Political systems of france and britain Essay

This essay has a total of 3086 words and 19 pages.

political systems of france and britain

COMPARITIVE POLITICS
SEMINAR II - A DESCRIPTION OF TWO WESTERN EUROPEAN POLITICAL SYSTEMS
FRANCE AND GREAT BRITAIN


INTRODUCTION

I chose these two systems, which interest me for different reasons. The British system is
one that has evolved over many centuries, with both small and large adjustments along the
way to keep in on course. In contrast to this, the French model has changed dramatically
on several occasions, and can rarely have been described as stable. However, in 1958
Charles de Gaulle made some brave changes to the constitution, which after being approved
by the French public, set the scene for the classic semi-presidential system that we see
today.


Despite these opposing histories, there are many similarities between the two systems, which I intend to discuss.


BRITAIN

The United Kingdom is a democratic constitutional monarchy, with a system of government
often known as the Westminster Model. It has been used as a model of governance in many
countries, and undoubtedly indirectly inspired many more.


Somewhat unusually, the constitution is unwritten, consisting of conventions along with
statutory law and common law, which are collectively referred to as British constitutional
law.


The head of state and theoretical source of executive and legislative power in the UK is
the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. In theory, the British sovereign can
dissolve Parliament whenever they desire. They can in theory choose any British citizen to
be Prime Minister, even if they are not a member of the House of Commons or House of
Lords. Theoretically, the Sovereign possesses the ability to refrain from granting Royal
Assent to a Bill from Parliament, in addition to being able to declare war and appoint
ministers.

In practice, the head of state is a largely ceremonial role, with powers restricted by
convention. However, the monarch holds three essential rights, the right to be consulted,
the right to advise and the right to warn. Also, as the position of head of state tends to
be held for a longer period of time than that of Prime Minister, the monarch builds up
lots of experience and wisdom which is at the disposal of the government.

Thus the political head of the UK is the Prime Minister(PM), who must be supported by the House of Commons.
The executive branch of the UK system is the Government (or more formally, Her Majesty's
Government). The monarch appoints (or in reality, approves) a Prime Minister, who in turn
appoints other Members of Parliaments (MPs) to act as Ministers, who are collectively
known as the Government, and head the various government departments. The cabinet is the
most senior group of government ministers, and usually numbers around 20.


The Government is answerable to parliament, from which its members are taken. A vote of no
confidence can be called if any government-sponsored bill is defeated in the Commons. If
the vote of no confidence is passed, the PM must either resign, or ask the monarch to
dissolve parliament, and call a general election. In practice, since a government usually
holds a majority in the Commons, and party ‘whips' try to ensure that party members
support the government, governments are likely to win all but the most controversial
votes.

If however, a government doesn't have a large majority, then it will do it can to bring
‘backbench' MPs into line, and call three-line whips - i.e. votes that are compulsory
for MPs to attend, sometimes even being brought in from hospital beds to vote.


PARLIAMENT

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme
legislative institution in the United Kingdom and British overseas territories (it alone
has parliamentary sovereignty). It consists of a head of state (currently Queen Elizabeth
II), a bicameral system with an upper house - House of Lords, and a lower house - House of
Commons

At its head is the Sovereign; it also includes an Upper House, called the House of Lords,
and a Lower House, called the House of Commons. The House of Lords is an almost wholly
appointed body. The House of Commons, on the other hand, is a democratically elected
chamber. The House of Lords and the House of Commons meet in separate chambers in the
Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament), in central London.

The British Parliament is often called the "Mother of Parliaments," as the legislative
bodies of many nations—most notably, those of the members of the Commonwealth—are
modelled on it. However, it is a misquotation of John Bright, who had actually remarked on
18 January 1865 that "England is the Mother of Parliaments", in the context of supporting
demands for expanded voting rights in a country which had pioneered Parliamentary
government.

The differences between the constituent members of the UK are interesting, England,
despite being the most developed, populous and richest member, is the only one without its
own devolved government.



House of Commons

The UK is divided into parliamentary constituencies of broadly equal population (decided
by the Boundaries Commission), each of which elects a Member of Parliament to the House of
Commons. The leader of the party with the largest number of MPs is invited by the monarch
to form a government, and becomes the Prime Minister. The leader of the second largest
party becomes the Leader of the Opposition.


There is usually a majority in Parliament, thanks to the First Past the Post electoral
system so coalitions are rare. The monarch normally asks a person commissioned to form a
government simply whether it can survive in the House of Commons, something which minority
governments can do, albeit with more problems than a majority government.






The House of Lords

The Lords has traditionally been the upper chamber, with a hereditary, aristocratic
character. However, largely under Labour initiatives it has undergone dramatic reform,
which is still in progress. There still remain some hereditary peers, but most are
nowadays appointed peers. It holds powers to suggest amendments, and delay legislation,
which mean that the Commons often seeks a compromise position to get a bill passed through
the Lords.


Civil service
The civil service is a part of the executive, the difference being that it is politically
neutral, and so must be prepared to work with any government.

The central core of the civil service is organised into a number of Departments of State.
Each Department is led politically by a senior Minister, supported by a small team of
junior Ministers. In most cases the senior Minister is known as a Secretary of State and
is a member of the Cabinet. Administrative management of the Department is led by a head
civil servant known in most Departments as a Permanent Secretary. The majority of the
civil service staff in fact work in executive agencies, which are separate operational
organisations reporting to Departments of State.


Devolution

Devolution is a fairly recent trend that has changed the face of British politics.
Scotland now has its own parliament, and Wales and Northern Ireland both have national
assemblies. Most members of these new bodies are elected using Proportional
Representation, unlike the Commons. The powers of these bodies is restricted, and are
always dependent on the Commons for their existence, which can be altered at any time.

So the UK can still be said to be a unitary system, albeit one with a devolve system of government.
The present policy of the UK Government is to increase national and regional devolution.
The opportunity to elect a regional tier of elected government was to be offered to some
of the regions of England, was accepted by referendum in London, but was rejected in a
referendum in North East England and is now less likely to be offered elsewhere.


Local Government

Local Authorities make up the local government map of the UK, which can be further
subdivided in some areas. Local elections determine the councillors who make up the
Councils which control the Local Authorities.

These bodies are responsible for local issues such as administering education, public
transport, and looking after public spaces.

Parishes have councils too and some are known as city or town councils. These councils are
either made up of elected parish councillors, or in very small parishes, they use direct
democracy.


Elections
Various electoral systems are used in the UK:
The First Past the Post system is used for general elections, and also local government
elections in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Additional Member System was introduced after devolution in 1999 for the Scottish
Parliament, Welsh Assembly and London Assembly.

The Single Transferable Vote system is used to elect the Northern Ireland Assembly and
Northern Ireland's local councils.

The party list is used for European Parliament elections.
The Supplementary Vote is used to elect directly-elected mayors, such as the Mayor of London.
In the last few elections, voter mandates for Westminster in the 40% ranges have been
swung into 60% parliamentary majorities. No government has won a majority of the popular
vote since the National Government of Stanley Baldwin in 1935. Twice since World War II
the party with fewer popular votes actually came out with the larger number of seats (in
1951 and February 1974). One reason for all the quirks is that Britain has many political
parties, making it possible to win individual constituencies on less than 50% of the vote
due to the opposition votes being divided.





FRANCE

One of the first things we notice that is different about the French system, is that has a
written constitution. It is worth examining this in order to evaluate the aims of the
French public bodies.

In this Constitution, France declares herself to be an indivisible, laique (roughly,
"secular") democratic and social republic. There is a clear separation of powers, into the
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