Learning the political game


Many people are not interested in politics, but you certainly can’t avoid it when it’s discussed everywhere. And there’s still so much I need to learn about British politics. On some levels, it is similar to the US, but on many others, it is completely different.

It’s easy to understand the election of a Member of Parliament (MP) for each constituency. That’s like voting for a Congressman or Senator. But unlike the US, the voters do not choose the Prime Minister (PM). He/she is voted for within their party. Of course, when they go to the polls, the people already have an idea who the party leaders are, and that may influence their vote for their MP. Whereas the US has Congress and the Senate, the UK has the House of Commons and the House of Lords. However, the people only vote for their MP in the House of Commons. The Lords are appointed or inherited.

One of the most notable differences is that the UK has 3 major political parties and various minor ones, some of whom have seats in parliament. The US really only has 2 parties and a load of little, almost invisible, ones. But if you look at the political affiliations of the Congress and Senate, they only belong to the 2 parties. Once in a while, you’ll get someone who decides to call himself an Independent. The party in power makes up their cabinet, just like the US president does. However, the two other parties will make their own ‘shadow cabinets’. It’s an interesting concept and it makes for some heated debate between two or three ministers who are well-versed in their roles. In the US, you have politicians forming committees and one person may be on several committees. Then, you’d have all of them acting as watchdogs for everybody else.

What I’m still trying to learn is how the UK government is tied together. It seems that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own parliaments. Is there a UK parliament? Then there are issues about how the UK fits into the EU scheme of things. More to explore from that end. There are still many debates going on about whether the UK should fully integrate into the EU, stay the same, or withdraw. Other questions that have sprung up are, who gets to vote over here? It is just British citizens? There’s some talk that EU residents are allowed to vote. Is that fair? Unfair? There are arguments about ‘taxation without representation’, so it may be that EU residents can vote. Maybe someone out there knows and can enlighten me.

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3 Comments on “Learning the political game

  • Hello.

    Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own Parliaments (or Assemblies) with differing relations to the UK Parliament.

    There is no English Parliament, the Parliament in Westminster is both the UK Parliament and the English Parliament. Its power over Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland varies according to the extent of devolution in each of the other ‘nations’.

    There have been proposals for English Regional Assemblies, or an English Parliament, but these have, so far, come to nothing.

    The whole system is, as you can see, very asymmetric and confusing. Prior to 1999 there was only the UK Parliament in London (although Northern Ireland had a Parliament from partition in 1922 to the early 70s).

    In terms of the timing of general elections, the Queen dissolves Parliament and calls a new general election when advised to do so by the Prime Minister or if the government loses a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons (which last happened in 1979). A general election must take place every five years regardless of whether the Prime Minister wants it or not (the next one must occur before June 2010). The only exception to this last rule is that both Houses can extend the life of a Parliament by one year at a time during wartime (this has only happened during the two World Wars), however, this would normally require a cross-party wartime coalition government to be formed. Normally at least three weeks notice is given of an election to allow for campaigning.

    All UK and Irish citizens can vote in parliamentary general elections in the UK. All EU citizens can vote in European Parliament elections anywhere in the EU. UK and EU (and possibly some Commonwealth) citizens can register and vote in local elections.

    I hope that this helps.


  • Thank you for the political lesson. That was useful, but I won’t be able to vote. I find it funny that EU citizens can come here and vote for local elections. I realise that the outcome affects them, but in the US, you can’t be a resident/citizen of one state and vote in another state unless you give up your residency in the first state.

    Yank’s last blog post.A traditional British Mayday Fayre

  • The EU is basically there for trade, it was originally set up in the 50s for coal and steel trade and to prevent any more big European wars. The current purpose of the EU is to make travel, trade and agriculture easy between member states and to wield abit more power as one entity. The debate about further integration really comes down to the fear that the UK will loose its sovereignty if it gets closer to the EU, supporters say its good for the economy to be more integrated. The reason the UK hasnt addopted the eurozone currency is because historically the pound has been much stronger than the euro although in the current crisis it doesnt look like it will stay that way for much longer!

    The thing to remember about politics in the UK is that it is a very old system and is therefore very confusing hehe, so dont worry if it seems ridiculous or complicated! Its also worth pointing out that at any time, Westminster can disolve the Scotish, Welsh or Northern Irish assemblies/parliaments by passing an Act of Parliament, they are not sovereign bodies they simply have devolved power granted to them by Westminster.

    Hope that helps!

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