The political parties choose candidates in elections. The party which wins the majority of seats forms the Government and its leader usually becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Minister chooses about 20 MPs from his or her party to become the Cabinet of Ministers. Each minister is responsible for a particular area of the government. The second largest party becomes the official opposition with its own leader and 'Shadow cabinet'. Leader of the Opposition is a recognized post in the House of Commons.


Political parties first emerged in Britain at the end of the 17th century. The Conservative and Liberal Parties are the oldest and until the end of the 19th century they were the only parties elected to the House of Commons. The main British political groupings are the Conservative and Labour Parties and the Party of Liberal Democrats. The Conservative Party is the present ruling party, the Labour Party – the opposition to the Conservative - and the party of Liberal Democrats is called 'conservatively oriented’. The Social Democratic Party was formed in 1981 and made an alliance with the Liberal Party in 1988.

There are also some other parties: the Scottish National and Welsh Nationalist Parties, the Communist Party of Britain,

Because of the electoral method in use, only two major parties obtain seats in the House of Commons. People belonging to smaller political parties join one of the larger parties and work from within to make their influence felt. The exception to this are members of the Scottish National and Welsh Nationalist Parties, who, because their votes are concentrated in specific geographical areas, can manage win seats although their total support is relatively small.

The Conservative Party. The Conservative Party, often.called the Tory Party, one of those which can trace its roots back to this period. Today the Tory Party is that of big business, industry, commerce and landowners. Most of the money needed to run the party comes from large firms and companies. The party represents those who believe in private enterprise as opposed to state-owned undertakings. There is some division within the party itself: the more aristocratic wing and the lower-middle-class group. The Tories are а mixture of the rich and privileged-the monopolists and landowners. Conservative Party is the most powerful and is often called a party of business directors.

The word ‘tory’ means an Irish highwayman and was applied to the conservatives by their opponents but later adopted the name to describe themselves. The Tories opposed the ideas of the French Revolution, Parliamentary Reform and the development of Trade Unionism. They represent colonial policy. In home policy they opposed the tendencies of the Labour Party to nationalize gas, electricity, coal and railways. Today the Conservative Party can broadly be described as the party of the middle and upper classes.

The Liberal Party and the Labour Party. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Party are more than three hundred years оld. The Tories called the Liberals 'Whigs'. A ‘Whig’ was a Scottish preacher who could go on for 4 or 5 hours at a time preaching moralizing sermons. In the middle of the 19th century the Liberal Party represented the trading and manufacturing classes. Its slogan at that time was 'Civil and Religious Liberty’. William Gladstone headed the first administration (1868—74) and for long periods the Liberals had a Parliamentary majority. During the second half of the 19th century many working people looked at the Liberal Party as an alternative to the Conservatives and their policy.

At the end of the 19th century and in the first two decades of this; the Liberals lost the support of working-class voters. In 1988 the Liberal Party made an alliance with Social Democrats and the Party of Liberal Democrats was formed.

The Labour Party, formed in 1900, was the one which drew away working people's support. It was founded by the Trades Unions. When the Labour Government was first elected in 1945 it showed a considerable change in policy from the Tories.

Since 1924 the Labour Party has been in and out of power four times with the Conservatives forming the government for the rest of the time. The social system has remained unchanged. As a result of divisions within the Labour Party its right-wing members broke away in 1981 to form a new organization, the Social Democratic Party. The later fought the 1983 election in an alliance with the Liberals, but only a small number of their M Ps were elected. They would like to change the electoral system because they think the present system unfair.

Control questions:

1 Is there a written constitution in GB? What does the term “English Constitution” mean?

2 Which are the three branches of state power in the UK?

3 How are the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons elected?

4 Which are the two main political parties in GB?

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