|The British Party System|
|Written by||George Bernard Shaw|
|Subject||18th century politicians scheme to secure power by inventing party politics|
The British Party System (1944) is a "playlet" by George Bernard Shaw satirically analysing the origins of the party system in British politics in the form of a pair of conversations between scheming power-brokers at various points in history, who devise it and adapt it to suit their personal ends.
George Bernard Shaw, known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. His influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The playlet appears in Chapter III of Shaw's 1944 book Everybody's Political What's What?. It was never intended for performance, and is rather an essay in the form of a mini play. A similar previous playlet Arthur and the Acetone had been written in 1936 about the Balfour declaration.
Arthur and the Acetone (1936) is a satirical playlet by George Bernard Shaw which dramatises an imaginary conversation between the Zionist Chaim Weizmann and the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, which Shaw presents as the "true" story of how the Balfour Declaration came into being.
Shaw introduces the playlet with as comment about how party politics came into being: "What are the facts? Let me put them in the form of a little historical drama, as that comes easiest to me and is the most amusing."He then goes on to explore the significance of party politics.
Scene: Althorp, the residence of the Spencers, Earls of Sunderland.
Althorp is a Grade I listed stately home and estate in the civil parish of Althorp, in Daventry District, Northamptonshire, England of about 13,000 acres (5,300 ha). By road it is about 6 miles (9.7 km) northwest of the county town of Northampton and about 75 miles (121 km) northwest of central London. It has been held by the prominent aristocratic Spencer family for more than 500 years, and has been owned by Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer since 1992. It was also the home of Lady Diana Spencer from her parents' divorce until her marriage to Charles, Prince of Wales.
King William III and Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland discuss the latter's plan to create government through parties, rather than by choosing ministers on individual merit. Sunderland says that this system will ensure that members of parliament cannot function independently, but will always be under the control of the party in power for fear that the other party will take over. Both parties will have to appeal to the basic prejudices of the voting public to have a chance of power.
William III, also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".
Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, was an English nobleman and politician of the Spencer family. An able and gifted statesman, his caustic temper and belief in absolute monarchy nevertheless made him numerous enemies. He was forced to flee England in 1688, but later established himself with the new regime after the Revolution of that year. Subsequently, he took on a more disinterested role as an adviser to the Crown, seeking neither office nor favour. He evinced no party loyalty, but was devoted to his country's interests, as he saw them. By the notoriously lax standards of the Restoration Court, his private life was remarkably free from scandal, which won him favour in the more sober post-Revolution state.
25 years later, Robert Walpole and Sutherland's son Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, argue about relative power of the King and the House of Lords. Walpole resists Sunderland's plans to restrict the number of peerages in the Upper House.
Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford,, known before 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole, was a British statesman who is generally regarded as the de facto first Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, KG, PC, known as Lord Spencer from 1688 to 1702, was an English statesman and nobleman from the Spencer family. He served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1714–1717), Lord Privy Seal (1715–1716), Lord President of the Council (1717–1719) and First Lord of the Treasury (1718–1721). He is the 5th paternal great grandfather of Winston Churchill and the 6th paternal great grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Shaw follows this playlet with the provocative comment:
This lands us in the unexpected conclusion that government by Parliaments modelled on the British Party System, far from being a guarantee of liberty and enlightened progress, must be ruthlessly discarded in the fullest agreement with Oliver Cromwell, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, Adolf Hitler, Pilsudski, Benito Mussolini, Stalin and everyone else who has tried to govern efficiently and incorruptly by it, or who has studied its operation with a knowledge of its history and that of the Industrial Revolution.
Duke of Marlborough is a title in the Peerage of England. It was created by Queen Anne in 1702 for John Churchill, 1st Earl of Marlborough (1650–1722), the noted military leader. In historical texts, it is often to him that an unqualified use of the title refers. The name of the dukedom refers to Marlborough in Wiltshire. It is one of the few titles in the peerage which allows for suo jure female inheritance, and the only current dukedom to do so.
Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, also known as Horace Walpole, was an English writer, art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and together with their Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Monarch, to Parliament, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate. The office of Prime Minister is one of the Great Offices of State. The current holder of the office, Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, was appointed by the Queen on 13 July 2016.
The Whigs were a political faction and then a political party in the parliaments of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Between the 1680s and 1850s, they contested power with their rivals, the Tories. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute monarchy. The Whigs played a central role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and were the standing enemies of the Stuart kings and pretenders, who were Roman Catholic. The Whigs took full control of the government in 1715 and remained totally dominant until King George III, coming to the throne in 1760, allowed Tories back in. The Whig Supremacy (1715–1760) was enabled by the Hanoverian succession of George I in 1714 and the failed Jacobite rising of 1715 by Tory rebels. The Whigs thoroughly purged the Tories from all major positions in government, the army, the Church of England, the legal profession and local offices. The Party's hold on power was so strong and durable, historians call the period from roughly 1714 to 1783 the age of the Whig Oligarchy. The first great leader of the Whigs was Robert Walpole, who maintained control of the government through the period 1721–1742 and whose protégé Henry Pelham led from 1743 to 1754.
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The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called simply Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 31 December 1800. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". After the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell,, known by his courtesy title Lord John Russell before 1861, was a leading Whig and Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on two occasions during the early Victorian era.
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The Tories were members of two political parties which existed sequentially in the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. The first Tories emerged in 1678 in England, when they opposed the Whig-supported Exclusion Bill which set out to disinherit the heir presumptive James, Duke of York, who eventually became James II of England and VII of Scotland. This party ceased to exist as an organised political entity in the early 1760s, although it was used as a term of self-description by some political writers. A few decades later, a new Tory party would rise to establish a hold on government between 1783 and 1830, with William Pitt the Younger followed by Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool.
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