The United States political system compared to The United Kingdom Essay
The United States political system compared to The United Kingdom
The US and the United Kingdom are alike, although not as evidently, in many ways, and this likeness has contributed to their present relationship.
The History of the United Kingdom is characterized by significant changes with each ruling Monarchy. In 1066, William, the Duke of Normandy was able to displace Harold II, the Saxon King (Emsworth 1-59). From then on, English History became filled with intrigues, and power struggles between members of the Monarchy.
There was a time when no one was considered more powerful than the members of the Royal Line. It was during the reign of Henry III in the 13th century when the concept of the “Parliament” was created, when Simon de Montfort challenged the monarch (Emsworth 7). From then on, the branch evolved in power from what used very limited to the legislative and political whims of the monarchy at first, to its intermittent dissolutions and recalls during the reign of Charles I and Charles II, its survival of the battle between Catholicism and Protestantism, its increased influence in 1644, to to what it is today, a representative of the Sovereign (Emsworth 1-59).
It was under the reign of George I when first “Prime Minister” was appointed (Emsworth 20). Although there were attempts to minimize the influence of this figure, it has continued to grow in power, together with the parliament. William IV was the last monarch who appointed a Prime Minister without the confidence of the Parliament and since then, the parliament had survived many changes in system and its influence in the government (Emsworth 1-59). The constitution of the United Kingdom, up to this day however, remains “unwritten”.
There were approximately 60.2 million people in the United Kingdom in mid-2005. The majority of the population, about 84% lived in England. There was an increase in the average age of the people from 34.1 years to 38.8 years. 1/5 of the nation’s population are below 16 and 1/6 are above 65. The ratio of males against females is almost equal. By mid-2005, the growth rate had increased from 0.3% to 0.6%.
It is said that the population growth of the United Kingdom had been a result of natural change because there had been more births than death every year since 1901. However, this had changed because during the late 1990s, there had been an evident increase in the international migration which is a very significant factor that contributes to the increase in population (“Population Estimates: UK Population Grows to More than 60m.”).
The Article II of the US Constitution states that the Executive power is held by the President of the United States who holds Office at a four-year term, together with the Vice President who is likewise elected at the same term.
Whereas the US is Presidential in its system of government, the powers in the United Kingdom is dictated by the provisions of the Westminster System. As with any other country under the system, the executive power of the United Kingdom is theoretically held by the ceremonial figurehead or the monarch. At this time, the monarch in the United Kingdom is Queen Elizabeth II (“Politics of the United Kingdom”).
But essentially, executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister as the head of the Government, the Cabinet and the Junior Ministers. Although theoretically, the powers of the executive are with Queen Elizabeth II, it is actually the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Junior Ministers who exercise this power, but under the ceremonial authority of the Monarch (“Politics of the United Kingdom”).
The term of the Prime Minister is limited to a maximum of five years, but such length could still be shortened or “dissolved” by the Sovereign or the monarch. This could be done only upon the Prime Minister’s request. Some cases such as the passage of Motion of No Confidence by the House of Commons or its rejection of a significant Government Agenda could also compel the resignation of the Prime Minister or the Dissolution of the Parliament (“Politics of the United Kingdom”).
The term of the US Executive can also be shortened, that is, in cases when a President becomes disabled, dead or resigned (“The Constitution of the United States”). The term can also be shortened by impeachment. The twenty-fifth Amendment of the US Constitution says that he/she should be succeeded in Office by the Vice President if such cases would happen. After the Vice President, the line of succession includes the Speaker of the House of Representatives, President pro tempore and the Cabinet members. A Vice President can be replaced in case of disability, death or resignation by the appointment of the President of the United States.
In case the Office of the Prime Minister becomes vacant, it is the Monarch who is responsible for the appointment, based on the Constitutional conventions. In such a case, the Monarch is expected to appoint an individual who is supported by the House of Commons (Emsworth 27).
It is expected that the Prime Minister as head of the government could control the majority of members of House of Commons. This must be so as to ensure that there is no significant opposition against them because support must be made by the Cabinet regarding policies (Emsworth 27). As it is in any country under the Parliamentary form of government, there is an overlap between branches of the government, in this case, the executive and the legislative.
Section 2 of Article 2 of the US Constitution explains the powers vested on the President of the United States. Based on this, the President has the power to command the Military of the whole of United States for the service of the country. In the United Kingdom, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is the Monarch. As it is, the British Armed Forces swear allegiance to the Sovereign Monarch only. But, it is the Prime Minister who holds the decision over the deployment of the British forces. In addition, the Prime Minister has the power to authorize Britain’s use of nuclear weapons.
However, because in the UK political system, the power of the executive is dependent on the Parliament, even with such powers, the Prime Minister’s status is dependent on the general confidence of the Houses. As said earlier, it is expected that the Prime Minister could control majority of the House members (“Politics in the United Kingdom”).
The President of the United States also has the power to create treaties, appoint ambassadors, ministers, consuls, judges and officers but only with the consent of the two-thirds of the senate. Still, the Congress may allow the President, the Courts of Law and the Head of the Departments to appoint inferior Officers (“The Constitution of the United States, Article II).
In the United Kingdom, the members of the cabinet, as part of the executive, are considered responsible in the positive and negative implications of the government policies. As with the convention, all decisions of the cabinet must be a consensus and in cases of supposed inadequacy, the Prime Minister has the power to control the government by appointing and dismissing ministers on such grounds (Emsworth 40-41). The Ministers act as leaders of the different Government Departments which are usually composed of the Members of the Parliament or “peers” in the House of Lords (Emsworth 40).
The US President would be responsible for providing the Congress information about the State of the Union, receiving of Ambassadors and Ministers, the execution of law and the commission of officers. This is based on Article II of the US Constitution.
The counterpart of the State of the Union in the United Kingdom is the Westminister System’s annual Speech From the Throne. Here, the Head of the State, the Monarch addresses the parliament about the possible policies that are to be expected in the next year (“Politics in the United Kingdom”).
Other than these, there is no written constitution to limit to the power of the executive or the Prime Minister as long as he/she holds the confidence of the legislature.
Since the United Kingdom also has a parliamentary system of government, its executive is also founded on its legislature. In other words, the executive is fused with the legislature. There is no limitation in the government powers because there is no written constitution in the United Kingdom. In addition, there is no written document that formally separates the powers of the executive and legislative branches. The government of the United Kingdom has no limitation on its power in the legislature as long as it holds confidence.
It is Parliament vote that is necessary to break the government power over the legislature. Just recently, Tony Blair, the current Prime Minister was defeated on a proposal involving the extension of the detainment of some terrorist suspects (“Politics of the United Kingdom”). On the other hand, the United States has a Constitution that clearly defines the separation of each government branch, that is, the Executive and the Legislative branches hold separate, equal powers.
Article I of the US Constitution states the powers and responsibilities of the Legislature. The US Legislative Powers is held by the Congress which consists of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives, with the former having the power to approve treaties and nominations by the President, and the latter having the power to originate revenue bills.
Similarly, the British Parliament is bicameral, composed of two Houses: The House of Commons and the House of Lords (Zulueta 209). While the United States has both its legislative houses democratically elected, in the United Kingdom, it is only the members of the House of Commons who are democratically elected (Zulueta 209). The members of the House of Lords are usually members of the aristocracy and attain hereditary power (Emsworth 34). In addition, members of the US legislature are representatives of each of the 50 states in the United States. In the same way, members of the UK legislature are representatives of constituencies, with boundaries determined by the Boundary Commissions (“Politics of the United Kingdom”).
As with the case in the US, bills and financial concerns, based on convention, originate in the House of Commons and not in the House of Lords (Emsworth 32). But, unlike that in the US, which constitution allows for equal powers between its two Houses, the House of Commons is considered as more powerful compared to the House of Lords (Zulueta 209).
Although, historically, this may not be the case, the House of Commons is always superior to the House of Lords because this chamber is democratically elected and can be considered as a repository of the people’s rights (Zulueta 209). In terms of financial matters, taxation, supply bills, the House of Lords are barred from proposing amendments (“Politics of the United Kingdom”). It can be said too, that the legislature, particularly, the House of Commons holds power over the Prime Minister who is considered as the wielder of Executive power because of the dependence of the executive power on the support of the legislature.
Section 8 of the US Constitution enumerates the powers of the Congress. Generally, it states that the Congress has power to impose and collect taxes, borrow and pay debts for the general welfare. It also has the power to regulate trade with other nations and states, establish rules for naturalization and bankruptcies, regulate the value of money and provide punishments for crimes such as counterfeiting. Others include the establishment of post offices, constitution of tribunals and courts that are inferior to the Supreme Court, definition and punishment of laws, declaration of war, maintenance and provisions for the Armed Forces, and to create laws which are necessary for the carrying out of the provisions of the Constitution.
At this point in time, the most notable among the powers of the US legislature is its power to declare war. It is clear then, that the US Executive has the power only to command the Armed Forces but cannot declare war without the consent of the Congress. This is the same with the case of the UK, whose Prime Minister can only declare war upon the approval of the Parliament, with him of course, as its head.
Because there is no written constitution that guides the legislature, the UK legislature, can, too, by convention, have unlimited power and proposals can be easily approved as long as it has gained the support of the House of Commons (“Politics of the United Kingdom”).
The US Judiciary is comprised of the Supreme Court and the federal courts established by the legislature. The Judges of the Supreme and the inferior courts are allowed to hold their offices during good behavior unless impeached. The salary of the judges cannot be reduced during office but may be increased (“The Constitution of the United States”).
The power of the US Judiciary extends to all cases arising from the Constitution, Laws and Treatises in the United States involving all US citizens, including ambassadors, ministers, consuls, and also any other issue that involves the State. While there are some cases in which the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction is regulated by the Congress (e.g. appellate jurisdiction), the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction cannot be amended by the Congress (“The Constitution of the United States”).
Section two of the US Constitution states that criminal cases require trial by jury, except for impeachment cases. The jurisdiction of Federal courts is limited to the subject matter to which it is involved.
In the US, a person who already holds Office in the government cannot hold another position, that is, the head of the Supreme Court cannot be the President. This was not the case in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, the head of the judiciary is the Lord Chief Justice (previously held by the Lord Chancellor). Prior to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the head of the judiciary had power that encompasses the executive, legislature and judiciary branches. But since the passage of the act, such powers have been divided to new posts such as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and the Lord or Lady Speaker. The counterpart of the US Supreme Court in the UK is the House of Lords (Emsworth 42).
Like that in the US, the jurisdiction of the UK Judiciary extends in all civil and criminal cases. But, unlike in the US where the Supreme Court is considered as the last resort, UK has the Privy Council that could also perform similar function but with less jurisdiction, most of which involving only minor matters.
It is the appointed Electors of each State that choose both the President and the Vice President of the United States. There is no indicated limit the selection of Electors except that it can only be as many as the number of Senators and Representatives in the Congress and that no Senator, Representative or any person that holds an Office of Trust or Profit could be considered as Elector (“The Constitution of the United States”).
During the election, the person with the highest number of votes is immediately chosen as President and the next highest is chosen as the Vice President. In case there is a tie, the Senate decides who holds the Office of the President and the Vice President with a quorum consisting of two-thirds of the States and majority of all the States (“The Constitution of the United States”).
Only a person who is a natural born Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of the Constitution can run for President. In addition, the candidate must be at least 35 years of age and has completed at least 14 years of residence in the United States. A President cannot be elected thrice. The United States is composed of two Political Parties: the Republican and the Democrats (“The Constitution of the United States”).
The electoral system of the United Kingdom is done through the First-past-the-post system or the plurality voting system in which a candidate wins as long as he/she has the most votes regardless of whether he/she has the majority of votes. The UK is composed of three major parties: the Labor Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (“Politics of the United Kingdom”).
The election of the Prime Minister is done by the members of the Parliament from among themselves. These members of the Parliament are elected by the Electors from different parliamentary districts (Emsworth 1-59).
More evident among any other reason for the alliance between the US and the UK is their common position at such times when there is a threat to international security. After all, most will remember how the US and the UK relationship flourished immediately at the end of the Cold War when the two nations, together with others, posed at the same side against Hitler. Just recently, the US and the UK were on the same ground against terrorism and the War in Iraq.
But it is interesting to note that such alliance can be traced back in history even before the US had its written Constitution. More importantly, the US-UK relationship can be said to be rooted to their political histories and ideologies.
The American concept of liberty, for example, can be traced to the British resistance to Absolute Monarchy in the 17th century. This concept of liberty highlighted the importance of the parliament particularly in its role in consenting to taxes, being the “people’s” representative, the concept of trial by jury, and the protection of citizens (Raymond 1-15).
The founding Fathers of the US were greatly influenced by the law-based state which is a British concept. The US documents, the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, for example, are based on the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights, the latter being the basis in writing the Constitution (Raymond 1-15).
It cannot be denied that the two countries’ shared experiences especially in wars and security issues have been a binding element in their relationship. But, more than anything, it is these similarities in concepts and ideologies, the US and the UK’s shared ideas about freedom, law, justice and experience that bind the nations together.
Emsworth. “UK Constitution and Government.” Boston, MA: Free Software Foundation, Inc. 2002.
“Politics of the United Kingdom.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 31 Mar 2007. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 1 Apr 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Politics_of_the_United_Kingdom&oldid=119272844>.
“Population Estimates: UK Population Grows to More than 60m.” National Statistics. 2006. Directgov. 31 Mar 2007 <http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=6>.
Raymond, R. “The US-UK Special Relationship in Hisotrical Context: Lessons of the Past.” US-UK Relations at the Start of the 21st Century. Ed. McCausland J and Stuart D. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2006. 1-15.
“The Constitution of the United States.” National Archives. 29 March 2005 <http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/constitution_transcript.html>.
Zulueta, F. “Foundations and Dynamics of Political Science.” Manila: Academic Publishing Corporation. 2003.