The fifth chapter of Life in the UK, 3rd Edition is The UK Government, the law, and your role. This is a very important chapter as it outlines your civic responsibilities and some of the laws you must follow.
The Development of British Democracy
- – Democracy is a system of government in which every adult in the population has a say in how the government works. This can be done by voting on every issue, or by electing representatives to vote for them.
- – In the 19th century Britain was not a true democracy, in that every adult could not vote. The only people who had the right to vote were men over 21 who owned a certain amount of land.
- – The number of voters (or franchise) grew through the 19th century and eventually included women and men who did not own land.
– A group called the Charists fought for reform in the 1830s and 1840s. The changes they wanted were:
o For every man to have the right to vote.
o To have elections every year.
o For all regions of the countries to be equal in the elections.
o Secret ballots.
o For any many to be able to run for MP (member of Parliament). o For MPs to be paid.
- – At the time the Charists campaign was viewed to be unsuccessful, but by 1918 all of these reforms had been implemented.
- – The voting age and the rights of women:
o Also by 1918 women over 30 had gained the right to vote.
o In 1928 men and women over 21 had gained the right to vote.
o In 1969, the voting age was lowered to 18 for both men and women.
– The British Constitution
o A constitution is a set of principles by which a country is governed. It includes all government bodies that are responsible for running the country and how their power is kept in check.
o The constitution also includes laws and conventions.
o The British constitution is not written down in one document, therefore it is considered “unwritten”. This is because the governmental structure has gradually evolved throughout history. There was no single event or revolution, as in the US or France, that would necessitate the creation of a single document. There are those who believe that the UK should have a single document, but others think that an unwritten constitution grants more flexibility.
o Constitutional Institutions
Institutions are different parts of government. In the UK, the main institutions are:
- Parliament, which is made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
- The Prime Minister
- The Cabinet
- The Judiciary (the court system)
- The Police
- The Civil Service
- Local Government In addition to these, there are devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which have the authority to legislate on specific issues.
– The Monarchy
o Queen Elizabeth II is the current monarch and head of state of the UK. She is also the monarch or head of state for many other countries in the Commonwealth. She is married to Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth’s oldest son, is heir to the throne.
o The UK has a constitutional monarchy. The king or queen does not rule. Instead they appoint the government, which is democratically elected by the people.
o The monarch selects the leader of the party with the most MPs (members of Parliament) to become Prime Minister. In some cases the Prime Minister will be the leader of a coalition between more than one party.
o The monarch can advise the Prime Minister, but governmental decisions are made by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
o The Queen has many ceremonial duties throughout the year. She opens the session of Parliament each year with a speech that summarizes what the government intends to do in the year ahead. All Acts of Parliament are made in the Queen’s name.
o The Queen is in many respects an ambassador, who represents the UK to the rest of the world. She receives foreign ambassadors, commissioners, and visiting heads of state. She also travels overseas to support diplomatic and economic relationships with other countries.
o The Queen also is seen as a symbol of continuity. While Prime Ministers and governments may change in each election, the monarchy continues in their roles for a lifetime. At this writing Queen Elizabeth has been the head of the UK for sixty years, having just celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.
o The National Anthem of the UK is “God Save the Queen”. It is played at important national occasions and at events attended by the Queen or Royal Family.
o As a new citizen you will swear an oath and affirm loyalty to the Queen as part of the citizenship ceremony. The oath is:
I (your name) sear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.
The Affirmation of Allegiance is:
I (your name) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.