The United Kingdom is considered a constitutional monarchy with a unitary government in the form of a parliament. This term will now be put under the microscope: Is it really representative of the current system? Here are some interesting facts: The Monarch is the head of state while the Prime Minister is the head of government. Her Majesty’s government controls the Executive power while the parliament of the United Kingdom regulates the Legislative power. Her Majesty’s government is the central government of Great Britain, which is said to govern in lieu of the Queen’s will. Legislative power is regulated by the two branches of parliament, which are comprised of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Throughout this post it will become evident, however, that neither the House of Lords, nor the monarch have much influence. It will also become apparent that the first-past-the-post election system, which characterizes the British general election system, contributes greatly to the perpetuation of dominance of the two leading parties in parliament. On the surface, Great Britain represents an image of a co-operation of monarch and parliament, when, in reality, it is evident that the political image of a constitutional monarchy, which it tries to uphold, is not easily justified.
The parliament of the United Kingdom is composed of two political Houses, of which only one can truly be spoken of as having true influence. The House of Lords, which used to flaunt its hereditary aristocratic influence, has lost much of its power. Having been comprised of high nobility, including lords and priests, also called Lords Spiritual, it was viewed in the past as a perfect governmental representation of the monarchy and its ideals. The present-day situation looks much different. The House of Commons – the branch of parliament which is composed of its elected members – has the greatest amount of influence in the decision-making process. The Prime Minister, who advises the Queen on which members to appoint for the House of Lords, is also, by nature of the electoral system, the leader of the majority party. This Prime Minister also chooses the members of Cabinet, which is behind many of the major decisions. It is easy to conclude that a system where one party, if not one person, holds much of the power, cannot be understood as a just one. This becomes even more obvious when investigating the British election system and how it affects the ability of minority parties to be part of the ‘think-tank’ behind the major decisions.
The first-past-the-post system of the British government is a plurality voting system, in which voters are granted the right to vote for only one candidate. The candidate with the most overall votes is then elected to be a member of parliament. This implies that the elected member does not need an absolute majority. It also means that votes are often wasted or not well thought-through because of the limited possibilities. Since there is a limited number of possible members for parliament to choose from, one is likely to choose the one who had the best chance against the one who is in power, if one is so inclined to desire a change in the system. In a system like this, absolute domination of two parties in parliament, one of them playing the greatest part in the workings of parliament on an election-term basis, is inevitable. This kind of system is one of tactical manipulation which encourages a type of compromise on the side of the people that cannot be considered fair to the public. It looks like a just system on the surface when, in reality, it is highly limited and limiting.
Another issue, which has to be addressed when investigating the validity of term “constitutional monarchy” is that of the decreasing influence of the monarch. The Queen still has her royal prerogative, which includes appointing the Prime Minister and dissolving the government, if necessary, but most of her influence is merely ceremonial. To make it more formal, it has actually been established in the Magna Carta that the royal prerogative can only be acted upon under consent of parliament. The monarch is, undoubtedly, the most popular representative of Great Britain. The Queen, as well as the royal family she is head of, is celebrated in many forms and people all over the world are taken with the beauty of the rituals and traditions. However, that is the extent it takes. The royal influence has become a ceremonial facade, behind which the parliament ‘pulls the strings’ and makes the decisions which affect the citizens of the United Kingdom.
The workings of the British political system are, by no means, transparent or easy to comprehend. On top of that, much has changed over time, with many of the changes having played out in favor of a two-party parliament, with turns being taken on one of them perpetually leading on a basis of absolute power. The monarch has lost influence. The House of Lords has been cut out of the decision-making process and the voting system does not seem to really justly support the will of the people. So the question remains: Can Great Britain be referred to as a constitutional monarchy?