Theory and Practice of British Democracy. In theory, it can be claimed that despite the monarchy and a predominantly hereditary House of Lords, Britain has established political democracy. The people elect the House of Commons directly-and, the leader of the majority party there is automatically chosen as the Prime Minister by the monarch. The elected popular leader forms his own cabinet, which is collectively responsible to the House of Commons.
In practice, the class which owns the means of production in the United Kingdom governs the country through its direct agents in the Conservative Party or its indirect spokesmen in the right-wing leadership of the Labour Party. However, unlike a fascist regime, Great Britain cannot be described as a naked and vulgar dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
The existence of the Labour Party, recognition of civil liberties in normal times, highly organized trade unions, the right to criticize the government in Parliament, a relatively independent judiciary, Labour control over some municipal governments, the formation of Labour ministries occasionally at the Center, etc., demonstrate the fact that Great.
Britain has developed a political system that ought to be described as essentially bourgeois-democratic.
The twentieth century, like the sixteenth, is an age of transition in world history. During the sixteenth century, the bourgeois revolution commenced in feudalist Europe. During the last five centuries, the capitalist Powers of Europe, the U.S.A., and Japan brought the whole world under capitalist influence and domination.
Political systems based on Socialism and led by Communist and Workers Parties emerged in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba during the twentieth century. Indeed, counterrevolutionary regimes have now replaced the formerly socialist governments in Europe, that does not mean that the agenda for socialism has disappeared from the world forever.
The working class continues its allegiance to Labour, Socialist, or even Communist Parties in many countries. Socialist and Labour Parties are ruling at present in eleven West European countries, including the United Kingdom. Russia also, the Communists and their allies have obtained a majority in the Duma, i.e., Russian Parliament, and their candidate lost narrowly in the Presidential election against Yeltsin.
Socialist ideals increasingly attracted the national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Decolonization of the British Empire had put socialist-inclined regimes in power in several new nation-states emerging in the former British colonies. Britain is also passing through this transitional phase in its history; Simultaneously, the Conservative and Right-wing Labour leaders have joined in an unholy alliance to defend capitalism. The organized power of the working class is challenging the status quo in various ways.
Laski’s Interpretation of British Democracy:-
According to Laski, Britain’s real-rulers are those who own the movable and immovable wealth of the country. From a political point of view, the British constitution is an expression of a democratic form of government, but it does not reflect an egalitarian or democratic social order.
The reasons for this contradiction between the political philosophy of the construction and the character of the sociology-economic system of the united kingdom are:
- Recognition of the right of private property.
- The capitalistic economic system, unequal distribution of wealth in society,
- The aristocratic tradition, class orientation in education,
- Racial chauvinism of the ruling class based on its colonial heritage,
- Color prejudices of the elites and masses,
- Feudal pomp of the royal household eulogies.
By the mass media and films of the affluent style of living practiced by the upper classes, support that the Church gives to the sentiments of class hierarchy and propaganda by the media and other fora controlled by the upper strata of society that all radical and socialist associations are either atheistic or international, etc. Despite these limits, the democratic form of government in Britain has proved relatively more successful than in some other countries.
Harold Laski and H.R.G. Greaves, James Harvey, and Katherine Hood have argued that an economic oligarchy is still entrenched in the Conservative Party, which mostly occupies the seats of government, and operates as an agent of this oligarchy. Democracy, according to Alaska, has been married to capitalism in the United Kingdom, and its state institutions, therefore, have to function within a narrow capitalistic framework.
The industrial workers have constituted a majority of the British electorate and the nation for more than a century, and the Labor Party has also been active British Labour Party has also been active in British politics for about a hundred years. Yet this party secured absolute majority only in four general elections, and its right-wing leaders occupied the seats of authority for less than twenty years.
Leaving aside a few exceptions, the Tory establishment has been continuously ruling Great Britain after World War- I. Laski has rightly observed that political power is the handmaiden of economic power. Those who own the country’s wealth and capital also govern the British people through the instrumentality of the Conservative Party. Those who direct and manage its banks and industries create public opinion by controlling the mass media and finance the Conservative Party’s propagandist and organizational activities.
Conservative and Colonial Heritage:-
The majority of the British people belong to the Anglican Church, which invariably supports the Conservative Party. The members of the upper class manage educational institutions. Special schools are maintained for the students belonging to higher social strata of the armed forces, the majority of the judges, the highly placed bureaucrats, the bishops and archbishops, the citizens of aristocratic origin, big industrialists and bankers, the editors of the large national newspapers, the university professors, the eminent doctors and lawyers, retired civil servants, etc., remain stable supporters of the Conservative Party.
It is not very easy for any political party to confront these vested interests. It has been estimated that about ten percent of Britain, who constitute the upper strata of the British social hierarchy, consistently vote for the Conservative Party in all general elections. This explains the relatively weaker position of the Labour Party in the British political system.
When the British people use their votes to defeat the party of the vested interests and enable the Labour Party to form its Ministry, the Labour Government soon discovers that it cannot govern without entering into a humiliating compromise with these powerful forces social, economic system.
The right-wing leadership of the Labour Party then tries to bring some reforms in the living conditions of the working class within the bounds of the capitalistic system. To attract the labor votes, the Party has occasionally raised socialist slogans, and some ordinary members and intellectuals of this Party have genuinely believed in socialist ideals. Still, its mainstream leadership policy has always been that of a compromise and constructive criticism of the vested interests—actually, the Labour Party in the twentieth-century version of a Liberal Party.
During the British Empire’s hey-day, there was no place for political equality between the British people, who formed the ruling nationality, and the colonies’ people treated as subject, therefore inferior, nationalities. The right of national self-determination was denied to Asian and African nations for a long time.
England’s Parliament, whose sovereignty extended to millions of subjects living in several continents, did not include a single colonized area representative. Therefore, they could not regard it as a democratic assembly. It was rather an Imperialist Parliament used by the British capitalists for exploiting the people of India, Africa, and other colonies. As pointed out earlier, democracy in the United Kingdom had a narrow social base like its predecessor in classical Greek cities like Athens. The majority was denied equal rights of citizenship in both political systems.
After the loss of colonies, Great Britain has become worried about her political and economic prospects as a small nation. It has finally decided to join the European Community. It is represented in the European Parliament though has opted out, for the time being, of the common European currency called euro, preserving the pound as its national currency.
Britain is also a member of the U.S led military alliance, N.A.T.O, and unlike France, continues as a staunch American ally. Margaret Thatcher demonstrated her imperial concerns in the Falklands war gains Argentina. Tony Blair shows his solidarity with Bill Clinton by participating in aerial bombardments of the Iraqi people. Colonial heritage has been lost, but colonial temperament survives in post-Imperialist British democracy.
Tony Blair’s Reform Projects:-
The present Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain has introduced some significant constitutional changes in the first half of his office term. Tony Blair’s plan of granting devolution to Scotland and Wales and the planned abolition of the rights of hereditary peers have probably produced the greatest shakeup in the British political system in centuries, A change in the voting system for the House of Commons, which seeks to introduce proportional representation, is also under active consideration.
Great Britain has so far followed the relative majority rule in single-member constituencies. If Tony Blair’s plan of changing the electoral system bears fruit, it will alter the nature of British politics beyond recognition. At the heart of all these reforms, There has been a desire to bring the government in close conformity with public opinion and achieve moderation and democratization of the political process.
In fact, Tony Blair intends to severe the trend of the centralization of power that had occurred during the years of Margaret Thatcher. The Labour Party has a majority of over 400 members in Parliament, and most party MPs are loyal to their leader. At present, William Hague, Conservative Party leader, has failed to make much of an impact so far, and so the Tories are languishing in the opinion polls. Tony Blair has successfully co-opted the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third party, on his side. In fact, he is trying to build up a grand left-center coalition that may prevent the Conservatives from coming to power for several generations. For this purpose, he is attempting to create an informal alliance with the Liberal Democrats.
As the initial step, Tony Blair has asked Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrats leader, and his senior colleagues to join a Cabinet committee dealing with constitutional reforms. This is the first instance in recent history when opposition members have been invited to join a Cabinet committee. The Blair government has a challenging task ahead. Apart from formulating and implementing constitutional changes, many elections are to be fought to the European Parliament, the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, and various municipal bodies. His electoral success will determine the fate of his reforms.