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The British Government: characteristics of the political system in the United Kingdom

To understand English politics, it is necessary to know the form of government of the United Kingdom, as well as the territorial division of this country. In this article we tell you the history of this system and the characteristics it currently has.

Below you have an index with all the points that we are going to deal with in this article.

Political system

The form of government of the United Kingdom is the parliamentary monarchy. That is, there is a king or monarch, but the government is exercised by a group of people chosen by the citizens.

The system of this country does not have a written Constitution, but consists of the set of ordinary laws that are passed. This allows to modify it without going through long and expensive procedures.

A similar situation occurs in the Law, where there is no common document. In this country they are governed by the so-called Common law, which could be translated as Common Law.

This method is governed by a set of unwritten and not promulgated standards. A judge, when making a decision, relies on the resolution carried out in other similar cases of the past.

On the other hand, the monarch is the head of state and his functions are properly representative. He also has the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

The executive branch belongs to the government. At his head is the prime minister (known in other countries as president), who is usually the leader of the party with more members in the House. With him is the Cabinet of Ministers, which does not have a fixed number.

The legislative power is in the hands of the Parliament, whose seat is in the Palace of Westminster, in London. This is bicameral and each part is organized in a different way:

  • House of Commons (House of Commons): equivalent to the Lower House of other countries. It is made up of 650 members, who are elected by free universal suffrage every five years.
  • House of Lords (House of Lords): It does not have a fixed number and its participants are not elected by citizens. There are two types of Lords: the temporary, appointed by the monarch (most are life charges), and the spiritual, 26 components of the Church.

Today, the House of Lords has an advisory task, since it no longer has the capacity to veto the laws. However, they can stop them for a year.

Historical background

To understand the type of current government of the United Kingdom and the territory it occupies, it is worth reviewing some key moments in its history. At the beginning of the 17th century, in this territory they continued to rule absolutist kings.

Under the mandate of Carlos I, there began to be clashes between absolutists and those who wanted more power for Parliament, which triggered a civil war that lasted from 1642 to 1648. In 1649 the Republic is declared, known as Commonwealth.

However, in 1660 the monarchy was reestablished in the hands of Carlos II. Behind him came James II, who William III de Orange-Nassau dethroned in the so-called Glorious Revolution.

It was then, in 1689, when a parliamentary monarchy through the Bill of Rights. In Parliament, the tories (noble supporters of the king), and the whigs (bourgeois defenders of parliamentary power) agree to take turns in government.

In the 18th century, the United Kingdom retained its thirteen British colonies in North America. However, in 1763, the English government increased taxes on the colonies, a starting point for a group of workers, the so-called Children of Freedom, boycott English goods: this fact is remembered as the Tea Riot.

English tax policy in the colonies resulted in the War of Independence, which began in 1775 and ended in 1783, when the Peace of Versailles was signed and, therefore, the independence of the United States of America.

On the other hand, in full imperial policy, the United Kingdom was occupying India until it had absolute control in 1857. It is from 1920 when, through the movement promoted by Mahatma Gandhi, the protest against British domination begins. It is in 1947 when this territory also becomes independent.

If you are interested in learning about the history of the capital of the United Kingdom, you can find it in the following article: Brief summary of the history of London (England).

The first Minister

Throughout history, a large number of prime ministers have been succeeding in the United Kingdom, whose function has been to coordinate the government. Among them, these are some of the most prominent, of which we indicate their years of government:

  • Robert Walpole (1721-1742): He was the first to hold this position. It belonged to the Whig Party, that is, the Liberal.
  • William Pitt (1783-1802 and 1804-1806): he is the youngest prime minister in British history, since he came to power with only 24 years. In his tenure, the United Kingdom of Great Britain joined Ireland, a fact that marked the beginning of the 19th century.
  • Winston churchill (1940-1945 and 1951-1955): presided during World War II. Before holding the position, he predicted Hitler's rise and the danger this could pose.
  • Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990): also known as the Iron lady. Its popularity increased thanks to the victory in the Falklands War, in 1982. It was the first woman to reach the presidency and remained a total of three terms.
  • Tony Blair (1997-2007): He participated in the Azores Summit of 2003, so he seconded the Iraq war. This cost him his political reputation.
  • David Cameron (2010-2016): organized the referendum on the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union, known as Brexit. As he won the "no" to stay, he resigned.


Today, the British royal family is the most advanced in terms of policy of transparency from all over Europe. Every year it publishes all the expenses that have been carried out in detail: hiring of personnel, purchases, official trips, etc.

Also, since 2011, the United Kingdom is part of the Alliance for Open Government. The member countries must make available to the inhabitants the greatest possible number of data, in order to encourage citizen participation. This country even has a public-private body that controls this initiative, the Open Data Institute.

As for the political parties, the main ones are the Conservative Party (the former tories) and the Labor Party, considered center-left. Other parties are the Liberal-Democrat (from the whigs), and the Green Party of England and Wales, an environmental movement founded in 1990.

In recent years, the economic policy of the United Kingdom is oriented towards economic liberalism, giving companies freedom of action, as Adam Smith defended in the 19th century. Regarding its commercial policy, it maintains agreements with a significant number of countries.

The biggest subject of debate today is being its foreign policy due to its desire to separate from the European Union. If you want to have more information on this topic, we recommend you read the following article: The ‘Brexit’ in the United Kingdom: meaning, results and consequences.

Territorial organization

To reach the current state, the British territory went through several political processes. In 1707 the Kingdom of England (which was also Wales) joined Scotland.

It was in 1800 when the Kingdom of Ireland joined, so the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was officially formed. This State has a political division of four zones:

  • England: its capital is London. It has nine regions.
  • Scotland: the main city is Edinburgh. It has twelve regions.
  • Welsh: with Cardiff as capital. It is divided into twelve areas.
  • North Ireland: It has 25 districts. Belfast is the capital.

In the following map you can see the different territories: England in purple, Scotland in orange, Wales in green and Northern Ireland in yellow. In pink is Ireland, an independent country:

Each of these regions has its own political bodies and local government, as well as an administrative demarcation system, since there is no such body that encompasses them all.

Likewise, the United Kingdom has several overseas territories, considered vestiges of the former British Empire. They are the following:

  • Acrotiri and Dhekelia
  • Eel
  • Bermuda
  • Gibraltar
  • Cayman Islands
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • Falkland Islands
  • Pitcairn Islands
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Montserrat
  • Santa Elena, Ascension and Tristán de Acuña
  • British Antarctic Territory
  • British Indian Ocean Territory

In addition to these, it has three semi-dependent areas: Guernsey, Isle of Man and Jersey.

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