Q: There’s hardly any doubt that, at least until recently, Britain has been governed by a very efficient political machinery (and I mean efficient from the point of view of politicians, not the one of citizens; see a summary of the latest scandal here :-)... But is the UK really a two party democracy?
A: “No, it’s an elected dictatorship,” I was once offered an answer by a professor who, instead of brainwashing us, the (possibly naive) Chevening Fellows, always seemed to express his views sincerely.
No matter what ‘democratic guarantees’ may be in place, the truth is that, during a certain legislature, the party which forms the government in the UK is in almost ‘complete control’ of the country.
The Prime Minister (PM) not only controls his cabinet, but also the ruling party, whose members are often puppets in his hands. Every now and then, a few mavericks may appear, nevertheless, the rule of the PM is rarely challenged.
Removing Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair was no easy task, as neither getting rid of Gordon Brown appears to be these days. He seemes doomed to face an electoral disaster next year, but I don’t know whether he’d be replaced as head of Labour.
Theoretically, there are some institutions meant to offer ‘checks and balances’ in the Wesminster parliamentary system. Practically, nothing can be done to sack an unpopular government until the next elections. See here, and here two critical views on the Westminster system.
He may not be as strong as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth was 350 years ago, nevertheless, today’s PM of the UK is a little dictator. This allowed Thatcher to proceed to massive privatisations, Blair – to go to war in Iraq, and Brown – to ‘save the world’ by throwing billions of pounds to the banks whose recklessness took them on the brink of bankruptcy.
It’s really not worth trying to compare the British and American systems of government, because of countless historical, ethnical, demographical, political, economic etc differences.
Or, if I were to name only one essential difference which makes the two hardly comparable is the fact that the USA is a federation... which functions incomparably better than many unitary states.
I’d dare to say that the American President can be more effectively ‘checked’ by the Congress (especially by the 50 states represented in the Senate) or the Supreme Court than the British PM can be ‘controlled’ by anyone in the UK. The only thing that voters can do every five years is to choose another dictator :-(
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