The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Status and the Government of the UK

Category: Politics

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The monarch of the UK represents the royal power. The king or the queen of the UK is the head of the state. This monarch is also the head of the state of the fifteen other Commonwealth countries. It is a well-known fact that the monarch of the country reigns but doesn’t rule.

Buckingham Palace is the official winter residence of the Royal family in London. It was built by the Duke of Buckingham in 1705 and bought by King George III in 1761.

Windsor Castle is another official residence of the British monarch. It has been a Royal home and fortress for over 900 years. Today the Castle is a working palace, used as a summer residence.

The Parliament or Westminster Parliament is the legislative body of the UK. It is located in the Palace of Westminster. The Parliament is made up of the monarch and two houses.

- The elected House of Commons is the lower house: it plays the major role in lawmaking and consists of 659 members of the Parliament (MPs for short); this house is presided over by the Speaker.

- The appointed House of Lords is the upper house: it consists of peers and lords; this house is presided over by the Lord Chancellor who sits on a special seat, called the Woolsack. A woolsack (a sack for wool): The Woolsack has been the official seat of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords since the 14th century when wool was the main item of the English export.

General elections to the Parliament are held every five years.

Do you know it?

Front-benches: the leading members of the ruling parties who occupy the first two rows of the seats in the House of Commons.

Back-benchers: i.e. the members of the minority political parties in the House of Commons.

The UK’s three major political parties are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party. They appeared in Britain at the end of the 17th century.

The Conservative Party, which is the ruling party in the UK, is often called the Tory Party. The word “tory” means an Irish highwayman and was applied to the conservatives by their opponents. The Labour Party is the other ruling party that was founded by the Trade Unions, and has always been the opposition to the Conservative Party. The members of the Liberal Party were called Whigs by the Tories. A whig was a Scottish preacher, who could go on for four or five hours at a time preaching moralizing sermons. The party stopped existing in 1988. The Party of Liberal Democrats was formed in 1988 on the basis of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party; the latter appeared in 1981.

The Conservative and Liberal Parties are the oldest parties. They were the only parties elected to the House of Commons until the end of the 19th century.

Westminster Palace is the place where the British Parliament sits. The north-eastern part of this palace is the clock tower Big Ben, named by the Londoners after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell. As Sir Benjamin was a very tall man, his nickname was Big Ben.

The Prime Minister represents the executive branch of power and is the UK‟s head of the government. He/she is the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons and this very party forms the British government. The Prime Minister presides over the Cabinet, which consists of 20 ministers or Ministers of the Crown. They are traditionally chosen from the members of the Prime Minister‟s party. The first woman prime minister of Britain was Margaret Thatcher.

10 Downing Street or Number 10 in London is the official residence of the Prime Minister. It is situated near the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Number 10 is almost three hundred years old and has 100 rooms.

The Shadow Cabinet or His or Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is the cabinet in opposition to the Prime Minister‟s cabinet. It consists of the members of the second largest party. The Shadow Cabinet‟s responsibility is to criticize the government and to offer alternative policies.

The UK is one of the three countries in the world, along with New Zealand and Israel, that has no single constitutional document. The main constitutional document is the Magna Carta (Charta) signed by King John in 1215. Although there is no written constitution in the UK, the UK‟s unwritten constitution governs the country and consists mostly of written sources, including statutes, court judgements and European treaties.

The judicial power in the UK is partially represented by the monarch, the constitution and the High Court.

Thus, the four branches of power in the UK are represented by:

- the Monarch (the royal power);

- the Parliament and its Houses (the legislative power);

- the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (the executive power);

- the Monarch, the Constitution and the High Court (the independent judicial power).

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