Chapter 5 The UK Government, the law, and your role -Part 3 Revision

The Government

–          The Prime Minister

  • The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that has the most MPs in the House of Commons.  If two parties have the same number of MPs then they form a coalition and decide upon a Prime Minister together.
  • The Prime Minister can be changed if the MPs in the leading political party wish to do so, or if the Prime Minister wants to resign.
  • The Prime Minister usually resigns if his or her party loses a General Election.
  • He or she appoints the members of the Cabinet and also has control over many other public appointments.
  • The Prime Minister is given two residences to use while they are in office.  The first is 10 Downing Street in London.  The second is a country home called Chequers, outside of London.

–          The Cabinet

  • The Cabinet is composed of approximately 20 MPs, appointed by the Prime Minister.  These MPs become ministers in charge of specific departments.  Some examples are:
    • Chancellor of the Exchequer – responsible for the economy.
    • Home Secretary – responsible for crime and the police, and also immigration.
    • Foreign Secretary – manages relationships with other countries.
    • There are other ministers who are called Secretaries of State, who are responsible for such areas as education, defense, and public health.
  • These ministers together form the Cabinet, which meets weekly.  They make important decisions regarding government policy.  Many of these decisions are then taken up by Parliament.
  • Each minister above also has a department made up of other ministers to assist with that department’s work.  These ministers may be called Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State.

–          The Opposition

  • The opposition is the political party with the second largest amount of MPs in the House of Commons.
  • The leader of the opposition directs his or her party in pointing out what they see as the government’s failures and weaknesses.
  • The opposition leader also appoints MPs in their party as a “Shadow Cabinet”.  Each member of the Shadow Cabinet observes a specific member of the actual Cabinet.  The role of the shadow cabinet is to challenge the existing government strategies and suggest alternative strategies.
  • If the opposition party wins the next General Election, their leader usually becomes Prime Minister.

–          The Party System

  • The major political parties in the UK are:
    • The Conservative Party
    • The Labour Party
    • The Liberal Democrats
  • There are also parties that specifically represent Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish interests.
  • The main political parties actively seek members of the public to assist them in local constituencies, with tasks like raising funds or assisting during elections.  They have offices in most constituencies and hold conferences each year.
  • Anyone who is 18 or over can run (or “stand”) for an MP position.  They are unlikely to win however unless they have been nominated for the role by one of the major political parties.
  • There are a few MPs who are not a member of any of the main parties.  They are called independents, and usually represent an issue specific to their constituency.
  • Pressure and lobby groups are organizations that are not political parties, but who try to influence government policy.  They play an important role in politics.  Most groups represent a specific population, such as the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) which represents businesses.  Others represent a specific issue such as the environment or human rights.

–          The Civil Service

  • Civil servants support the government by developing and implementing its policies.
  • They also deliver public services.
  • Civil servants are responsible to ministers of the cabinet, however they are politically neutral.
  • The role of a civil servant is a job, not a political appointment.  People can apply to join the civil service in a similar way that they would apply to other types of jobs.
  • Civil servants are expected to be dedicated, honest, objective, impartial and conduct themselves with integrity.

–          Local Government

  • Cities, towns, and rural areas are governed by councils, which are democratically elected.  These are usually called “local authorities”.
  • Some areas have both district and county councils, however most large towns and cities usually have a single local authority.
  • Local authorities provide a number of services in their area.  They are financed by funds from central government and local taxes.
  • Many local authorities appoint a mayor, who is the ceremonial leader of the town.  In some areas the mayor is the effective leader of the administration, in more than just a ceremonial role.
  • London has 33 local authorities.  The Greater London Authority and the Mayor of London coordinate policies across the London area.
  • Elections for most local authorities are held annually, in May.
  • Many candidates for election run (or stand) as a member of one of the political parties.

–          Devolved Administrations

  • Beginning in 1997, some powers have been “devolved”, that is, the central UK government has given power back to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland so that they may attend to more local matters.
  • Policy and laws regarding defence, foreign affairs, immigration, social security and taxation all remain under central UK control.
  • Many local public services, such as education, are controlled by the local, or devolved, administrations.
  • The UK government has the power to suspend all devolved assemblies, as had happened in Northern Ireland.
    • Welsh Government
      • The National Assembly for Wales was formed in 1999.  It is based in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales.
      • There are 60 AMs (assembly members) and elections are held every four years.  Elections are decided using proportional representation.
      • Members of the assembly can speak in either English or Welsh.  All documents are printed in both languages.
      • The Assembly can make laws governing:
        • Education
        • Health and social services
        • Economic Development
        • Housing.
        • Since 2011 the Assembly does not need approval from the UK government to pass new laws.
      • Scottish Parliament
        • The Scottish Parliament was formed in 1999.  It is in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.
        • There are 129 members, who are elected by proportional representation.
        • The Scottish Parliament can make or change laws governing:
          • Civil and Criminal law
          • Education
          • Health
          • Planning
          • Additional tax raising.
      • The Northern Ireland Assembly
        • The Northern Ireland Parliament was created in 1922, but it was abolished in 1972 after the fighting that broke out between Catholics and Protestants (the Troubles).
        • The Northern Ireland Assembly was established in 1998.  This is a power-sharing agreement among the main parties.  It was suspended at times when local leaders found it difficult to work together.  It has been running successfully since 2007.
        • There are 108 elected members, who are called MLAs (members of the Legislative Assembly).  The MLAs are elected using proportional representation.
        • The Assembly can legislate on issues such as:
          • Education
          • Agriculture
          • The Environment
          • Health
          • Social Services

–          The Media and Government

  • Parliamentary proceedings are shown on television and published in official reports called Hansard.  You can find these at larger libraries and online at
  • Most people get information about government and politics from newspapers, television, radio and the internet.
  • The UK has a free press.  This means that the government has no control over what is written or said.  Some newspaper or radio owners hold strong opinions and use their companies to try and influence public opinion and government policy.
  • By law radio and television coverage of the political parties must be balanced, therefore equal time must be given to the different viewpoints held.