A Brief Guide to the UK Election System
Hogyan működik a brit választási rendszer?

Hogyan működik a brit választási rendszer?

Hogy is működik a brit választási rendszer, és mi történt a június 8-i választáson? Ebben az általános összefoglalóban elolvashatod.

The 2017 election in the UK took place on Thursday, June 8th. This brief guide summarizes how their election system works.

What is the United Kingdom?

Its proper name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Geographically it consists of the entire island of Great Britain and a small bit of Ireland called Northern Ireland. Ireland (or Eire) is an entirely separate country. The UK is made up of four constituent parts: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are various other bits of the British Isles, but they aren’t part of the UK.

Does the UK have a Constitution?

Yes and no. It has a constitution, but it is largely unwritten. It’s more of an idea. There is not a single codified document that lays out Britons’ rights or their structure of government. UK government evolved based on precedent, tradition, and conflict. Many ‘rights’ that Americans hold dear are also codified rights in the UK – like Freedom of Speech (though the British interpret it differently have more restrictions). You’ll hear British political commentators talk about a man named Walter Bagehot (usually they’ll just say his last name – pronounced Badge-it), he wrote a book called the English Constitution that sets out the frameworks and ideas behind the unwritten constitution. The book explores the nature of the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically the Parliament and its relationship to the monarchy.

Sovereign

At the top of the British political system is Her Majesty The Queen. She’s the head of state and the authority from which all power resides. The government in the UK is called Her Majesty’s Government, and it operates in her name. The Queen, in practice, has no actual power. It’s been stripped away during 500 years of parliamentary democracy. But she’s an important symbol of government. The Prime Minister also meets with her weekly in private to discuss issues facing the nation. The contents of these meetings are confidential. The Queen has a right to advise and to warn but not to act politically. She is apolitical. The Sovereign also formally dissolves Parliament and calls an election (after asked to do so by the PM).

Parliament

In the UK, Parliament is sovereign (Parliamentary sovereignty was an issue in the Brexit debate); there is no higher authority. Parliament is all branches of government – it is the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branch, all wrapped into one.

Houses of Parliament

There are two houses of Parliament, and they meet in the Palace of Westminster.

House of Commons

The House of Commons is the fully elected body and has full governmental power – it is more powerful than the House of Lords (it used to be the other way around but this changed slowly over hundreds of years and after a civil war). Members of the House of Commons are elected to represent 650 constituencies which have a population of roughly 70,000 people. The House of Commons is elected for a five-year term. However, the Prime Minister can now call an election anytime with the support of the majority of the house (which is why there was an early election now, the next one was supposed to be in 2020).

House of Lords

The House of Lords, or Upper House, is a hereditary and appointed body that is more focused on long-term governance and refining laws. It used to be the more powerful house, but now it’s more of a consultative body. It rarely stops legislation, and if it tried to, the House of Commons has the power to override it. Most of the hereditary Lords were abolished in 1999, but there are still 100 left. There is talk of abolishing the House of Lords all together and replacing it with an elected Senate.

The Government

The government consists of two parts, the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons and the actual machinery of government.

Political Government

The political party that is elected with the largest majority of MP’s forms the government. The UK has a first past the post voting system which means that the winner takes all. If any political party can command a majority in the House of Commons, it can form a government. This is where things get interesting. Sometimes the party with the most votes doesn’t win a majority, and then it has to govern in a coalition government (as in the 2010 election).

The leader of the largest party in the Commons is called the Prime Minister, and he or she is the de facto head of state – meaning they are the one that actually wields power. The Prime Minister forms a government of ministers – political appointees who are given power over specific areas and run various government departments.

Some key ministers:

Prime Minister – First Lord of the Treasury and the de facto head of state. The current Prime Minister was not technically ‘elected’ by the British people, Theresa May was selected by the Conservative Party as leader last year after David Cameron resigned.

Chancellor of the Exchequer – The person in charge of the treasury and puts together the yearly budget, second most powerful figure in government.

Foreign Secretary – The British equivalent to Secretary of State.

Civil Government

Outside of the political system, there is a vast government apparatus that operates for the British Government to function. Britain’s civil servants are apolitical servants of the crown whose job it is to enact government policy; whoever is in charge. The civil service does not like to draw attention to itself, but they’re the people responsible for the government working in Britain. The Head of the Civil service is the Cabinet Secretary, and he’s the highest ranking non-politician in government.

Local Government

The UK has a strong central government. Local government as a corollary is weak but becoming more important. Local elections are usually held on a different cycle than a general election, which is primarily concerned with national government. Most localities have a district or city council. They don’t have as much power as Parliament and only function in roles that have been clearly defined. They are most Britons’ direct contact with government, so often they are what people complain about the most. These are the organizations responsible for picking up the trash, road maintenance, etc.

Political Parties

When you vote in a British election, you’re not voting for a particular Prime Minister. You’re voting for the party you want to be in power and thus the leader of their party. The leader of the party who winds up with a majority in the House of Commons forms the government. The party in power until now was the Conservative party, led by Theresa May (the second woman to be Prime Minister in UK history).

The UK has three main political parties and several smaller ones.

 

Conservative Party – AKA The Tories – Right Wing

The Tories are the traditional right-wing conservative party in the UK. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. Their full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party. They’re very much like the Republicans in the USA in some regards, but actually, they’re nowhere near as conservative. Many people view the Tories negatively; they call them the ‘Nasty Party.’

Labour Party – AKA Labour – Left Wing

The Labour party is the traditional left wing party in the UK. They used to be more centrist under Tony Blair, but since then have moved much further to the left. The current leader is Jeremy Corbyn. They haven’t been in power since 2010. The ‘Opposition’ in the House of Commons is an official title, and the leader of the Opposition is accorded special respects, and he has his own ‘shadow cabinet’ of people who would be ready to take up the same positions in Government if they found themselves in power.

Liberal Democrats – AKA Lib Dems – Somewhere in the middle

The Liberal Democrats are a much harder party to define. The party’s reputation has been tarnished with their participation in the Coalition Government from 2010 to 2015, and it has yet to recover. They currently only have a handful of MPs, they used to have 70.

Minor Parties

Plaid Cymru – Party of Welsh Nationalists. They often align with Labour.

Scottish National Party – Party of Scottish Nationalists. They made headlines in 2015 by attempting to gain Scottish independence. They’re very left wing and would work with Labour, but it comes with strings attached (another independence referendum – which they’ve officially called for).

UKIP – The UK Independence Party. They’re hard to classify on the left/right scale, but essentially they’re against membership in the European Union and against almost all forms of Immigration into the UK.

Green Party – This very left wing party is the party for environmentalists. They only have one MP and a handful of council seats throughout the country.

Sinn Fein – Irish nationalists. Often elected from Northern Ireland but refuse to ever take their seats because they refuse to swear the loyalty oath to The Queen. They want Ireland to be unified into one country.

Democratic Unionist Party – Northern Irish Right wing conservatives who want to stay in the United Kingdom.

Election Process

UK elections are quick affairs, lasting just five weeks once they’re called. In the UK there is no campaigning before the election is called.

Once the election is called, Parliament is dissolved. This means there are no MP’s. Current government ministers maintain their posts – the UK is not without a government during this time, but this is when the Civil Service really takes over to ensure the smooth operation of government.

There is no TV advertising during an election campaign. No negative commercials. Nothing. There are party political broadcasts, and the major parties are all given allotted time to get their message out.

There is a cap on spending. It’s an election on a budget. Money does not play a huge role in the result of the election.

If a candidate wants to be an MP, they need to be selected by their local party organization. Candidates for MP have to place a £500 deposit to get on the ballot, if they do not get enough votes (5% of votes), they lose the deposit (which is considered an embarrassment).

Brexit

While an election has been called, Brexit is actually not much of an issue for the election (though it is behind the scenes). Article 50 has been invoked, Brexit is happening. The current party in power, the Conservatives, are fully for Brexit and have, in fact, started the Brexit process. The Labour Party’s platform is not to stop Brexit but to get the best deal for Britain from its withdrawal from the EU. The only competitive party that wants to actually stop Brexit are the Liberal Democrats but the likelihood of them winning power is very small. Brexit is a reality that cannot be stopped at this point.

Party Manifestos

In the weeks leading up to the election, each party publishes a manifesto. This manifesto essentially lays out everything they plan to do during their term in office. It’s considered a somewhat binding promise with the electorate that if you vote for this party, they plan to try and do these things. As always with politics, manifesto promises are routinely broken. But it gives the party in power a mandate, and you will often see that the UK Government will avoid big issues that it did not have a mandate for in its manifesto.

Election Day

Election Day is a sedate affair in the UK. It’s been held on a Thursday for every election since 1935. It has been suggested that this tradition arose as the best of several circumstances: Friday pay-packets would lead to more drunken voters on Fridays and weekends; having the election as far after a Sunday as possible would reduce the influence of Sunday sermons; many towns held markets on Thursdays, thus the local population would be travelling to town that day anyway. Polls open at 7:00 am and close at 10:00 pm. The media is not allowed to discuss issues, exits polls and individual candidate performance until after the polls have closed at 10:00 pm. The news during election day will often show footage of the party leaders voting, but that’s usually it. It’s almost as if the election is not happening. Polling places are in a variety of locations and sometimes in the oddest of places – like a fish and chips shop. Electioneering is not allowed.

Election Night

When polls close at 10:00 pm, the counting begins. Counting is done at a central location in each constituency. Counting is done by hand. Some places will count faster than others (and some even compete to complete the count soonest). Once all the ballots are counted, the ‘returning officer’ for the constituency will announce the winners, along with a count on how many votes each candidate received.

The BBC begins its election coverage at 10:00 pm sharp and often has early exit polling data to share. They talk and analyze the day until the first results start being called. The first few will probably have live coverage, but as each constituency result starts to flood in, they simply start filling in the electoral map. Within a few hours, it is pretty clear who’s going to win and when that point happens, the BBC declares who they think will win. Most results will be in by 3 or 4 am. Political junkies in the UK will stay up all night (and the TV presenters will stay on the air until the results are clear). The rest of the UK will wake up to the results in the morning.

If the current party in power wins the election, their leader will remain the Prime Minister. They usually go to Buckingham Palace as soon as possible to ask HM The Queen to be allowed to form a government. It all happens very quickly. If the current party loses power, then the current PM will go to Buckingham Palace and resign, and then the new PM will arrive shortly after that and ask to form a new government. MP’s will be sworn in a few days later.

source: anglotopia.net

Vocabulary

election system

választási rendszer

entire

teljes

constituent part

alkotóelem, alkotórész

constitution

alkotmány

to evolve

kifejlődni, kialakulni

precedent

precedens, példa

to hold dear

drágának tartani

freedom of speech

szólásszabadság

framework

szerkezet

to strip away

megfosztani

confidential

bizalmas

to dissolve

feloszlatni

sovereign

szuverén, független

executive

végrehajtó

legislative

törvényhozó

judicial

törvényszéki, bírói

House of Commons

alsóház

constituency

választókerület

majority

többség

Upper House

felsőház

hereditary

öröklődő

appointed body

kinevezett testület

to refine

finomítani

to override

felülírni

to abolish

eltörölni

machinery

gépezet

to command a majority

többséget szerezni

to wield power

hatalmat gyakorolni

to resign

lemondani

Chancellor of the Exchequer

pénzügyminiszter

Foreign Secretary

külügyminiszter

to enact

véghez vinni, kivitelezni

highest ranking

legmagasabb rangú

corollary

folyomány, következmény

right wing

jobboldal

Labour Party

munkáspárt

left wing

baloldal

to be accorded

adnak, nyújtanak neki valamit

shadow cabinet

árnyékkormány

to tarnish

beszennyezni

a handful of

néhány

to align with

valaki mellé felsorakozni

independence

függetlenség

to swear the loyalty oath

letenni a hűségesküt

to be unified

egyesíteni

to ensure

biztosítani

smooth

zavartalan

allotted time

meghatározott/előírt idő

There is a cap on spending.

nem költhetnek korlátlanul

deposit

letét

ballot

választás

embarrassment

szégyen

withdrawal

kilépés

manifesto

nyilatkozat

binding

kötelező jellegű

electorate

választók, választókerület

sedate

higgadt, nyugodt

pay-packet

fizetési boríték

drunken

részeg

to reduce

csökkenteni

influence

befolyás

Sunday sermon

vasárnapi templomi prédikáció

poll

szavazófülke

odd

furcsa

counting

szavazatszámlálás

live coverage

élő tudósítás

to be sworn

felesketni

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