The British political system has undergone a series of evolutionary changes from the ancient completely monarchic ruling to the current parliamentary monarchy. Whereas the monarchs have ruled the British Empire from the time immemorial, the history of the Parliament dates back to only 1265 when the first elected parliament was convened. The officials or members of this Parliament (MPs) were the lords and barons elected by their peers. The early MPs ruled through the council of elders, who in essence did not have the real power to govern. In the 17th century, King Charles waged the English Revolution with which he intended to edge the Parliament out of the ruling system. However, the parliamentary forces won and it was, henceforth, established as an essential legislative institution in the country’s ruling system. The signing of the Bill of Rights in 1700 constitutionally defined the role of the Parliament in Britain. The ruling system was then comprised of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the King or the Queen and the Prime Minister. This paper explores the monarchy of past Great Britain and the current parliamentary system and asserts that it is more rational because it balances power between the monarch and the legitimate institutions.
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Authority and Power
In the monarchies of past Great Britain, the king had all authority and power. He was both the head of the state and the head of the government. He conducted all state matters according to his own will, frequently whims and fancies. His actions, statements, and decisions were not checked, questioned or challenged by anybody. He made all the economic and social decisions of the country without the necessity of seeking the counsel or advice of his administrative appointees (Clancy, 2016). The word of the monarch was law.
In the modern parliamentary monarchic political system, the British monarch has all the authority but not all powers. The Queen heads the state and the Prime Minister heads the government. The Queen has limited powers since their actions and decisions are checked by the Parliament and other governing bodies. She shares power with a legislative assembly, which is the Parliament in the case of Britain. The powers and functions of the monarch can be classified into the following three. First, she appoints the Prime Minister and opens the Parliament every year. In such a function, she acts as a symbol of unity because this is the only time the Upper House and the Lower Houses come together. She reads the plans the government wants to implement in the upcoming year (Heppell, 2012). Secondly, she signs new bills passed by the Parliament to become laws. The third function is to meet weekly with the Prime Minister to be informed about the important affairs of the state and offer her advice to the former. Thus, the monarch does not work alone but coordinates with the elected government. From this power structure, it is evident that the parliamentary system is liberal and the Queen predominantly acts as a ceremonial figurehead. The real governing power rests with the legislature.
In the monarchies of past Great Britain, the king made all economic, political and state decisions. They were also solely responsible for any legal structure changes. In a parliamentary system, economic, political and state responsibilities are shared between the Queen, the Prime Minister, and the Parliament. The monarch is held accountable for the unwritten constitution and appointing the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The Parliament is mandated to make economic and executive decisions of the country. The bills are passed by the House of Commons, approved by the House of Lords and signed to become laws by the Queen. The monarchs were once stripped of the powers to make all political and state decisions because of the abuse of power, which had a devastating impact on the state. In the current parliamentary system, they do not have them either and all the executive power is bestowed upon the Parliament.
Ascent to Power and Succession
In monarchies, the king or queen gains power through heredity. A succession of power follows the lineage of the king with an individual becoming a queen only through marriage and ruling independently only in case of her husband’s death. The king or queen of the past became the head of state and the head of government. In the modern parliamentary system, the head of government is the Prime Minister, elected by the Parliament but approved and appointed by the Queen. The Prime Minister is expected to exercise effective political power as the head of government.
In spite of the differences that exist between the monarchy and the parliamentary system, the two have various similarities. In both the monarchy and the parliamentary system, the monarch is the head of state. The person second in command is the Prime Minister, the head of the government. In both systems, the monarch holds the highest office since the final decisions rest on him or her (Choice Reviews Online, 2011). This attribute is shown in a traditional monarchy where the king held absolute powers as well as in the parliamentary system where a bill cannot become a law unless it is signed by the Queen and by the fact that the Prime Minister must update the queen about the progress of the government on a weekly basis.
In both systems, the monarch has the power to dissolve and start a new parliament. The monarch also has the power to approve and appoint the Prime Minister. The monarch is not an elective but a hereditary position held by people of a particular lineage by birth or marriage. In the past Great Britain system, the king had to be from a royal family. Today, the Queen is also of royal origin. The current queen of Britain Elizabeth II has served for over sixty years with several Prime Ministers whose terms end after every regime change. In both systems, the Queen can assign and dismiss the Prime Minister. The overall similarity of the monarch in both the old monarchy and the parliamentary system is that they are a symbol of national unity. The Queen in the parliamentary system is seen as the unifying factor in the House of Commons, the House of Lords and all entities in the nation.
The presence of a monarch both in past Great Britain and in the current parliamentary system can be associated with numerous advantages. First, it allows continuity. Previously, the kings enjoyed a continuous tenure of leadership. Similarly, in the current ruling system, the queen has reigned for the last 60 years (Fox, 2012). This lifetime position of the head of the state ensures continuity of the ruling system, in turn creating stability. This type of government can create a lasting relationship with foreigners, especially neighboring governments, which typically cannot be broken with a change of regime.
The second advantage is that such a ruling system preserves history and tradition. It provides the people of a country with a sense of belonging to history and long-lasting tradition. The Queen of England is one of these embodiments of the history of Britain and a symbol of national unity.
The advantages associated with the parliamentary system are that a monarch is a non-political head of state. For example, the Queen is not aligned with any party in Britain. All state decisions are made by the Houses of Parliament. The monarch only performs the duties of offering counsel, advising and warning the head of the government. The monarch also holds formal powers like the royal assent which every bill must get before becoming law (Allen, 2015). Therefore, the parliamentary system has an advantage over the old monarch because holding both political and state powers singlehandedly creates tyranny.
However, the monarch system, both in the past and present has some shortcomings. First, the monarch has an unlimited tenure and cannot be removed out of office, except for in case of abdication. The system becomes even more inefficient when a young child is installed on the throne because he/she comes from the genealogy of the previous monarch (Mansfield, 2012). Even in situations of gross misconduct and incompetence, a king cannot be removed from power. This aspect was the main cause of tyranny in the monarchies of the past.
The second disadvantage of the monarchic system is that it is expensive to maintain a monarch. Therefore, it is believed by many that it is unnecessarily costly and ineffective. The state incurs a huge cost on maintaining the family and home of the royal family. The benefits to the state are not commensurate with the expenditures because, in the case of a parliamentary system, the monarch does not have ruling power.
The monarchies of past Great Britain and the parliamentary system of today exhibit significant differences. In old times the monarch was both the head of state and the head of government. In the parliamentary system, the government is headed by the Prime Minister and the state as a whole is reigned by the queen. The most significant similarity in the two systems is that the monarch holds the highest office for the term of life. The monarchic system presents both advantages and disadvantages. First, the kings or queens maintain the nation’s sense of unity by preserving history. In the parliamentary system, the monarch also brings the balance of power because the Parliament cannot use its power to pass oppressive and unjust laws. The main disadvantage is the high cost of maintaining the royal family and the unlimited tenure, which makes the removal from office difficult even in cases of gross misconduct and underperformance. Therefore, the parliamentary system is better than the old monarchies because of the balance of power and the decisions made by common agreement of experienced officials instead of those taken by a single person.