british politics - terms

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Constitution

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54 Terms

1

Constitution

rules of the political game, determining how the political system should operate. It’s created by consensus (a general agreement).

The UK does not have a single written constitution, it comprised of a combination of laws, statutes, conventions, and practices.

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Statute law

Law derived from Acts of Parliament and subordinate legislation

  • created by Parliament

  • when legislative proposals are approved by both Houses of Parliament and receive the Royal Assent (automatic - constitutional monarchy), they become Acts of Parliament and enter into law.

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Common law

Law derived from decisions in court cases and from general legal custom

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Prerogative powers

powers which have belonged to the Crown, but in modern times are exercised by ministers.

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Conventions

rules and norms in the UK.

  • Binding but Flexible: they're important, but they can change without an official decision making process

  • Not Written in Laws: these rules aren't written down in laws

Example: the Prime Minister should be a member of the House of Commons (not a law, but a norm)

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Authoritative works

reliable guides (no legal status) to the workings of institutions and of the political system.

Example: Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament - ‘Bible’ of parliamentary practice and is used by senior officials (publishes in 1844 and is regularly updated)

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2016 referendum (Brexit)

the United Kingdom's vote on whether to remain a member of EU or leave.

Brexit → ‘British exit’

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Liberalism

Rejects what is viewed as traditional social ideas and emphasis on personal freedom, equality.

  1. Liberty

  2. Individualism

  3. Rationalism

  4. The liberal state

  5. Social justice

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Socialism

opposes capitalism, property and resources are commonly owned by the community or the state. Revolutionary socialists: Marx, Lenin, Trotsky - ‘classless‘ society

  1. Collectivism

  2. Common humanity

  3. Equality

  4. Workers’ control

  5. Social classes

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Conservatism

commitment to traditional values with opposition to change. It seeks to uphold what is the organic structure of society. (French Revolution)

  1. Pragmatism

  2. Tradition

  3. Paternalism

  4. Libertarianism

  5. Belief in an organic state.

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Attlee revolution (1945-1951)

one of the doctrinal waves, period of transformative social and economic changes in the UK. (Clement Attlee - prime minister)

  • „post-war settlement” - various reforms to rebuild British society

  • "fair shares for all"

  • the high point of British social

    democratic collectivism

  • the welfare state constructed - creation of institutions and programs to provide social support

  • sternly centralizing - centralize decision-making and authority

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Thatcher revolution (1979-1990)

one of the doctrinal waves, the transformative period of economic and changes implemented by Margaret Thatcher - prime minister.

  • believed in rewarding hardworking individuals

  • system of tendering

  • poll tax - every adult citizen pays, no matter their income or specific situation

  • revive the faltering British economy

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Blair revolution (1997-2007)

one of the doctrinal waves, 'what matters is what works' (Tony Blair - prime minister)

  • New Labour - makeover of the Labour Party to modernize old socialist views

  • socialism disowned

  • party leader Neil Kinnock - was the Labour Party leader, changed the party's direction

  • Gordon Brown - Chancellor of the Exchequer, focused on being financially responsible for economic stability

  • Free Enterprise Capitalism

  • One of the Most Pro-Business Governments

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Westminster model

a type of parliamentary democracy

  • First-Past-the-Post Electoral System

  • Single-Party Government

  • Two major parties competing for the all-or-nothing electoral victory

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Characteristics of the Westminster Model

  1. Constitutional Monarchy - monarch → ceremonial head of state, Parliament → day-to-day governance

  2. Parliamentary Sovereignty - Parliament is the supreme law-making authority

  3. Bicameral Legislature - two champers: HoC, HoL

  4. Political Parties

  5. Prime Ministerial Government

  6. Cabinet System - ultimate decision-making body of the executive

  7. Collective Responsibility - all Cabinet members must publicly support government decisions

  8. Adversarial Politics - engagement in confrontational interaction

  9. Rule of Law - everyone is subject to the law

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Parliament

legislature, responsible for making and passing laws. Made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the monarch.

  1. Legislation

  2. Representation

  3. Recruiting and maintaining the government

  4. Legitimacy

  5. Scrutiny

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Legislature

The law-making body in a country or state. In the UK, this is Parliament.

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House of Commons (HoC)

lower house of the Parliament

  • debating and proposals of new law

  • first-past-the-post electoral system

  • the term to mandate from 1911 is 5 years

  • it has 650 MPs

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House of Lords (HoL)

upper house of the Parliament

  • consist of four kind of peers/Lords

  • not elected (inherit or appointed)

  • review and revise legislation proposed by the House of Commons (can’t block but can delay)

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Life peers

  • dominates HoL, majority of peers

  • appointed to the nobility for their lifetime

  • appointed by the Prime Minister based on their achievements, contributions

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People’s peers

  • appointed on the basis of individual recommendations made to the Lords Appointments Commission

  • by the end of 2018, 70 had been appointed

  • criticism: lack of resemblance to ‘ordinary’ citizens

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Hereditary peers

  • inherit their membership in the HoL

  • the past → 700+ members - from 1999 max. 92 members

  • elected by other members of the House

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Lords Spiritual

  • 26 bishops of the Church of England

  • appointed by the Prime Minister

  • link between the Church of England and the state in the United Kingdom

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Vote of confidence

a parliamentary vote to determine whether a government has the support of the majority of the legislative body.

  • yes → assurance of continued support

  • no → may be required to resign

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Head of state

the top official and symbolic leader of a state, representing its power.

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Official Opposition

usually the second-largest party in the House of Commons.

  • opposes and criticizes the government's policies

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Speaker

the presiding officer of the House of Commons. Roles:

  • calling upon MPs to speak in debates

  • ensuring fair share of debating time

  • disciplining MPs when they break the rules

  • announcing the results of votes in the House

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The King's speech

a speech at the beginning of each Parliamentary session and informs Parliament of the government’s legislative programme.

It is written by the Prime Minister’s office → delivered by the monarch.

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The Royal Assent

the final stage of the legislative process, when the monarch signs a bill to officially make it an Act. Monarchs never refuse to grant Royal Assent.

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Elections

central to the practice of democracy. They are held to choose representatives of the government.

Main elections of the UK: General, Local and Devolved assembly.

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General elections

held to elect the House of Commons. Every 5 years but may occur before.

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Local elections

elections for local government authorities. Include: the Greater London Assembly, the London Mayor and mayoral elections (4-5 years)

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Devolved assembly elections

elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. (every 4 years)

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Electoral systems

translate votes cast by citizens into seats for candidates.

There are three main types: Majoritarian, Proportional and Mixed systems.

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Majoritarian systems

the winning candidate is the one who secures the most votes.

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Proportional systems

electoral system using multi-member constituencies in which a mathematical formula is used to match the share of the vote to the allocation of seats.

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Mixed System

electoral system in which some are elected by a majoritarian system and the others are elected by proportional representation and allocated to parties on a correct basis.

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First-past-the-post (FPTP)

electoral system used in general elections where the candidate with the greatest number of votes is elected.

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39

The Executive

branch of government, which formulates policy and proposes draft laws for approval by the legislature. Consists of:

  • PM and cabinet

  • ministers and civil servants

  • departments of state

  • ‘quangos’ - non-governmental organisations

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Role of the Prime Minister

  • Forming a government

  • Directing government policy

  • Managing the Cabinet system

  • Organising government

  • Controlling Parliament

  • Providing national leadership

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Patronage

the power to appoint and dismiss members of the government and other significant appointments.

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Cabinet

the group of leading ministers (about 20 chosen by PM) which is empowered to make official government policy.

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Cabinet committees

subcommittees of the Cabinet, typically established to focus on specific policy areas or address particular issues

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44

Secondary legislation

powers given to the executive by Parliament to make changes to the law within certain specific rules.

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Judiciary

a complex structure responsible for interpreting and applying the law. It is independent from the government and plays a crucial role in upholding justice.

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The Supreme Court

the highest court in the UK (2009). Handles cases of significant legal importance, constitutional issues, and appeals from lower courts.

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The Court of Appeal

the second highest court in the UK and consists of two divisions: Civil Division and Criminal Division. It hears appeals from lower courts and reviews decisions made by certain tribunals.

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The High Court

third highest court in the UK, divided into three divisions: King’s/Queen's Bench Division, Chancery Division, and Family Division. Deals with civil disputes, administrative law, and serious criminal cases.

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49

Crown Court

handles serious criminal cases (murder, rape, or drug offenses). The Crown Court conducts trials by judge and jury.

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Magistrates' Court

deals with less serious cases (petty theft or minor offenses)

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Tribunals

specialized courts that handle specific areas of law, such as employment, immigration, and social security.

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Judicial appointments

Judges in the UK are appointed based on their legal expertise and experience. They hold office until they reach a mandatory retirement age.

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53

Legal precedent

UK judiciary follows the principle of common law, which means that decisions made by higher courts are binding on lower courts, creating a system of legal precedent.

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Devolution

in the case of the United Kingdom devolution therefore means transferring powers from Westminster and Whitehall to the devolved bodies and administrative offices across the United Kingdom.

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