|State type||Unitary parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy|
|Constitution||Constitution of the United Kingdom|
|Meeting place||Palace of Westminster|
|Name||House of Lords|
|Presiding officer|| The Lord Fowler |
|Name||House of Commons|
|Presiding officer|| John Bercow |
Speaker of the House of Commons
|Head of State|
|Head of Government|
|Name||Cabinet of the United Kingdom|
|Current cabinet||Second May ministry|
|Headquarters||10 Downing Street|
|Chief judge||Lady Hale of Richmond|
|This article is part of a series on the|
politics and government of
the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a unitary state with devolution that is governed within the framework of a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state while the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, currently Theresa May, is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the British government, on behalf of and by the consent of the monarch, as well as by the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales and the Northern Ireland Executive. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The highest court is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The UK's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.
A unitary state is a state governed as a single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme. The central government may create administrative divisions. Such units exercise only the powers that the central government chooses to delegate. Although political power may be delegated through devolution to local governments by statute, the central government may abrogate the acts of devolved governments or curtail their powers. A large majority of the world's states have a unitary system of government.
In the United Kingdom, devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the London Assembly and to their associated executive bodies the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and in England, the Greater London Authority and combined authorities.
The UK political system is a multi-party system. Since the 1920s, the two dominant parties have been the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. Before the Labour Party rose in British politics, the Liberal Party was the other major political party, along with the Conservatives. While coalition and minority governments have been an occasional feature of parliamentary politics, the first-past-the-post electoral system used for general elections tends to maintain the dominance of these two parties, though each has in the past century relied upon a third party, such as the Liberal Democrats, to deliver a working majority in Parliament. A Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government held office from 2010 until 2015, the first coalition since 1945.The coalition ended following parliamentary elections on 7 May 2015, in which the Conservative Party won an outright majority of 330 seats in the House of Commons, while their coalition partners lost all but eight seats.
A multi-party system is a system in which multiple political parties across the political spectrum run for national election, and all have the capacity to gain control of government offices, separately or in coalition. Apart from one-party-dominant and two-party systems, multi-party systems tend to be more common in parliamentary systems than presidential systems and far more common in countries that use proportional representation compared to countries that use first-past-the-post elections.
A two-party system is a party system where two major political parties dominate the political landscape. At any point in time, one of the two parties typically holds a majority in the legislature and is usually referred to as the majority or governing party while the other is the minority or opposition party. Around the world, the term has different senses. For example, in the United States, Jamaica, and Malta, the sense of two-party system describes an arrangement in which all or nearly all elected officials belong to one of the only two major parties, and third parties rarely win any seats in the legislature. In such arrangements, two-party systems are thought to result from various factors like winner-takes-all election rules. In such systems, while chances for third-party candidates winning election to major national office are remote, it is possible for groups within the larger parties, or in opposition to one or both of them, to exert influence on the two major parties. In contrast, in the United Kingdom and Australia and in other parliamentary systems and elsewhere, the term two-party system is sometimes used to indicate an arrangement in which two major parties dominate elections but in which there are viable third parties which do win seats in the legislature, and in which the two major parties exert proportionately greater influence than their percentage of votes would suggest.
The Conservative Party, officially the Conservative and Unionist Party, sometimes informally called the Tories, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom. The governing party since 2010, it is the largest in the House of Commons, with 313 Members of Parliament, and also has 249 members of the House of Lords, 4 members of the European Parliament, 31 Members of the Scottish Parliament, 11 members of the Welsh Assembly, eight members of the London Assembly and 8,916 local councillors.
With the partition of Ireland, Northern Ireland received home rule in 1920, though civil unrest meant direct rule was restored in 1972. Support for nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales led to proposals for devolution in the 1970s, though only in the 1990s did devolution happen. Today, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each possess a legislature and executive, with devolution in Northern Ireland being conditional on participation in certain all-Ireland institutions. The UK government remains responsible for non-devolved matters and, in the case of Northern Ireland, co-operates with the government of the Republic of Ireland.
The partition of Ireland divided the island of Ireland into two jurisdictions, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. It took place on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Today the former is still known as Northern Ireland and forms part of the United Kingdom, while the latter is now a sovereign state also named Ireland and sometimes called the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom in the north-east of the island of Ireland, variously described as a country, province or region. Northern Ireland shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland. In 2011, its population was 1,810,863, constituting about 30% of the island's total population and about 3% of the UK's population. Established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Assembly holds responsibility for a range of devolved policy matters, while other areas are reserved for the British government. Northern Ireland co-operates with the Republic of Ireland in several areas, and the Agreement granted the Republic the ability to "put forward views and proposals" with "determined efforts to resolve disagreements between the two governments".
The Government of Ireland Act 1920 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Act's long title was "An Act to provide for the better government of Ireland"; it is also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill or as the Fourth Home Rule Act.
It is a matter of dispute as to whether increased autonomy and devolution of executive and legislative powers has contributed to the increase in support for independence. The principal Scottish pro-independence party, the Scottish National Party, became a minority government in 2007 and then went on to win an overall majority of MSPs at the 2011 Scottish parliament elections and forms the Scottish Government administration. A 2014 referendum on independence led to a rejection of the proposal but with 44.7% voting for it. In Northern Ireland, a smaller percentage vote for Irish nationalist parties. The largest, Sinn Féin, not only advocates Irish reunification, but its members also abstain from taking their elected seats in the Westminster parliament, as this would entail taking a pledge of allegiance to the British monarch.
Scottish independence is the political movement for Scotland to become a sovereign state independent from the United Kingdom. In 2014, a national referendum was held in Scotland. Voters were asked: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" 45 percent of voters answered "Yes" and 55 percent answered "No" with a turnout of 85 percent.
The Scottish National Party is a Scottish nationalist, social-democratic political party in Scotland. The SNP supports and campaigns for Scottish independence within the European Union. It is the second-largest political party by membership in the United Kingdom, behind the Labour Party and ahead of the Conservative Party; it is the third-largest by overall representation in the House of Commons, behind the Conservative Party and the Labour Party; and it is the largest political party in Scotland, where it has the most seats in the Scottish Parliament and 35 out of the 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The current Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has served as First Minister of Scotland since November 2014.
Member of the Scottish Parliament is the title given to any one of the 129 individuals elected to serve in the Scottish Parliament.
The constitution of the United Kingdom is uncodified, being made up of constitutional conventions, statutes and other elements such as EU law. This system of government, known as the Westminster system, has been adopted by other countries, especially those that were formerly parts of the British Empire.
As opposed to the majority of countries in the world, the United Kingdom does not have a codified constitution. Instead of such a constitution, certain documents stand to serve as replacements in lieu of one. These texts and their provisions therein are considered to be constitutional, such that the "constitution of the United Kingdom" or "British constitution" may refer to a number of historical and momentous laws and principles like the Acts of Union 1707 and the Acts of Union 1800 which formulate the country's body politic. Thus the term "UK constitution" is sometimes said to refer to an "unwritten" or uncodified constitution. The British constitution primarily draws from four sources: statute law, common law, parliamentary conventions, and works of authority. Similar to a constitutional document, it also concerns both the relationship between the individual and the state and the functioning of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.
An uncodified constitution is a type of constitution where the fundamental rules often take the form of customs, usage, precedent and a variety of statutes and legal instruments. An understanding of the constitution is obtained through reading commentary by the judiciary, government committees or legal experts. In such a constitutional system, all these elements may be recognized by courts, legislators and the bureaucracy as binding upon government and limiting its powers. Such a framework is sometimes imprecisely called an "unwritten constitution"; however, all the elements of an uncodified constitution are typically written down in a variety of official documents, though not codified in a single document.
A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states that follow the Westminster system and whose political systems derive from British constitutional law, most government functions are guided by constitutional convention rather than by a formal written constitution. In these states, actual distribution of power may be markedly different from those the formal constitutional documents describe. In particular, the formal constitution often confers wide discretionary powers on the head of state that, in practice, are used only on the advice of the head of government, and in some cases not at all.
The United Kingdom is also responsible for several dependencies, which fall into two categories: the Crown dependencies, in the immediate vicinity of the UK, and British Overseas Territories, which originated as colonies of the British Empire.
The Crown dependencies are three island territories off the coast of Great Britain that are self-governing possessions of the Crown: the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Isle of Man. They do not form part of either the United Kingdom or the British Overseas Territories. Internationally, the dependencies are considered "territories for which the United Kingdom is responsible", rather than sovereign states. As a result, they are not member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. However, they do have relationships with the Commonwealth, the European Union, and other international organisations, and are members of the British–Irish Council. They have their own teams in the Commonwealth Games. They are not part of the European Union (EU), although they are within the EU's customs area. The Isle of Man is within the EU's VAT area.
The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) or United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are 14 territories under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. They are remnants of the British Empire that have not been granted independence or have voted to remain British territories. These territories do not form part of the United Kingdom and, with the exception of Gibraltar, are not part of the European Union. Most of the permanently inhabited territories are internally self-governing, with the UK retaining responsibility for defence and foreign relations. Three are inhabited only by a transitory population of military or scientific personnel. They all share the British monarch as head of state.
The Economist Intelligence Unit rated the United Kingdom as a "full democracy" in 2017.
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The British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is the chief of state of the United Kingdom. Though she takes little direct part in government, the Crown remains the fount in which ultimate executive power over government lies. These powers are known as royal prerogative and can be used for a vast amount of things, such as the issue or withdrawal of passports, to the dismissal of the Prime Minister or even the declaration of war. The powers are delegated from the monarch personally, in the name of the Crown, and can be handed to various ministers, or other officers of the Crown, and can purposely bypass the consent of Parliament.
The head of Her Majesty's Government, the prime minister, also has weekly meetings with the sovereign, where she may express her feelings, warn, or advise the prime minister in the government's work.
According to the uncodified constitution of the United Kingdom, the monarch has the following powers:
Executive power in the United Kingdom is exercised by the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, via Her Majesty's Government and the devolved national authorities - the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
The monarch appoints a Prime Minister as the head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, guided by the strict convention that the Prime Minister should be the member of the House of Commons most likely to be able to form a Government with the support of that House. In practice, this means that the leader of the political party with an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons is chosen to be the Prime Minister. If no party has an absolute majority, the leader of the largest party is given the first opportunity to form a coalition. The Prime Minister then selects the other Ministers which make up the Government and act as political heads of the various Government Departments. About twenty of the most senior government ministers make up the Cabinet and approximately 100 ministers in total comprise the government. In accordance with constitutional convention, all ministers within the government are either Members of Parliament or peers in the House of Lords.
As in some other parliamentary systems of government (especially those based upon the Westminster System), the executive (called "the government") is drawn from and is answerable to Parliament - a successful vote of no confidence will force the government either to resign or to seek a parliamentary dissolution and a general election. In practice, members of parliament of all major parties are strictly controlled by whips who try to ensure they vote according to party policy. If the government has a large majority, then they are very unlikely to lose enough votes to be unable to pass legislation.
The Prime Minister is the most senior minister in the Cabinet. They are responsible for chairing Cabinet meetings, selecting Cabinet ministers (and all other positions in Her Majesty's government), and formulating government policy. The Prime Minister being the de facto leader of the UK, he or she exercises executive functions that are nominally vested in the sovereign (by way of the Royal Prerogatives). Historically, the British monarch was the sole source of executive powers in the government. However, following the lead of the Hanoverian monarchs, an arrangement of a "Prime Minister" chairing and leading the Cabinet began to emerge. Over time, this arrangement became the effective executive branch of government, as it assumed the day-to-day functioning of the British government away from the sovereign.
Theoretically, the Prime Minister is primus inter pares (i.e., Latin for "first among equals") among their Cabinet colleagues. While the Prime Minister is the senior Cabinet Minister, they are theoretically bound to make executive decisions in a collective fashion with the other Cabinet ministers. The Cabinet, along with the PM, consists of Secretaries of State from the various government departments, the Lord High Chancellor, the Lord Privy Seal, the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Ministers without portfolio. Cabinet meetings are typically held weekly, while Parliament is in session.
The Government of the United Kingdom contains a number of ministries known mainly, though not exclusively as departments, e.g., Department for Education. These are politically led by a Government Minister who is often a Secretary of State and member of the Cabinet. He or she may also be supported by a number of junior Ministers. In practice, several government departments and Ministers have responsibilities that cover England alone, with devolved bodies having responsibility for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, (for example - the Department of Health), or responsibilities that mainly focus on England (such as the Department for Education).
Implementation of the Minister's decisions is carried out by a permanent politically neutral organisation known as the civil service. Its constitutional role is to support the Government of the day regardless of which political party is in power. Unlike some other democracies, senior civil servants remain in post upon a change of Government. Administrative management of the Department is led by a head civil servant known in most Departments as a Permanent Secretary. The majority of the civil service staff in fact work in executive agencies, which are separate operational organisations reporting to Departments of State.
"Whitehall" is often used as a metonym for the central core of the Civil Service. This is because most Government Departments have headquarters in and around the former Royal Palace Whitehall.
The Scottish Government is responsible for all issues that are not explicitly reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster, by the Scotland Act; including NHS Scotland, education, justice, rural affairs, and transport. It manages an annual budget of more than £25 billion.The government is led by the First Minister, assisted by various Ministers with individual portfolios and remits. The Scottish Parliament nominates a Member to be appointed as First Minister by the Queen. The First Minister then appoints their Ministers (now known as Cabinet Secretaries) and junior Ministers, subject to approval by the Parliament. The First Minister, the Ministers (but not junior ministers), the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General are the Members of the 'Scottish Executive', as set out in the Scotland Act 1998. They are collectively known as "the Scottish Ministers".
The Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland,although following the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006 and the 2011 Welsh devolution referendum, the Assembly can now legislate in some areas through an Act of the National Assembly for Wales. Following the 2011 election, Welsh Labour held exactly half of the seats in the Assembly, falling just short of an overall majority. A Welsh Labour Government was subsequently formed headed by Carwyn Jones.
The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers closer to those already devolved to Scotland. The Northern Ireland Executive is led by a diarchy, most recently First Minister Arlene Foster (Democratic Unionist Party) and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin). The two positions are currently vacant and there has been no Executive since January 2017 because of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal and the failure to form a government following the Assembly's snap election in March 2017.
The UK Parliament is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom (i.e., there is parliamentary sovereignty), and Government is drawn from and answerable to it. Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. There is also a devolved Scottish Parliament and devolved Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland, with varying degrees of legislative authority.
The Countries of the United Kingdom are divided into parliamentary constituencies of broadly equal population by the four Boundary Commissions. Each constituency elects a Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons at general elections and, if required, at by-elections. As of 2010 there are 650 constituencies (there were 646 before that year's general election). At the 2017 general election, of the 650 MPs, all but one - Lady Sylvia Hermon - were elected as representatives of a political party. However, as of 2019, there are currently 11 independent MPs, who have either chosen to leave their political party or have had the whip withdrawn.
In modern times, all Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition have been drawn from the Commons, not the Lords. Alec Douglas-Home resigned from his peerages days after becoming Prime Minister in 1963, and the last Prime Minister before him from the Lords left in 1902 (the Marquess of Salisbury).
One party usually has a majority in Parliament, because of the use of the First Past the Post electoral system, which has been conducive in creating the current two party system. The monarch normally asks a person commissioned to form a government simply whether it can survive in the House of Commons, something which majority governments are expected to be able to do. In exceptional circumstances the monarch asks someone to 'form a government' with a parliamentary minoritywhich in the event of no party having a majority requires the formation of a coalition government or 'confidence and supply' arrangement. This option is only ever taken at a time of national emergency, such as war-time. It was given in 1916 to Bonar Law, and when he declined, to David Lloyd George and in 1940 to Winston Churchill. A government is not formed by a vote of the House of Commons, it is a commission from the monarch. The House of Commons gets its first chance to indicate confidence in the new government when it votes on the Speech from the Throne (the legislative programme proposed by the new government).
The House of Lords was previously a largely hereditary aristocratic chamber, although including life peers, and Lords Spiritual. It is currently midway through extensive reforms, the most recent of these being enacted in the House of Lords Act 1999. The house consists of two very different types of member, the Lords Temporal and Lords Spiritual. Lords Temporal include appointed members (life peers with no hereditary right for their descendants to sit in the house) and ninety-two remaining hereditary peers, elected from among, and by, the holders of titles which previously gave a seat in the House of Lords. The Lords Spiritual represent the established Church of England and number twenty-six: the Five Ancient Sees (Canterbury, York, London, Winchester and Durham), and the 21 next-most senior bishops.
The House of Lords currently acts to review legislation initiated by the House of Commons, with the power to propose amendments, and can exercise a suspensive veto. This allows it to delay legislation if it does not approve it for twelve months. However, the use of vetoes is limited by convention and by the operation of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949: the Lords may not veto the "money bills" or major manifesto promises (see Salisbury convention). Persistent use of the veto can also be overturned by the Commons, under a provision of the Parliament Act 1911. Often governments will accept changes in legislation in order to avoid both the time delay, and the negative publicity of being seen to clash with the Lords. However the Lords still retain a full veto in acts which would extend the life of Parliament beyond the 5-year term limit introduced by the Parliament Act 1911.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 outlined plans for a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to replace the role of the Law Lords.
The House of Lords was replaced as the final court of appeal on civil cases within the United Kingdom on 1 October 2009, by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
Though the UK parliament remains the sovereign parliament, Scotland has a parliament and Wales and Northern Ireland have assemblies. De jure, each could have its powers broadened, narrowed or changed by an Act of the UK Parliament. The UK is a unitary state with a devolved system of government. This contrasts with a federal system, in which sub-parliaments or state parliaments and assemblies have a clearly defined constitutional right to exist and a right to exercise certain constitutionally guaranteed and defined functions and cannot be unilaterally abolished by Acts of the central parliament.
All three devolved institutions are elected by proportional representation: the Additional Member System is used in Scotland and Wales, and Single Transferable Vote is used in Northern Ireland.
England, therefore, is the only country in the UK not to have its own devolved parliament. However, senior politicians of all main parties have voiced concerns in regard to the West Lothian Question,which is raised where certain policies for England are set by MPs from all four constituent nations whereas similar policies for Scotland or Wales might be decided in the devolved assemblies by legislators from those countries alone. Alternative proposals for English regional government have stalled, following a poorly received referendum on devolved government for the North East of England, which had hitherto been considered the region most in favour of the idea, with the exception of Cornwall, where there is widespread support for a Cornish Assembly, including all five Cornish MPs. England is therefore governed according to the balance of parties across the whole of the United Kingdom.
The government has no plans to establish an English parliament or assembly although several pressure groupsare calling for one. One of their main arguments is that MPs (and thus voters) from different parts of the UK have inconsistent powers. Currently an MP from Scotland can vote on legislation which affects only England but MPs from England (or indeed Scotland) cannot vote on matters devolved to the Scottish parliament. Indeed, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is an MP for a Scottish constituency, introduced some laws that only affect England and not his own constituency. This anomaly is known as the West Lothian question.
The policy of the UK Government in England was to establish elected regional assemblies with no legislative powers. The London Assembly was the first of these, established in 2000, following a referendum in 1998, but further plans were abandoned following rejection of a proposal for an elected assembly in North East England in a referendum in 2004. Unelected regional assemblies remain in place in eight regions of England.
The Scottish Parliament is the national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, located in the Holyrood area of the capital Edinburgh. The Parliament, informally referred to as "Holyrood"(cf. "Westminster"), is a democratically elected body comprising 129 members who are known as Members of the Scottish Parliament, or MSPs. Members are elected for four-year terms under the mixed member proportional representation system. As a result, 73 MSPs represent individual geographical constituencies elected by the plurality ("first past the post") system, with a further 56 returned from eight additional member regions, each electing seven MSPs.
The current Scottish Parliament was established by the Scotland Act 1998 and its first meeting as a devolved legislature was on 12 May 1999. The parliament has the power to pass laws and has limited tax-varying capability. Another of its roles is to hold the Scottish Government to account. The "devolved matters" over which it has responsibility include education, health, agriculture, and justice. A degree of domestic authority, and all foreign policy, remains with the UK Parliament in Westminster.
The public take part in Parliament in a way that is not the case at Westminster through Cross-Party Groups on policy topics which the interested public join and attend meetings of alongside Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).
The resurgence in Celtic language and identity, as well as 'regional' politics and development, has contributed to forces pulling against the unity of the state.This was clearly demonstrated when - although some argue it was influenced by general public dillusionment with Labour - the Scottish National Party (SNP) became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament by one seat.
Alex Salmond (leader of SNP) has since made history by becoming the first First Minister of Scotland from a party other than Labour. The SNP governed as a minority administration at Holyrood following the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. Nationalism (support for breaking up the UK) has experienced a dramatic rise in popularity in recent years, with a pivotal moment coming at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election where the SNP capitalised on the collapse of the Liberal Democrat support to improve on their 2007 performance to win the first ever outright majority at Holyrood (despite the voting system being specifically designed to prevent majorities), with Labour remaining the largest opposition party.
This election result prompted the leader of the three main opposition parties to resign. Iain Gray was succeeded as Scottish Labour leader by Johann Lamont, Scottish Conservative and Unionist leader, Annabel Goldie was replaced by Ruth Davidson, and Tavish Scott, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats was replaced by Willie Rennie.
A major SNP manifesto pledge was to hold a referendum on Scottish Independence, which was duly granted by the UK Government and held on 18 September 2014. When the nationalists came to power in 2011, opinion polls placed support for independence at around 31%, but in 2014, 45% voted to leave the union. In the wake of the referendum defeat, membership of the SNP surged to over 100,000, overtaking the Liberal Democrats as the third largest political party in the UK by membership, and in the general election of May 2015 the SNP swept the board and took 56 of the 59 Westminster constituencies in Scotland (far surpassing their previous best of 11 seats in the late 1970s) and winning more than 50% of the Scottish vote.
Alex Salmond resigned as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP following the country's rejection of independence in September 2014, and was succeeded in both roles by the deputy First Minister and deputy leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon. Also in the wake of the referendum, Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, stood down and Jim Murphy was elected to replace her. Mr Murphy was the leader of Scottish Labour Party until the general election on 2015 in which he lost his seat in Westminster, after the defeat he resigned his position and her deputy MSP Kezia Dugdale became leader of the party and leader of SLP in Holyrood. At 2017 she unexpectedly resigned and was elected as SLP leader the English born Richard Leonard.
The National Assembly for Wales is the devolved parliament of Wales with power to make legislation and vary taxes. The Assembly comprises 60 members, who are known as Assembly Members, or AMs (Welsh : Aelod y Cynulliad). Members are elected for four-year terms under an additional members system, where 40 AMs represent geographical constituencies elected by the plurality system, and 20 AMs from five electoral regions using the d'Hondt method of proportional representation.
The Assembly was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998, which followed a referendum in 1997. On its creation, most of the powers of the Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales were transferred to it. The Assembly had no powers to initiate primary legislation until limited law-making powers were gained through the Government of Wales Act 2006. Its primary law-making powers were enhanced following a Yes vote in the referendum on 3 March 2011, making it possible for it to legislate without having to consult the UK parliament, nor the Secretary of State for Wales in the 20 areas that are devolved.
The government of Northern Ireland was established as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This created the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly is a unicameral body consisting of 108 members elected under the Single Transferable Vote form of proportional representation. The Assembly is based on the principle of power-sharing, in order to ensure that both communities in Northern Ireland, unionist and nationalist, participate in governing the region. It has power to legislate in a wide range of areas and to elect the Northern Ireland Executive (cabinet). It sits at Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast.
The Assembly has authority to legislate in a field of competences known as "transferred matters". These matters are not explicitly enumerated in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 but instead include any competence not explicitly retained by the Parliament at Westminster. Powers reserved by Westminster are divided into "excepted matters", which it retains indefinitely, and "reserved matters", which may be transferred to the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly at a future date. Health, criminal law and education are "transferred" while royal relations are all "excepted".
While the Assembly was in suspension, due to issues involving the main parties and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), its legislative powers were exercised by the UK government, which effectively had power to legislate by decree. Laws that would normally be within the competence of the Assembly were passed by the UK government in the form of Orders-in-Council rather than legislative acts.
There has been a significant decrease in violence over the last twenty years, though the situation remains tense, with the more hard-line parties such as Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party now holding the most parliamentary seats (see Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland).
The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system due to it being created by the political union of previously independent countries with the terms of the Treaty of Union guaranteeing the continued existence of Scotland's separate legal system. Today the UK has three distinct systems of law: English law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. Recent constitutional changes saw a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom come into being in October 2009 that took on the appeal functions of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, comprising the same members as the Supreme Court, is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the UK overseas territories, and the British crown dependencies.
Both English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law are based on common-law principles. The essence of common-law is that law is made by judges sitting in courts, applying their common sense and knowledge of legal precedent ( stare decisis ) to the facts before them. The Courts of England and Wales are headed by the Senior Courts of England and Wales, consisting of the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice (for civil cases) and the Crown Court (for criminal cases). The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is the highest court in the land for both criminal and civil cases in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and any decision it makes is binding on every other court in the hierarchy.
Scots law, a hybrid system based on both common-law and civil-law principles, applies in Scotland. The chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom serves as the highest court of appeal for civil cases under Scots law. Sheriff courts deal with most civil and criminal cases including conducting criminal trials with a jury, known that as Sheriff solemn Court, or with a Sheriff and no jury, known as (Sheriff summary Court). The Sheriff courts provide a local court service with 49 Sheriff courts organised across six Sheriffdoms.
Various electoral systems are used in the UK:
The use of the first-past-the-post to elect members of Parliament is unusual among European nations. The use of the system means that when three or more candidates receive a significant share of the vote, MPs are often elected from individual constituencies with a plurality (receiving more votes than any other candidate), but not an absolute majority (50 percent plus one vote).
Elections and political parties in the United Kingdom are affected by Duverger's law, the political science principle which states that plurality voting systems, such as first-past-the-post, tend to lead to the development of two-party systems. The UK, like several other states, has sometimes been called a "two-and-a-half" party system, because parliamentary politics is dominated by the Labour Party and Conservative Party, while the Liberal Democrats, used to, hold a significant number of seats (but still substantially less than Labour and the Conservatives), and several small parties (some of them regional or nationalist) trailing far behind in number of seats, although this changed in the 2015 general election.
In the last few general elections, voter mandates for Westminster in the 30–40% ranges have been swung into 60% parliamentary majorities. No single party has won a majority of the popular vote since the Third National Government of Stanley Baldwin in 1935. On two occasions since World War II – 1951 and February 1974 – a party that came in second in the popular vote actually came out with the larger number of seats.
Electoral reform for parliamentary elections have been proposed many times. The Jenkins Commission report in October 1998 suggested implementing the Alternative Vote Top-up (also called alternative vote plus or AV+) in parliamentary elections. Under this proposal, most MPs would be directly elected from constituencies by the alternative vote, with a number of additional members elected from "top-up lists." However, no action was taken by the Labour government at the time. There are a number of groups in the UK campaigning for electoral reform, including the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Count Coalition and Fairshare.
The 2010 general election resulted in a hung parliament (no single party being able to command a majority in the House of Commons). This was only the second general election since World War II to return a hung parliament, the first being the February 1974 election. The Conservatives gained the most seats (ending 13 years of Labour government) and the largest percentage of the popular vote, but fell 20 seats short of a majority.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats entered into a new coalition government, headed by David Cameron. Under the terms of the coalition agreement the government committed itself to hold a referendum in May 2011 on whether to change parliamentary elections from first-past-the-post to AV. Electoral reform was a major priority for the Liberal Democrats, who favour proportional representation but were able to negotiate only a referendum on AV with the Conservatives. The coalition partners campaigned on opposite sides, with the Liberal Democrats supporting AV and the Conservatives opposing it. The referendum resulted in the Conservative's favour and the first-past-the-post system was maintained.
Since the 1920s the two main political parties in the UK, in terms of the number of seats in the House of Commons, are the Conservative and Unionist Party and the Labour Party. The Scottish National Party has the second largest party membership,but a smaller number of MPs as it only fields candidates for constituencies in Scotland.
The modern day Conservative Party was founded in 1834 and is an outgrowth of the Tory movement or party, which began in 1678. Today it is still colloquially referred to as the Tory Party and members/supporters are referred to as Tories. The Liberal Democrats or "Lib Dems" were founded in 1988 by an amalgamation of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a right-wing Labour breakaway movement formed in 1981. The Liberals and SDP had contested elections together as the SDP–Liberal Alliance for seven years previously. The modern Liberal Party had been founded in 1859 as an outgrowth of the Whig movement or party (which began at the same time as the Tory Party and was its historical rival) as well as the Radical and Peelite tendencies.
The Liberal Party was one of the two dominant parties (along with the Conservatives) from its founding until the 1920s, when it rapidly declined in popularity, and was supplanted on the left by the Labour Party, which was founded in 1900 and formed its first minority government in 1924. Since that time, the Labour and Conservative parties have been dominant, with the Liberals (later Liberal Democrats) being the third-largest party until 2015, when they lost 49 of their 57 seats, they now hold 12 seats. They gained 11 seats in the 2017 General Election and gained another MP with the defection of [ Chuka Umunna from Change UK on 13 June 2019. Currently the Scottish National Party is the third largest party and have been since the 2015 General Election when they gained 56 seats. Founded in 1934, the SNP advocates Scottish independence and has had continuous representation in Parliament since 1967. The SNP currently leads a minority government in the Scottish Parliament, and has 35 MPs in the House of Commons after the 2017 general election.
Minor parties also hold seats in parliament:
At the most recent general election in 2017, the Conservatives, although increased their share of the vote; lost their overall majority in the House of Commons after previously commanding a majority for two years between 2015-17. However, the Conservatives did manage to gain 12 new seats in Scotland, as well as retaining the one seat from the previous election. This was the best Conservative Party result in Scotland since the 1983 general election.
The Conservative Party won the largest number of seats at the 2015 general election, returning 330 MPs (plus the Speaker's seat, uncontested, bringing the total MPs to 331), enough for an overall majority, and went on to form the first Conservative majority government since the 1992 general election.
The Conservatives won only 318 seats at the 2017 general election, but went on to form a confidence and supply deal with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) who got 10 seats in the House of Commons, allowing the Conservative Party to remain in government.
The Conservative Party can trace its origin back to 1662, with the Court Party and the Country Party being formed in the aftermath of the English Civil War. The Court Party soon became known as the Tories, a name that has stuck despite the official name being 'Conservative'. The term "Tory" originates from the Exclusion Bill crisis of 1678-1681 - the Whigs were those who supported the exclusion of the Roman Catholic Duke of York from the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland, and the Tories were those who opposed it. Both names were originally insults: a "whiggamore" was a horse drover (See Whiggamore Raid), and a "tory" ( Tóraidhe ) was an Irish term for an outlaw, later applied to Irish Confederates and Irish Royalists, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
Generally, the Tories were associated with lesser gentry and the Church of England, while Whigs were more associated with trade, money, larger land holders (or "land magnates"), expansion and tolerance of Catholicism.
The Rochdale Radicals were a group of more extreme reformists who were also heavily involved in the cooperative movement. They sought to bring about a more equal society, and are considered by modern standards to be left-wing.
After becoming associated with repression of popular discontent in the years after 1815, the Tories underwent a fundamental transformation under the influence of Robert Peel, himself an industrialist rather than a landowner, who in his 1834 "Tamworth Manifesto" outlined a new "Conservative" philosophy of reforming ills while conserving the good.
Though Peel's supporters subsequently split from their colleagues over the issue of free trade in 1846, ultimately joining the Whigs and the Radicals to form what would become the Liberal Party, Peel's version of the party's underlying outlook was retained by the remaining Tories, who adopted his label of Conservative as the official name of their party.
The Conservatives were in government for eighteen years between 1979–1997, under the leadership of the first-ever female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and former Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major (1990–97). Their landslide defeat at the 1997 general election saw the Conservative Party lose over half their seats gained in 1992, and saw the party re-align with public perceptions of them. The Conservatives lost all their seats in both Scotland and Wales, and was their worst defeat since 1906.
In 2008, the Conservative Party formed a pact with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) to select joint candidates for European and House of Commons elections; this angered the DUP as by splitting the Unionist vote, republican parties will be elected in some areas.
After thirteen years in opposition, the Conservatives returned to power as part of a coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, going on to form a majority government in 2015. David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister in July 2016, which resulted in the appointment of the country's second female Prime Minister, Theresa May. The Conservative Party is the only party in the history of the United Kingdom to have been governed by a female Prime Minister.
Historically, the party has been the mainland party most pre-occupied by British Unionism, as attested to by the party's full name, the Conservative & Unionist Party. This resulted in the merger between the Conservatives and Joseph Chamberlain's Liberal Unionist Party, composed of former Liberals who opposed Irish home rule. The unionist tendency is still in evidence today, manifesting sometimes as a scepticism or opposition to devolution, firm support for the continued existence of the United Kingdom in the face of movements advocating independence from the UK, and a historic link with the cultural unionism of Northern Ireland.
The Labour Party won the second-largest number of seats in the House of Commons at the 2017 general election, with 262 seats overall.
The history of the Labour Party goes back to 1900, when a Labour Representation Committee was established and changed its name to "The Labour Party" in 1906. After the First World War, this led to the demise of the Liberal Party as the main reformist force in British politics. The existence of the Labour Party on the left-wing of British politics led to a slow waning of energy from the Liberal Party, which has consequently assumed third place in national politics. After performing poorly at the general elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924, the Liberal Party was superseded by the Labour Party as being the party of the left.
Following two brief spells in minority governments in 1924 and 1929–1931, the Labour Party won a landslide victory after World War II at the 1945 "khaki election"; winning a majority for the first time ever. Throughout the rest of the twentieth century, Labour governments alternated with Conservative governments. The Labour Party suffered the "wilderness years" of 1951–1964 (three consecutive general election defeats) and 1979–1997 (four consecutive general election defeats).
During this second period, Margaret Thatcher, who became Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, made a fundamental change to Conservative policies, turning the Conservative Party into an economically liberal party. At the 1979 general election, she defeated James Callaghan's Labour government following the Winter of Discontent.
For all of the 1980s and most of the 1990s, Conservative governments under Thatcher and her successor John Major pursued policies of privatisation, anti-trade-unionism, and, for a time, monetarism, now known collectively as Thatcherism.
The Labour Party elected left-winger Michael Foot as their leader in 1980, and he responded to dissatisfaction within the Labour Party by pursuing a number of radical policies developed by its grassroots members. In 1981, several centrist and right-leaning Labour MPs formed a breakaway group called the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a move which split Labour and is widely believed to have made the Labour Party unelectable for a decade. The SDP formed an alliance with the Liberal Party which contested the 1983 and 1987 general elections as a pro-European, centrist alternative to Labour and the Conservatives. After some initial success, the SDP did not prosper (partly due to its unfavourable distribution of votes by the First-Past-The-Post electoral system), and was accused by some of splitting the Labour vote.
The SDP eventually merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988. Support for the new party has increased since then, and the Liberal Democrats (often referred to as Lib Dems) gained an increased number of seats in the House of Commons at both the 2001 and 2005 general elections.
The Labour Party was defeated in a landslide at the 1983 general election, and Michael Foot was replaced shortly thereafter by Neil Kinnock as party leader. Kinnock progressively expelled members of Militant, a far left group which practised entryism, and moderated many of the party's policies. Despite these changes, as well as electoral gains and also due to Kinnock's negative media image, Labour was defeated at the 1987 and 1992 general elections, and he was succeeded by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Smith .
Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair became Leader of the Labour Party after John Smith's sudden death from a heart attack in 1994. He continued to move the Labour Party towards the "centre" by loosening links with the unions and continuing many of Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal policies. This coupled with the professionalising of the party machine's approach to the media, helped Labour win a historic landslide at the 1997 general election, after eighteen consecutive years of Conservative rule. Some observers say the Labour Party had by then morphed from a democratic socialist party to a social democratic party, a process which delivered three general election victories but alienated some of its core base; leading to the formation of the Socialist Labour Party (UK).[ citation needed ]
A subset of Labour MPs stand as joint Labour and Co-operative candidates due to a long-standing electoral alliance between the Labour Party and the Co-op Party - the political arm of the British co-operative movement. At the 2015 general election, 42 candidates stood using the Labour and Co-operative Party ticket,of which 24 were elected.
The Scottish National Party won the third-largest number of seats in the House of Commons at the 2015 general election, winning 56 MPs from the 59 constituencies in Scotland having won 50% of the popular vote. This was an increase of 50 MPs on the result achieved in 2010.
At the 2017 general election, the SNP won 35 seats, a net loss of 21 seats.
The SNP has enjoyed parliamentary representation continuously since 1967. Following the 2007 Scottish parliamentary elections, the SNP emerged as the largest party with 47 MSPs and formed a minority government with Alex Salmond as First Minister. After the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election, the SNP won enough seats to form a majority government, the first time this had ever happened since devolution was established in 1999.
Members of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru work together as a single parliamentary groupfollowing a formal pact signed in 1986. This group currently has 39 MPs.
The Liberal Democrats won the joint-fourth largest number of seats at the 2017 general election, returning 12 MPs.
The Liberal Democrats were founded in 1988 by an amalgamation of the Liberal Party with the Social Democratic Party, but can trace their origin back to the Whigs and the Rochdale Radicals who evolved into the Liberal Party. The term 'Liberal Party' was first used officially in 1868, though it had been in use colloquially for decades beforehand. The Liberal Party formed a government in 1868 and then alternated with the Conservative Party as the party of government throughout the late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century.
The Liberal Democrats are a party with policies on constitutional and political reforms, including changing the voting system for general elections (2011 United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum), abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with a 300-member elected Senate, introducing fixed five-year Parliaments, and introducing a National Register of Lobbyists. They also support what they see as greater fairness and social mobility. In the coalition government, the party promoted legislation introducing a pupil premium - funding for schools directed at the poorest students to give them an equal chance in life. They also supported same-sex marriage and increasing the income tax threshold to £10,000, a pre-election manifesto commitment.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had 10 MPs elected at the 2017 general election. Founded in 1971 by Ian Paisley, it has grown to become the larger of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin MPs had 7 MPs elected at the 2017 election, but Sinn Féin MPS traditionally abstain from the House of Commons and refuse to take their seats in what they view as a "foreign" parliament.
Plaid Cymru has enjoyed parliamentary representation continuously since 1974 and had 4 MPs elected at the 2017 general election. Following the 2007 Welsh Assembly elections, they joined Labour as the junior partner in a coalition government, but have fallen down to the third-largest party in the Assembly after the 2011 Assembly elections, and have become an opposition party.
Change UK - The Independent Group is a political party formed in 2019. It has 5 MPs, of whom 4 were elected as Labour MPs, and 1 as Conservative MPs.
The Green Party of England and Wales kept its sole MP, Caroline Lucas, in the 2017 general election (it previously had an MP in 1992; Cynog Dafis, Ceredigion, who was elected on a joint Plaid Cymru/Green Party ticket). It also has seats in the European Parliament, two seats on the London Assembly and around 250 local councillors.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) had one MP and 24 seats in the European Parliament as well as seats in the House of Lords and a number of local councillors. UKIP also had a MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly. UKIP has become an emerging alternative party among some voters, gaining the third-largest share of the vote in the 2015 general election and the largest share of the vote of any party (27%) in the 2014 European elections. In 2014 UKIP gained its first ever MP following the defection and re-election of Douglas Carswell in the 2014 Clacton by-election. They campaign mainly on issues such as reducing immigration and EU withdrawal.
The Respect party, a left-wing group that came out of the anti-war movement had a single MP, George Galloway from 2005-2010, and again between 2012-2015.
There are usually a small number of Independent politicians in parliament with no party allegiance. In modern times, this has usually occurred when a sitting member leaves their party, and some such MPs have been re-elected as independents. The only independent MP elected at the 2017 General Election is Sylvia Hermon, previously of the Ulster Unionist Party, though there are currently 11 MPs sitting as Independents. Since 1950, only two new members have been elected as independents without having ever stood for a major party:
Other UK political parties exist, but generally do not succeed in returning MPs to Parliament.
The Scottish Green Party has 6 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament and 19 local councillors.
The Green Party in Northern Ireland has two MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as 8 local councillors.
The British National Party (BNP) won two seats in the European Parliament in the 2009 European elections, before losing both seats in 2014. In May 2018 the party lost its last elected representative (a local councillor).
The Libertarian Party was founded in 2008 and has contested several local elections and parliamentary constituencies.
The English Democrats was founded in 2002 and advocates England having its own parliament. The party's candidate was elected mayor of Doncaster in 2009, before resigning from the party in February 2013.
The Brexit Party was founded in January 2019. It has 14 MEPS, all of whom were elected as members of UKIP. It will contest the 2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom.
Other parties include: the Socialist Labour Party (UK), the Free England Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Party (England and Wales), the Socialist Workers Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Liberal Party, Mebyon Kernow (a Cornish nationalist party) in Cornwall, the Yorkshire Party in Yorkshire, the Communist Left Alliance (in Fife) and the Pirate Party UK.
Several local parties contest only within a specific area, a single county, borough or district. Examples include the Better Bedford Independent Party, which was one of the dominant parties in Bedford Borough Council and led by Bedford's former Mayor, Frank Branston. The most notable local party is Health Concern, which controlled a single seat in the UK Parliament from 2001 to 2010.
The Jury Team, launched in March 2009 and described as a "non-party party", is an umbrella organisation seeking to increase the number of independent members of both domestic and European members of Parliament in Great Britain.
The Official Monster Raving Loony Party was founded in 1983. The OMRLP are distinguished by having a deliberately bizarre manifesto, which contains things that seem to be impossible or too absurd to implement – usually to highlight what they see as real-life absurdities. It is effectively regarded as a satirical political party.
After winning the largest number of seats and votes in the 2015 general election, the Conservatives first under David Cameron and now under Theresa May remain ahead of the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn since September 2015. The SNP has maintained its position in Scotland, the party was just short of an overall majority at the Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2016.
However a turbulent referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union, called for by David Cameron, led to his own resignation, the appointment of a new prime minister Theresa May, and divided opinion on Europe amongst the party.
In addition, the EU referendum campaign plunged the Labour Party into crisis and resulted in a motion of no confidence in the party leader Jeremy Corbyn being passed by the party's MPs in a 172-40 vote,which followed a significant number of resignations from the Shadow Cabinet. This led to a leadership election which began with Angela Eagle, the former Shadow First Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills who eight days later withdrew from the leadership race, to support Owen Smith, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. This was won by Jeremy Corbyn with an increased majority. He went on to lead the Labour party at the 2017 election, where they gained 30 seats.
Following the vote to leave the European Union, Nigel Farage offered his own resignation as leader, something he had campaigned for since 1992. A leadership contest also took place in the Green Party, which led to the joint election on 2 September 2016 of Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas as co-leaders, who took over the role in a job-share arrangement.Lucas, was previously leader until 2010 and is the party's only MP. Strategic cross-party alliances have been initiated, including a "progressive alliance" and a "Patriotic Alliance", as proposed by UKIP donor Aaron Banks.
All political parties have membership schemes that allow members of the public to actively influence the policy and direction of the party to varying degrees, though particularly at a local level. Membership of British political parties is around 1% of the British electorate,which is lower than in all European countries except for Poland and Latvia. Overall membership to a political party has been in decline since the 1950s. In 1951, the Conservative Party had 2.2 million members, and a year later in 1952 the Labour Party reached their peak of 1 million members (of an electorate of around 34 million).
The table below details the membership numbers of political parties that have more than 5,000 members.
|Green Party of England and Wales||39,400||August 2018|
|Liberal Democrats||99,200||August 2018|
|Plaid Cymru||10,500+||12 October 2018|
|Scottish Green Party||8,120||31 December 2016|
|Scottish National Party||125,482||August 2018|
|UK Independence Party||23,600||August 2018|
No data could be collected for the four parties of Northern Ireland: the DUP, UUP, SDLP, and Sinn Féin. However, in January 1997, it was estimated that the UUP had 10-12,000 members, and the DUP had 5,000 members.
The UK is divided into a variety of different types of Local Authorities, with different functions and responsibilities.
England has a mix of two-tier and single-tier councils in different parts of the country. In Greater London, a unique two-tier system exists, with power shared between the London borough councils, and the Greater London Authority which is headed by an elected mayor.
Unitary Authorities are used throughout Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom first joined the then European Communities in January 1973 by the then Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, and remained a member of the European Union (EU) that it evolved into; UK citizens, and other EU citizens resident in the UK, elect 73 members to represent them in the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg.
The UK's membership in the Union has been a major topic of debate over the years and has been objected to over questions of sovereignty, [ citation needed ]and in recent years there have been divisions in both major parties over whether the UK should form greater ties within the EU, or reduce the EU's supranational powers. Opponents of greater European integration are known as "Eurosceptics", while supporters are known as "Europhiles". Division over Europe is prevalent in both major parties, although the Conservative Party is seen as most divided over the issue, both whilst in Government up to 1997 and after 2010, and between those dates as the opposition. However, the Labour Party is also divided, with conflicting views over UK adoption of the euro whilst in Government (1997–2010).
British nationalists have long campaigned against European integration. The strong showing of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) since the 2004 European Parliament elections has shifted the debate over UK relations with the EU.
In March 2008, Parliament decided to not hold a referendum on the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, signed in December 2007.This was despite the Labour government promising in 2004 to hold a referendum on the previously proposed Constitution for Europe.
On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a referendum. After the referendum, it was debated as to how and when the UK should leave the EU. On 11 July 2016, the Cabinet Office Minister, John Penrose failed to deliver a final answer on whether it would be at the disposal of the Prime Minister and one of the Secretaries of State, through the Royal prerogative, or of Parliament, through primary legislation.
In October 2016 the Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced that Article 50 would be invoked by "the first quarter of 2017".On 24 January 2017 the Supreme Court ruled in the Miller case by a majority that the process could not be initiated without an authorising act of parliament, but unanimously ruled against the Scottish government's claim in respect of devolution that they had a direct say in the decision to trigger Article 50. Consequently, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 empowering the prime minister to invoke Article 50 was passed and enacted by royal assent in March 2017.
Invocation of Article 50 by the United Kingdom government occurred on 29 March 2017, when Sir Tim Barrow, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union, formally delivered by hand a letter signed by Prime Minister Theresa May to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council in Brussels. The letter also contained the United Kingdom's intention to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom). This means that the UK will cease to be a member of the EU on 30 March 2019, unless an extension to negotiations is agreed upon by the UK and EU.
The 2001 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 7 June 2001, four years after the previous election on 1 May 1997, to elect 659 members to the House of Commons. Under the leadership of Tony Blair, the Labour Party was re-elected to serve a second term in government with another landslide victory, returning 413 of the 418 seats won by the party in the previous general election, a net loss of 5 seats, though with a significantly lower turnout than before—59.4%, compared to 71.3% at the previous election. Blair went on to become the first Labour Prime Minister to serve a consecutive full term in office. It was dubbed "the quiet landslide" by the media.
The West Lothian question, also known as the English question, is a political issue in the United Kingdom. It concerns the question of whether MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, sitting in the House of Commons should be able to vote on matters that affect only England, while MPs from England are unable to vote on matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The term West Lothian question was coined by Enoch Powell MP in 1977 after Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for the Scottish constituency of West Lothian, raised the matter repeatedly in House of Commons debates on devolution.
Scotland is a country which is in a political union with the rest of the United Kingdom. Having been directly governed by the UK Government since 1707, a system of devolution was established in 1999, after the Scottish people voted by a firm majority to re-establish a primary law making Scottish Parliament in a referendum held in 1997.
The first election to the devolved Scottish Parliament, to fill 129 seats, took place on 6 May 1999. Following the election, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats formed the Scottish Executive, with Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Donald Dewar becoming First Minister.
The European Assembly Election, 1979, was the first European election to be held in the United Kingdom after the European Communities (EC) decided to directly elect representatives to the European Parliament. It was held on 7 June. Elections were also held in eight other EC states. European elections were incorporated into UK law by the European Assembly Elections Act 1978. Out of the 410 members of the European Parliament, 81 were elected from the UK. The electoral system was First Past the Post in England, Scotland and Wales and Single Transferable Vote in Northern Ireland.
The 1984 European Parliament election was the second European election to be held in the United Kingdom. It was held on 14 June. The electoral system was First Past the Post in England, Scotland and Wales and Single Transferable Vote in Northern Ireland. The turnout was again the lowest in Europe. In England, Scotland and Wales, the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party were in alliance, collecting 2,591,635 votes but not a single seat.
Unionism in Scotland is a political movement which seeks to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom (UK). Scotland is one of four countries of the United Kingdom which has its own devolved government and Scottish Parliament, as well as representation in the UK Parliament. There are many strands of political Unionism in Scotland, some of which have ties to Unionism and Loyalism in Northern Ireland. The three main political parties in the UK: the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all support Scotland remaining part of the UK.
A devolved English parliament or assembly is a proposed institution that would give separate decision-making powers to representatives for voters in England, similar to the representation given by the National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. A devolved English parliament is an issue in the politics of the United Kingdom.
The 2005 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 5 May 2005, to elect 646 members to the House of Commons. The Labour Party led by Tony Blair won its third consecutive victory, with Blair becoming the only Labour leader beside Harold Wilson to form three majority governments. However, its majority now stood at 66 seats compared to the 160-seat majority it had previously held. As of 2019, it remains the last general election victory for the Labour Party.
English votes for English laws (EVEL) is a set of procedures of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom whereby legislation which affects only England requires the support of a majority of MPs representing English constituencies. The procedures were developed following devolution in the United Kingdom as a result of the West Lothian question, a concern about the perceived inequity of MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, sitting in the House of Commons being able to vote on matters that affected only England, while MPs from England were unable to vote on matters that had been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
The Scottish Conservatives, officially the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, is the branch of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom that operates in Scotland. Describing itself as a "patriotic party of the Scottish centre-right", it is the second-largest party in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government. It also sends the second-largest Scottish representation to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, after the SNP in each respect.
The 2007 UK local government elections were held on 3 May 2007. These elections took place in most of England and all of Scotland. There were no local government elections in Wales though the Welsh Assembly had a general election on the same day. There were no local government elections in Northern Ireland. Just over half of English councils and almost all the Scottish councils began the counts on Friday, rather than Thursday night, because of more complex arrangements regarding postal votes.
The European Parliament election was the United Kingdom's component of the 2009 European Parliament election, the voting for which was held on Thursday 4 June 2009. The election was held concurrently with the 2009 local elections in England. In total, 72 Members of the European Parliament were elected from the United Kingdom using proportional representation.
The 2011 Scottish Parliament election was held on Thursday, 5 May 2011 to elect 129 members to the Scottish Parliament.
The 2015 United Kingdom general election was held on 7 May 2015 to elect 650 members to the House of Commons. It was the first general election at the end of a fixed-term Parliament. Local elections took place in most areas on the same day.
The 2017 United Kingdom general election took place on Thursday 8 June 2017, having been called just under two months earlier by Prime Minister Theresa May on 18 April 2017 after it was discussed in cabinet. Each of the 650 constituencies elected one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons. The governing Conservative Party remained the largest single party in the House of Commons but lost its majority, resulting in the formation of a minority government with a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland.
The next general election in the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held on 5 May 2022 under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The election may be held at an earlier date in the event of an early election motion being passed by a super-majority of two-thirds in the House of Commons, or a vote of no confidence in the government which is not followed by a vote of confidence within 14 days.
In the run-up to the next United Kingdom general election, various organisations are expected to carry out opinion polling to gauge voting intentions. Results of such polls are displayed in this list. Most of the pollsters listed are members of the British Polling Council (BPC) and abide by its disclosure rules. Opinion polling about attitudes to the leaders of various political parties can be found in a separate article.