INTRODUCTIONThe modern Britishstate has been the result of a long and peaceful evolution.It is the countrythat has introduced parliamentary democracy to the world. Britain was actually neveran absolutist monarchy. Before everywhere, in the period of feudalism, it beganto learn and practice restricting power. A well-known step of this is thedeclaration of Magna Carta, which signed between KingJohn and the feudal lords, limiting the power of the King against vassals. Bythe ninteenth century, Britain had already become a parliamentary democracy.
TheBill of Rights in 1689 and the Act of Union of 1707 were the othersarrangements that constituted the modern British state. However, The British arerespectful to their history and tradition. For this reason, even today they maintainthe tradion of the crown, although it occupies only a symbolic place ingoverning state. As time progresses, Britain continued to develop its coreprinciples, including parliamentary sovereignty, parliamentary democracy,unitary state and fusion of powers, which lie behind the state. 1.
BRITAIN, UK ANDENGLAND – WHAT’S WHAT ? TheBritish Isles, located off the northwest coast of Europe, include two sovereignstates. They are the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.The UK, or the United Kingdom of GreatBritain and Northern Ireland is the name used to define the geopoliticalentity under the direct control of the British Parliament. The UK includes allthe British Isles, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland, the Isle ofMan, and the Channel Islands.
The Parliament based in London is the UKParliament, and there is no separate English Parliament, despite the existenceof parliaments in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a National Assembly inWales . Britain, or GreatBritain is the largest of the two main islands that make up the British Isles.However the term is often used synonymously with the United Kingdom – and evenin very official contexts. As an island off the shore ofEurope, Britain had for centuries relatively more security against invasion andconquest than the other European states.
So, the Britons have felt themselvesas separate from the Continental Europe.2. HISTORICALDEVELOPMENT OF THE BRITAIN STATE2.1 Upto The Seventeenth Century In 1066, Duke William of Normandy overcame the Englishin the Battle of Hastings and eventually extended his authority throughout theBritish Isles, except for Scotland. Royal pressure over feudal barons increasedafter 1066, but therule of King John (1199–1216) was very strict and this led to opposition fromfeudal barons.
In 1215, they forced him to consent to contract the Magna Carta,a series of privileges that protected them from abuses of royal power. With theMagna Carta, violation of local laws and customs by the King was started to beprevented . In 1236, the term parliament was first used officially for the gatheringof feudal barons summoned by the king to consult them about local problems andto receive vassals’ consent for special taxesç This was animportant step on the road to the establishment of the parliamentary system.
Inother words, the British Parliament began to rise in the 13th century. By thefifteenth century, Parliament had eventually gained the right to make laws. In the sixteenthcentury, the legislation unified England and Wales legally, politically andadministratively. In 1603, James VI of Scotland came to the English throne. Untilthe Act of Union of 1707 , Scotland and England remained separate kingdoms withsame kings.
After that, a common Parliament of Great Britain replaced the twoseparate parliaments of Scotland and of England and Wales.2.2 TheBritain in The Seventeenth Century In seventeenth centuryBritain experienced religious conflicts, national rivalries, and strugglesbetween local rulers and Parliament. These conflicts led to the British civilwars and later the removal of James II in 1688. This vent called Glorious Revolution of 1688 also ended long-standing religious conflict.
Thereplacement of the Roman Catholic James II by the Protestant William and Mary ensuredthe dominance of the Church of England (or Anglican Church),even today. After that, the Britain has been seen as amodel of domestic peace and stability.2.3 TheIndustrial Revolution and the British Empire Britainis the motherland of the industrial revolution and the first industrializedcountry. The IndustrialRevolution led to social and economic changes and created pressures to make thecountry more democratic. So, we can say that the Industrial Revolution transformedthe British state and changed the British way of life.By1800, the Britain was selling the vast majority of finished goods overseas. So,the growth was depended on foreign markets, not on domestic consumption.
BecauseBritain needed overseas trade, its rulers were aggressive to capture foreign marketsand expand the empire. Backed by the British navy, England followedexpansionist and colonialist policies. In a short time, international trademade England the dominant military and economic world power. By 1900, the British Empire had 25 percent of theworld’s population and exercised direct colonial rule over 50 countries.
Britain became an hegemonic power and controlled alliances and theinternational economic order and domestic political developments in countriesthroughout the world.Inthe late 1820s, the first major important step toward democratization began,when the propertied classes and increasing popular unrest pressed Parliament toexpand the right to vote. With passing of the Reform Act of 1832, only asection of the male middle class had the right to vote. But, the Representationof the People Act of 1867 increased the electorate to 16 percent from 7. TheFranchise Act of 1884 nearly doubled the electorate. Finally ,the Representationof the People Act of 1918 included nearly all adult men and women over agethirty. So, the struggle for vote took place mostly without violence, but itlasted for centuries.
2.4 Britainin the Era of World Wars (1914-1945) Stateinvolvement in the economy increased during World War I (1914–1918). The statetook control of numerous industries. It set prices and restricted the flow ofcapital abroad, and channelled resources into war production. After World WarI, the state resisted demands for workers’control over production. There weretensions between free-market principlesand interventionist practices . These tensions deepened with the Great Depressionof 1929 and World War II (1939– 1945).
Fear of depression and passions for abetter life after the war, transformed the role of the state and led to aperiod of unusual political harmony. 2.5 The Period of Collectivist Consensus (1945-1979)After World War II, most Britons and allmajor political parties in Britain agreed that governments should work tonarrow the gap between rich and poor, and provide for basic necessities throughsocial services such as public education, national health care, and other policiesof the welfare state.
Also, stateresponsibility for economic growth and full employment was agreed. Thisconsensus in British politics was named as collectivism. In time, however, economicdownturn and political stagnation unravelled the consensus.2.6 Margaret Thatcher and the Enterprise Culture(1979–1990)The economic stagnation of 1970s declined competitiveness of British industriesin international markets, and in turn, this fueled industrial strife. Whatever Conservative or Labour, no government could managethe economy.
Either Edward Heath’s Conservative government (1970–1974) or theLabour government of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan (1974–1979) could notresolve the economic problems and the political tensions. The country underwentstrikes throughout the winter of 1978–1979 that was named as winter ofdiscontent. Margaret Thatcher won the leadership of theConservative Party in 1975 and embarked on a set of policies after theConservatives returned to power in 1979. She re-elected in 1983 and 1987 andnever lost a general election.
According to Thatcher, collectivism wasresponsible for weaking of the British industry. To reverse Britain’s relativeeconomic power, Thatcher started to cuttaxes, reduce social services, and use government policy to revive competitivenessand efficiency in the private sector. In her prime ministry (1979-1990) she followed a firm neoliberal path. Nevertheless,Thatcher also followed an authoritarian populist style . In 1990, Thatcher’sown Conservative Party forced her tosuddenly resign because of her high-handed leadership style and anti-EUposition. John Major replaced her and served as prime minister to 1997 whenConservative party was defeated by Tony Blair’s New Labour.2.7 NewLabour’s Third WayTony Blair and Gordon Brown modernized theLabour Party.
The reinvented New Labour ( its official name remained LabourParty.) offered a third way, an alternative to Thatcherism and the collectivismof traditional Labour. New Labour won in 1997 with support from a large socioeconomiccircle, because it rejected interest-based politics and more importantly thehistoric ties between Labour governments and the trade unions and emphasizedpartnership with business. But after Labour came to power, Blair and Browneventually became rivals. The British government increasingly began to looklike a dual executive. Brown was incharge of domestic policies and Blair was responsible for foreign affairs.Blair pulled the England in the US- led war in Iraq.
Blair’s this decision wasvery unpopular, and in return, his parliamentary majority was decreased bynearly 100 seats in May 2005. In June 2007, Blair resigned and Gordon Brown becameprime minister. Although Brown was an effective politician, he could not preventseverege economic downturn stemming from 2008 Global Crisis and lost the 2010election. 2.
8 The Conservative–Liberal Coalition after theElection of 2010David Cameron was elected the Conservatives’party leader in 2005. Cameron consciously adopted much of Blair’s early appealand reached out to youth and promoted agendas, such as climate change andcitizen activism. So, the result of May 2010 election was the first hungparliament in British history, an outcome after a general election when no partycan by itself control a majority of the seats in parliament. As a result, theConservatives as the first party in the election formed the coaliton withLiberal Democrats. The coalition government, as New Labour did before, rejectedideological stances and strove to comply the Conservative commitment to freemarket policy with the Liberal Democrat commitment to decentralization.
Theresult is the idea of Big Society thatargues for initiatives to empower ordinary citizens to take control over theirlives and to shift the balance of power from the sate to communities.3. FEATURESOF THE BRITISH CONSTITUTIONThe UnitedKingdom is one of the few countries of the world that does not have a writtenconstitution. There is no single unified and authoritative text.Sources of the British constitution includes statutory law (mainly acts of Parliament),common law, convention, and authoritative interpretations.
From among them, onlyacts of Parliament and authoritative interpretations are written. In fact, whatdistinguishes the British constitution from others is not that it is unwritten,but rather that it is part written and uncodified. This uncodified constitution has largely developed out ofhistoric English law, since many of its founding principles and essential lawsgo back to charters and bills, such as Bill of Rights and Act of Union of 1707, that were drawn up by the Englishparliament. The acts of Parliament define the powers of Parliamentand its relationship with the monarchy, the rights governing the relationshipbetween state and citizen, the relationship of constituent nations to theUnited Kingdom, the relationship of the United Kingdom to the EU, and manyother rights and legal arrangements. 4.
COREPRINCIPLES OF THE BRITISH STATEThe core feature of the British systemis parliamentary sovereignty.Accordingly, Parliament can make or overturn any law; the executive, thejudiciary, and the throne can not restrict or overturn the parliamentaryaction. The prime minister is responsible to the House of Commons and may bedismissed by it.
However, the challenge of parliamentary sovereignty in Englandis that, by joining the European Economic Community in 1973 and accepting theauthority of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to resolve jurisdictional disputes, Parliament restricted its power to act. Ithas acknowledged that European law overrides British law. However, when theprocess of Brexit conclude, the Parliament will regain its strenght. Secondly,Britain has long been a unitary state.By contrast to the United States,no powers are reserved for subnational unitsin the United Kingdom.
However, Tony Blair embarked on a far-reaching constitutionalreform that created a quasi-federal system and decentralziation. Some powers havebeen devolved to legislative bodies in Scotland and Wales, and to NorthernIreland as well. In addition, the otherdevelopment on decentralizatain is that powers have been redistributed from theWestminster Parliament to directly elected mayor of London.
Third, Britain has a system of fusion of powers. Parliament is constitutionallythe supreme legislative, executive, and judicial authority and includes themonarch as well as the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We can explicitlysee the fusion of legislature and executive in the cabinet.
The British cabinethas grand constitutional responsibility, unlike the US Congress. The cabinet iscollectively responsible to Parliament. Through that collective responsibility,it shapes, directs, and takes responsibility for government. The prime ministeris not independently from the cabinet .
However, this core principle may be observedmore in principle than in practice. Particularly with strong prime ministers, suchas Thatcher and Blair, power is concentrated on the prime minister because of lacking effective checks andbalances and separation of powers among the branches of government. He/she hastendency to bypass the cabinet on important matters. So, Britain has the riskof the danger of excessive concentration of power by a prime minister who is readyto manipulate cabinet.Britain is also a constitutional monarchy, but thegovernment must use nearly all powers of the Crown that has only symbolicpowers.