The United States, hereafter “U.S.”, is political system inspired partly by British or United Kingdom hereafter “UK”, but differs in several ways. The most significant way the British differs is that it has a democratic government which includes a prime minister and monarch. On the other hand, the U.S.
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has a federal constitutional republic with three branches of government that balance powers between each other: the judiciary, the legislative, and the executive branches. Although these two governments have very different systems in which they function, they do have many similarities as well, such as dual-house legislature and political affiliations. In contrasting the two, we will discover the benefits and the disadvantages of the two modes of government and their respective political systems.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the U.S. and British government systems is the Constitution. The U.S. has a written Constitution, but the British do not have a one document called the constitution, but rather it has “constitutional provisions” within acts of parliament. Similar to what we call our “case law” and historical precedent. The American Constitution is difficult to modify, whereas the “British constitution,” (various acts of parliament) can be amended or changed by a majority in the legislature. For example, the current Coalition Government initiated fixed terms for the House for Commons by passing the necessary legislation. In the U.S., for example, Republicans contend that Democratic proposals are ‘unconstitutional’. Great Britain’s political affiliates can’t reference that parties are ‘unconstitutional”; thus, it is infrequent for British politicians to debate that the propositions of their adversaries are unlawful. Likewise, Republicans in the House of Commons meet regularly to discuss policy and to provide “an opportunity for back-bench party Members to voice their views to ministers or shadow cabinet members in a private forum” (Moe, 1994).
Firstly, what is Parliament and what does it do? Parliament is made up of people who are elected and those who have been appointed to create a dual-legislature, similar to the United States. The UK refers to their “legislature” as the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons comprises of persons who are elected, whereas the House of Lords is appointed for life. The Prime Minister chooses Cabinet Ministers and junior ministers who may also have seats in Parliament. So, what does the Legislative do in the U.S.? The House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Presidency, as stated above, exercises a check on the other. One cannot function without the other one, and in terms of power, cannot invoke its own powers without the approval of the other branches. This is the foundation for the Separation of Powers Doctrine. The House consists of 435 members, who are chosen by their respective congressional districts and serve a two-year term. The Senate and the House make up what is collectively known as “congress.” The Senate has specific requirements, and it made up of 100 members who serve a six-year term. The U.S. elects the President, while the UK has a monarchy, a hereditary member from the royal family. The Monarch holds no power over Great Britain, but does hold a ceremonial role, such as addressing the public with speeches and serving the communities through charitable works. “In both presidential and parliamentary systems, executives want to be strong leaders and to govern effectively, and they seek an institutional capacity that enables them to do what they need to do” (Moe, 1994). The UK’s Prime Minister, Teresa May, holds office and power as long as she holds the majority of vote in the House of Commons.
The President of the U.S. has more control than the Prime Minister because the President has the inherent ability to issue executive orders and is the commander in chief of the U.S. Military. But the President’s powers do not come unlimited without checks and balances. The constitutional system put in place in the U.S. restricts the power of the President. Without congressional approval, the President is limited in his scope of law-making abilities. The Prime Minister, in contrast, depending on whether she has the majority of the House of Commons, can issue any law she requests. A U.S. President is restricted to a possible two four-year terms in office, whereas the Prime Minister has no limit to the time she can serve in office.
In the U.S., the President makes around seven-thousand political appointments during his presidency, while the Prime Minister appoints around 100 members to various Government departments. In the U.S., Most upper level appointments are subject to confirmation hearings and votes in the Senate. In the U.S., besides the Vice-President, the Secretary of State is the most senior member of the Cabinet, also known as the Foreign Secretary to other Nations, but In Britain, the head of each government department is called Secretary of State, therefore, generally speaking, every member of the Cabinet is a Secretary of State. The U.S. President does not attend or speak to Congress except for the yearly State of the Union Address. Unlike the U.S., the Prime Minister is a member of one of the Houses of Parliament, usually the House of Commons, and normally speaks to the Commons directly.
In the Legislature of the U.S., Bills are presented to the president through bicameralism and presentment, which is passing through both houses of the Senate and House and Presentment (presenting the bill) to the President for approval, which he then may veto or sign in full. In Britain, usually has government bills which are typically over small matters with little consequence, and private members’ bills which are introduced by individual members of parliament.
The U.S., the Supreme Court is the highest institution of law. It’s the final court of appeals for civil cases. Its members are solely appointed by the President. It’s considered the court of last resort. In the UK, the Supreme Court is not appointed and avoids politically motivated cases. The House of Lords appoints twelve judges to the court. Unlike the U.S., the Supreme Court of Britain cannot overturn any primary legislation made by Parliament. The Supreme Court of the U.S. was established in 1789, while the Court in Britain was only just established (officially) in 2009.
The political party distinctions between the U.S. and UK are quite distinctive. The Republicans in the U.S. are considered the right of center party, while the Democrats are considered the left of center party. In the UK, the political affiliations are described as the Conservatives and the Labours. Conservatives to the right and labours to the left. That is pretty similar to the U.S. format, but what is considered “center” is a bit different. What is considered center in the U.S. is rather right of the center in Britain, meaning that policies supported by liberals-leftists would be the mainstream in the labour party. Great Britain has “center” parties that predominate over the conservatives and labours.
Typically, in the U.S., Congress is made up primarily of two parties, the democrats and republicans. In the UK, the main political parties who win the total vote consist of the nationalists and liberals, instead of the conservatives and labours. In America, the parties are comprised of candidates or congressman who idealize themselves with positions on many issues, such as gun reform, abortion, taxation, education, etc. The House of Commons issues out what is called a “whip”, which recommends how members of parliament should vote on the issue for that week. The policy behind this system seems counter-intuitive, but in actuality, promotes a more transparent system. Each house in Congress chooses their candidates every four-years for the upcoming presidential election, while the UK holds annual conferences in which they debate the policy positions to be adopted by their respective parties, but they do not choose a candidate for prime minister. That process is done separately.
In the U.S., president is affixed to a term of four-years. In the UK, the House of Commons has a term fixed at five-years, but traditionally, a Prime Minister can call a general election whenever she wishes. Historically it has been about four-years, rather than waiting until the fifth year. In the U.S. Primaries, the President and Legislative representatives are chosen by a system in which all registered voters, democratic and republican, vote by their choice whichever candidate they choose. There is not a primaries system in Britain that allows them to select candidates, rather they choose their candidates from those already affiliated with the British government, such as the House of Commons/Lords.
The U.S. Constitution allows the U.S. to fill a vacancy by special elections. It also allows for Governors to fill the vacancy by appointment. The most common route is to have the Governor appoint the seat until the general special election elects a new candidate to fill the seat, or it allows the Governor to appoint a permanent seat position with approval from Congress. In Britain, when the House of Commons has a vacancy, they are filled according to a bi-election in the respective constituency which is held within about four months of the vacancy seat becoming available. Because House of the Lords is appointed, there is no bi-election system when a seat becomes vacant because of death or resignation.
In the U.S., conservative typically means far right-wing when it comes to social issues such as abortion, education, etc. In the UK, conservative typically means right-wing on economic issues. While the U.S. term “liberal” means far left-wing, in the UK, it means broadly central, or a mix between left and right wing. Further, the U.S. and Britain have different ideological views as what it means to be a patriot of one’s country. In Elections, a candidate’s declaration of one’s specific political affiliation is necessary to emphasize their beliefs, while in Britain, this is not always the case, it is assumed that one who runs for office cares for their country as a whole, rather than as a liberal or nationalist. Albeit subjective, there are varying views on this topic, but from the research discovered, that is the general concept.
There are several details between the U.S. and British political structures that divert from each other that seem relevant to include here because they show an interesting contrast of patriotism, policy, and culture. In America, the American flag is frequently featured at any event, while the British flag is rarely prominent at such events other than sports. The issue of Taxation in American is more controversial than in the UK. The U.S. began in an uprising against paying taxes and many U.S. republicans are against any tax increases and think that low taxation leads to a healthier economy. Whereas, politicians in the UK think of taxation as a social tool as well as an economic one with the sway to bring about reorganization in their government.
In U.S. political theory, there is an idea called ‘American Exceptionalism’. There are numerous versions of this concept, but the most collective being that the U.S. is “special” in the world because of its history, prosperity, size, and global supremacy, in addition its superiority of the constitution and power of its ideals and values. You hear most people, including politicians, referring to the U.S. as being “the greatest nation in the world.” Though Great Britain quite recently ruled over the biggest empire in world history and has other claims of importance, there is no concept in British political theory which equates to ‘American Exceptionalism’.
In conclusion, The Separation of Powers doctrine remains an incentive device for achieving democratic values in the presidential systems. These values include preventing the rise of government oppression, preventing the capricious exercise of government power, and encouraging the efficient administration of the state. Nonetheless these values of democracy are likewise attainable in parliamentary systems. Despite the differences between the two political and governmental systems, they stem from the same objective: an efficient and transparent infrastructure that allows for a democratic society to participate in its primary decision making. The U.S. Government and Great Britain have unique advantages and disadvantages to their systems of policy making, but both can effectively execute their objectives.
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