Despite the vast research on the British political system, little is known about the political attitudes ideological preferences of the British people. The overall image that emerges from the sources does not give a full picture. This paper seeks to examine the British political system through the frameworks of political attitudes of the British people and the political ideologies of the modern UK. This research draws upon both primary and secondary sources, including various articles and other researches related to the topic. The purpose of this paper is to identify the political attitudes of UK citizens and see whether they have changed or remained the same throughout the last decade. In addition, this paper investigates the ideological preferences of the British people as well as tries to find how they shaped the political spectrum of the UK. This study is part of a growing body of research on the evolution of the British political system, and it will contribute to future research on similar topics.
Keywords: British political system, the UK, political attitude, political ideology.
British Political System
In order to understand the political system of any country, a researcher should first become familiar with its history. This fact is especially true of the UK since its political system is different from most other counties since its history differs greatly from most of them. For almost a thousand years, the UK has not been occupied or invaded. This is why the British political system is based on the fundamental continuity, and this fact is crucial for understanding its nature. Nevertheless, the UK has had numerous milestones along the way to full democracy. It has been a struggle to shift political accountability and power from the King to a parliament that was accountable to ordinary citizens and representatives of ordinary citizens. Thus, unlike the political systems of other countries, one of the UK has evolved over centuries due to a variety of internal factors that have also determined British political attitudes and ideology.
The UK political system is headed by a monarchy as the monarch (currently, Queen Elizabeth II) is a formal leader of the state. However, now, the monarch’s powers are limited by the Constitution as he/she has only ceremonial powers (Darlington, 2016). Thus, this is the basis, on which the UK political system is built. Political parties started to form during the civil wars of the 17th century (Darlington, 2016). At first, there were Parliamentarians and Royalists, and later - Tories and Whigs. While the Tories (at present, the Conservatives) were considered the patriotic party, the Whigs wanted to limit the power of the King (Darlington, 2016). Moreover, the UK was the first country where the idea of political parties first took form (Darlington, 2016). Thus, the political system of the UK can be defined as a constitutional monarchy with a developed party system.
At the end of the past century, the majority of Britons were monarchists as they claimed that Britain should continue to have a monarchy. However, after a turn-around in public opinion, the UK is still a long way off its monarchy support (Chalabi, 2013). As said above, now, the majority of Britons do not identify themselves with any of the political parties; hence, they have no ideological preferences. However, among those Britons who still have any political identification, the Labor party saw a rise in support to 10% in 2012 (from 26% to 36%) (Chalabi, 2013). About 20% of people trust the authorities to place the interests of the UK above the needs of their own party (Chalabi, 2013). At the same time, the majority of them state that they do not trust a politician of any party (Chalabi, 2013). Thus, although some time ago the majority of the British people were monarchists, now, most of them do not trust parties or politicians.
The British attitude towards politics has always been complex. Recently, the attitudes of British citizens towards welfare as well as the political system, or the institutions that affect the people’s lives, change quite rapidly (Chalabi, 2013). From this perspective, the royal family has been the only institution to avoid criticism in recent years (Chalabi, 2013). The recent picture of British political attitude shows that more UK citizens express their interest in politics than at the end of 20th century (Chalabi, 2013). Today’s British society is faced with the effects of non-traditional political activism. A higher percentage of Britons start believing that they can influence politics, not only understand it. However, these positive attitudes have not carried over to British politicians and political parties. Recently, the majority of UK citizens said they had a strong fairly affiliation with one of the political parties. At present, most people do not have any at all (Chalabi, 2013). As a result, less than half Britons have engaged in political actions other than signing petitions or voting (“Paper summary: Politics”, n.d.). The changing habits of the British people and their lack of interest in politics and traditional institutions mean that society has some questions, and their relevance will soon be difficult to neglect. These questions may be related to the public trust in technology manufacturers, medical treatment, food companies, or defense sector. In addition, the latest discussions of medical treatment of homosexuality, which used to draw the attention of the public, have now become inappropriate and outdated (Thomas, 2011). Thus, in recent years, the attitude of the British people toward politics has changed. More to say, they have lost any interest in it. However, it can be a signal that society has a number of questions to be answered by British politicians.
In the UK, there always have been several ideologies. Thus, ideology is a set of beliefs that shape a person’s economic, social, and political principles (Harvey, 2016). The majority of modern Britons have no definite political ideology at all (Dahlgreen, 2014). However, there are a number of traditional British ideologies to consider.
Firstly, socialism, or Marxism, is the ideology that takes different forms. The UK radical socialists believe in the abolition of capitalism and the class system as well as the equal distribution of wealth (Ivens, 2016). They state that human history has several epochs, and a revolution marks the end of each epoch. Therefore, they try to organize the resistance movement to start one (Jones, 2016). Socialists claim that they represent the views of the working class, and their main aim is the equal distribution of wealth.
Secondly, conservatism is an ideology that believes that changes should be natural, slow, and evolutionary; therefore, any radical changes are often unnecessary and incredibly dangerous. Thus, human nature is seen as quite unpredictable, capable of evil, and irrational. Due to this unpredictability, changes could have terrible consequences, so it is better to avoid any potentially dangerous ideas. This ideology is still dominant in today’s Conservative Party of the UK (“Profile: The Conservative Party”, 2010). Therefore, UK conservatism is a classical conservative ideology.
Thirdly, liberalism is an ideology that claims that the state should not intervene in the lives of people since all of them are rational beings who are able to make their own decision. Classical liberal ideology believes that all people must be free to do whatever they want regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, etc. unless they harm others (“Real liberals (not the LibDems) Fighting for Liberalism”, n.d.). Liberals believe that the welfare state is necessary as well as state ownership of basic utilities. The new liberal ideology is partly similar to social democracy that can be considered as a type of socialist ideology. Thus, liberal ideology presupposes extended the personal freedom of individuals.
Finally, there is a third way - the Labor Party. However, it is not an ideology. It can be best described as a social democracy with the elements of neo-liberalism. The Labor Party was formed on the base of socialist political parties and trade union movement of the 19th century. It promotes an active role for the state in the economy (Darlington, 2016). Thus, the Labor Party offers a third way, but it is not an ideology; it is more like a mixture of previously mentioned ideologies.
Generally, one cannot say that all major political parties in the UK are ideological. The Liberals are the most consistent ones since they still follow a new liberal ideology, although this does not lead them to great electoral success. The Conservative Party is much more conservative in terms of morals. However, they still follow the ideology of neo-liberalism. That is why it is difficult to find the place of the Conservative Party on the British political spectrum. In contrast to the Liberals, the Conservative Party and the Labor Party have been unclear and inconsistent on their ideology but they have had great electoral success (Darlington, 2016). Thus, the only thing conservative in the Conservative Party is its name. At the same time, the Labor Party promotes social democracy mixed with neo-liberalism. It no longer represents the working class, and it is no longer socialist. Undoubtedly, ideologies are present in the UK political parties (Darlington, 2016). However, they are usually discussed in terms of policy rather than a specific ideology. Thus, neither of the UK parties has a specific ideology. The differences between them are not significant. In most cases, each party has a mixture of several different ideologies.
To conclude, the political system of the UK went through many centuries of evolution. It remains one of the most original and unique ones in the world. The current British political system is a constitutional monarchy. It has a developed party system with three big parties. While Britons have varying attitudes towards politics, the majority of them do not trust parties, politicians and have no political preferences. Generally, there are many ideologies (socialist, liberal, conservative) and three main political parties (the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, and the Labor Party) in the UK. They represent liberal, conservative, and partly socialist ideologies respectively. However, neither of them can be considered truly ideological since they have lost their identity. In the UK, there is no single party with a specific ideology. In most cases, they represent a mixture of political ideologies.