The political system in Britain has seen the dominance of two parties and hence traditionally, Britain has a bi-party system. The Conservative Party, also known as the ‘Tories’ has existed since the 17th century while the present Labour Party has existed since the 20th century. Earlier, the principal opposition to the Conservatives was the Liberal Party, which later merged with the Social Democratic Party, forming the Liberal Democrats.
Although Britain has a bi-party system, there are a number of other parties and the Liberal Democrats form the third largest party. The Conservative Party has been extreme rightist in political terms, in favour of complete privatization. This was particularly prominent during the Prime Minister-ship of Margaret Thatcher who came to power defeating the Labour Party in 1979. Under the Conservative leadership of Thatcher and subsequently John Major, the government followed policies of privatization and monetarism. The two policies were together known as Thatcherism.
The Labour Party on the other hand belongs to the leftist orientation. In recent years however, it is adopting a more centre-left approach. Although the Labour has functioned since 1906, it came into prominence in the post World War II scenario with electoral win in 1945. however, the Labour went into opposition during 1951-1964 and 1979-1997. the Social Democratic Party was formed as a break away party by right-wing Labour MP’s. under the leadership of Tony Blair, the policies of the Labour Party were changed considerably.
Political parties first appeared in Britain during the English Civil Wars of 1640 and 1650. among the first political parties in Britain were the Royalists and Parliamentarians, after that came the Tories (who were the patriotic party) and the Whigs (who wanted to reduce monarchical powers). The Conservative Party holds the claim to being the largest political party in the world. Apart from the two dominant parties and the third largest party, there are a number of other parties that function within the political milieu of Britain.
These parties are – the UK Independence party, the Green Party, the Plaid Cymru (belonging to Wales) the Socialist Nationalist Party, the Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party. However, it is the Labour and the Conservatives who are taken into account broadly, during the elections. The party which secures a majority of the votes polled is called upon to form the government and the leader of the winning party becomes the prime minister of Britain.
Since the parliamentary form of government prevails in the UK, there is one real executive, the prime minister and the one nominal executive, the monarch. Also, the executive works in close collaboration with the legislative, with the prime minister’s Cabinet being formed by people who are members of the legislature. The grounds on which the major parties share similar views are – a free market economy, rule of law, nationalized health services and regarding Britain’s membership of the European Union and the NATO.
However, the factors on which these parties are divided are taxation laws, dealing with poverty, the extent of state intervention in the economy and how to strike a balance between individual and collective rights. Although the politics and electoral process of the UK appears to be simple and straight forward, there has been one or two occasions when things were not as simple.
For instance, in the 1951 and 1974 elections, the party with the fewer votes secured more seats in the polls. It shows that politics is unpredictable even in an apparently straight-jacketed political system having a political tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Germany : Politics in Germany or the political system in Germany is very different from that existing in both Britain. While there is a bi-party system in Britain, Germany is largely a multi-party system.
However, unlike the multi-party political systems existing in other countries of the world, the German one is a ‘dominant multi-party system’, that is, politics is dominated to a great extent by two parties despite greater representation provided by other parties. Also, where as the political system in Britain has been in existence for centuries with minor changes over the years, the German political system is rather recent. The political system in Germany has been through two major shifts.
Firstly, since its inception in its present form in 1949, German politics was dominated by the communist forces in the area under Russian control and the non-communist forces in the area jointly held by Britain, France and the US. The second shift occurred in 1990 when Britain, France, US and Russia withdrew from the country. Despite the second shift, the dominance of the Socialist Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union often in alliance with the Christian Socialist Union, both in existence since 1949, is there still.
Nevertheless, since there are other parties and fragmented or multi-party representation, it has never been possible for either the SDP or the CDU/CSU to win a complete majority in the elections. It is at this juncture that the role of the other parties assumes importance because the support of these parties to either the SDP or the CDU helps form the coalition government. Germany therefore, is an example of perpetual coalition politics. The other parties include the Free Democratic Party, the Left Party and the Alliance 90 or The Greens.
The centre-right is represented by the CDU/CSU and the centre-left by the SDP. The SDP and the Greens were in a coalition government from 1998-2005, after a sixteen year long government of Helmut Kohl, which was toppled by the grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SDP since 2005. SDP registered its lowest results since World War II in the wake of sweeping labour reforms that were announced in Agenda 2010. One important characteristic of German politics is the fact that funds for elections are essentially drawn from the public purse.
The current Chancellor of Germany is Angela Merkel who had become the first female chancellor after winning the 2005 elections. France : The French political system is probably one of the most colourful political systems in the world in that it has a vibrant history. The left wing in France has gone through several phases starting with the Anarchists, Revolutionaries and Reformists of the early 19th century giving way to further splits in the post World War I period.
Three broad divisions of the Old Left, the New Left and the Centre-left can be drawn today. The New Anticapitalist Party has been the culmination of the fragmented left in France and seeks to bring about a unity between the various bifurcations of the French left. The right wing can also be classified into three broad clusters of the Legitimists, the Orleanists and the Bonapartists. The dominant issue in French politics is that of the extent of government intervention in the economy.
Naturally, the liberals are in favour of free market while the socialists prefer a limited governmental intervention and a welfare society. The political sphere comprises two parts – the left wing represented mainly by the French Socialist Party and the right wing represented previously by the Rassemblement pour la Republique (RPR) and presently by the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) which is neo-Gaullist in approach.
The constitution of the Fifth Republic has transformed to a great deal over the years with further institutional reforms on the cards. The people have been influenced by the left wing for years but following trends of globalization, the left has found it difficult to hold its ground. Like in Germany, coalition governments have more often than not been the order of the day.
In the end, one can conclude that while multi-party systems offer more representation, bi-party systems are more stable. Also, ideological differences are in most cases not rigid as has been demonstrated over time and can become accommodative according to the demands of the day. References Curtis, Michael & Ammendola, Guiseppe. (2002) Western European Government and Politics. Longman.