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UK Government and Politics Key terms
Terms in this set (204)
Describes a constitution where the rules and principles specifying how a state is governed, are not gathered in a single document. They are found in a variety of sources, e.g. statute law and conventions.
A process in law which means a person can appeal to the courts of against unfair or illegal inprisonment.
Trial by jury
The idea that a group of twelve peers would hear the evidence in a case and decide whether the accused is guilty.
Trial by ordeal
The medieval practice of putting the accused through an ordeal to determine guilt, such as burning their hand and waiting to see how well it healed.
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The government official responsible for calculating, collecting and distributing government funds through taxation and duties.
House of Commons
The chamber where elected members of the UK Parliament sit. The lower and primary chamber.
House of Lords
The second unelected chamber of the UK parliament. Upper chamber of UK legislature.
Palace of Westminster
Originally the royal palace attached to Westminster Hall, today it is the seat of government and comprises Westminster Hall, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
A french term meaning to speak or converse.
The British legislative body that is made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Monarchy. Has the power to debate and make laws.
A large chamber in Westminster where the early Norman kings would meet with the nobility.
Acts of Parliament
Laws that have been formally passed by parliament and given royal assent by the monarch.
A single, authoritative document that sets out the laws, rules and principles by which a state is governed, and which protects the rights of citizens.
The control of power and the ability to distribute and reclaim it in a political system, absolutely law making authority that is not subject to a higher authority.
Declaration of Rights
A statement of the rights of the subject which also declared that the monarch could not act without the consent of parliament.
A group of senior political advisors who have the job of advising the monarch on the use of the royal prerogative.
The right to take a particular course of action.
The ability to do something or make something happen.
A form of decision making which involves a wide range of institutions, networks and relationships.
(a) The activity or system of governing a political unit. (b) The set of institutions that exercise authority and make the rules of a political unit.
The branch of government responsible for the implementation of policy. Comprises of the prime minister, cabinet and junior ministers who make up government.
The branch of government responsible for passing laws.
A form of government exemplified by the British political system in which parliament is sovereign, the executive and legislature are fused and political power is centralised.
The branch of government responsible for interpreting the law and deciding upon legal disputes. Refers to all judges from magistrates and those serving on tribunals to the 12 judges sitting in the Supreme Court. Includes all who are directly involved in the administration and application of justice.
Rule of Law
A legal theory holding the relationship between the state and the individual is governed by law, protecting the individual from arbitrary state action.
Fundamental individual rights and freedoms that ought to be protected from interference or encouragement by the state.
Where there is excessive concentration of power in the executive branch of government.
The laws, rules and practices which determine the institutions of the state, and the relationship between the state and its citizens.
The House of Lords Select Committee defined it as 'the set of laws, rules and practices that create the basic institutions of the state and its component and related parts, and stipulate the powers of those institutions and the relationship between the different institutions and between those institutions and the individual'.
Rightfulness; a political system is legitimate when it is based on the consent of the people and actions follow from agreed laws and procedures.
A vote on a single issue put to the public ballot by the government.
A form of monarchy in which the monarch is the head of state but in chich powers are exercised by parliament and ministers.
Fusion of powers
The intermingling of personnel in the executive and legislative branches found in parliamentary systems.
Head of State
The chief public representative of a country, such as a monarch or president.
Separation of powers
The principle that the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government should be independent of each other.
The process by which judges determine whether public officials or public bodies have acted in a manner that is lawful. And to declare them unlawful if they have exceeded their authority.
A state is one in which the central government of a unitary state devolves some of its powers to subnational governments. It has some of the features of a unitary state and some of a federal state.
A homogeneous state in which power is concentrated at the political centre and all parts of the state are governed in the same way.
The transfer of some policy making powers from the centre of sub-national institutions, but which sees the state-wide legislature retain ultimate authority.
A system of decision making in which policy competences are shared between local, regional, national and supranational institutions.
The set of political parties in a political system and the relationships between them.
Bill of Rights
An authoritative statement of the rights of citizens, often entrenched as part of a codified constitution.
A system in which the powers of government are subject to legal constraints as well as checks and balances within the political system.
Difficult to change (literally 'dug in') often requiring supermajorities, or approval by popular referendum.
Constitutional law that is deliberately set above regular statute in terms of status, and given a degree of protection against regular laws passed by the legislature.
Law derived from Acts of Parliament and subordinate legislation.
Law derived from general customs or traditions and the decision of judges.
Discretionary powers of the Crown that are exercised in the monarch's name by government ministers. A set of powers excised by government ministers, or by hte monarch, which do not require parliamentary approval.
Established norms of political behaviour rooted in past experience rather than the law.
A state which sovereignty is located at the centre. Central government had supremacy over other tiers of government, which it can reform or abolish. A unitary state is a centralised and homogenous state, political power is concentrated in central government and all parts of the state are governed in the same way.
The doctrine that parliament has absolute legal authority within the state. It enjoys legislative supremacy; parliament may make law on any matter it chooses, its decisions may not be overturned by any higher authority and it many not bind its successors.
A system of government in which executive power is vested in a cabinet, whose members exercise collective responsibility, rather than a single office.
A system of government in which government takes place through parliament and in which the executive and legislative branches are fused.
A system of government in which the prime minister is the dominant actor and is able to bypass the cabinet.
A form of devolution in which the political arrangements are not uniform, but differ from region to region.
Where the central government of a unitary state devolves some of its power to subnational governments. It exhibits some features of unitary and federal states. In legal theory there is one supreme legal authority located at the centre, it is a unitary state. But in practice the centre no longer makes domestic policy for some parts of the state it would be difficult politically for the state to abolish the subnational tier of government. Different policy frameworks operate within the state. Senior judges rule on questions concerning the division of competences.
West Lothian Question
Originally posed by Labour MP Tam Dalyell in a Commons debate back in 1977, the West Lothian Question asks 'Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on English matters at Westminster, when English MPs cannot vote on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament'.
A mechanism devised in 1978 by the then chief secretary to the Treasury, Labour MP, Joel Barnett. This formula translates changes in public spending in England into equivalent changes in the block grants for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, calculated on the basis of population. Under the formula, these nations had higher public spending per person than England.
Primary Legislative power
Authority to make laws on devolved policy areas.
A political ideology or movement that regards the nation as the main form of political community and believes that nations should be self-governing.
An adherent political position in Northern Ireland who supports constitutional means of achieving improved rights for Catholics and the eventual incorporation of the six countries of Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland.
An adherent of a political position in Northern Ireland who supports the continued union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
A form of devolution in which special arrangements ensure that both communities in a divided society are represented in the executive and assent to legislation on sensitive issues.
'English votes for english laws'
Special procedures in the House of Commons for dealing with legislation that affects only England.
A quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation; an unelected public body responsible for the funding or regulation of an area of public policy.
A state sees sovereignty divided between two tiers of government. Power is shared between national government and regional government. Regional government is protected by the constitution, it cannot be abolished or reformed significantly against its will.
An MP or member of the House of Lords who does not hold a ministerial or shadow ministerial position.
An MP or member of the Lords who holds a ministerial or shadow ministerial position.
The legal immunity enjoyed by members of parliament, particularly their right to free speech in parliament.
A vote in parliament.
(a) a party official for ensuring that MPs turn up to parliamentary votes and follow party instructions on how to vote. (b) An instruction to vote that is issued to MPs by political parties.
A member of the House of Lords who, since 1999, has been selected from those who inherited their title.
A member of the House of Lords who has been appointed to the chamber for their lifetime.
A member of the House of Lords.
Confidence and supply
The requirement that the government must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons on votes of confidence and of supply, e.g. the budget. Also used to refer to an agreement between the smaller party in which the latter agrees to support the government on key votes in return for policy concessions.
A motion of confidence in the government. It may be initiated by the government as a threat of dissolution, or used to approve the formation of a new government under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
Motion of no confidence
A parliamentary censure motion initiated by the opposition which, if passed, requires the resignation of the government.
The convention that the House of Lords does not block or try to wreck legislation that was promised in the manifesto of the governing party.
Act of Parliament
A law passed by parliament.
A proposal for a new law, or change to current law, that has yet to complete the parliamentary legislative process.
A government document setting out various options for legislation and inviting comment.
A bill concerning a general issue of public policy, introduced by a government minister.
A government document setting out a detailed proposal for legislation.
Committee of the Whole House
A meeting held in the chamber in which the full House of Commons considers the committee stage of a public bill.
Public bill committee
A committee responsible for the detailed consideration of a bill.
Private members' bill
A bill sponsored by a backbench MP.
Law made by ministers, who have been granted this authority by an Act of parliament, rather than by parliament.
The principle that an office holder or institution must account for their actions. In a system of parliamentary government, ministers are accountable to parliament and to the electorate. They have a duty to explain their policies and actions to parliament. Ministers may also be held responsible for policy failures. Mps face the electorate at a general election, where their constituents may take into account their record in office when deciding whether to vote for them.
The role of parliament in examining the policies and work of the executive, and holding it to account.
Parliamentary time, including Prime Minister's Question Time, in which backbenchers and opposition frontbenchers ask oral questions to government ministers.
The largest in government in the House of Commons that is not in government.
The parties, MPs and peers who are not members of the governing party or parties.
A committee responsible for scrutinising the work of the government, notably of a particular government department.
An individual authorised to act on behalf of others but who is bound by clear instructions.
The process by which an individual or individuals act on behalf of a larger group.
An individual who acts of behalf of a larger group but is free to exercise their own judgement.
An individual who has formal responsibility for the interests of another, in law, property.
A geographical territory for which one of more representatives are chosen in an election to a legislative assembly.
A division in which MPs vote against their party whip.
The prime minister and senior ministers, most of whom are heads of government departments. it is formally the key decision-making body in British government.
An administrative unit of the executive that is usually responsible for a particular area of policy.
An MP of member of the House of Lords who is appointed to a specific position in the government by the prime minister.
The head of government and of the executive branch. The prime minister chairs the cabinet.
A government consisting of two or more political parties together to form an absolute majority, formed after an agreement between them on policy and the allocation of ministerial positions.
A government consisting of members of one political party which has an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons.
A government consisting of members of one political party which does not have an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons.
Prime Minister's Office
Senior civil servants and special advisers, based at 10 Downing Street, who give policy advice and support with communications.
10 Downing Street
The residence and office of the prime minister. @Number 10@ and 'Downing Street' are used to refer to the Prime Minister's office.
A series of changes to the personnel of the cabinet and the positions they occupy, instigated by the prime minister.
The power of an individual to appoint someone on an important position.
The heart of government, consisting of those organisations and actors who coordinate central government activity.
A meeting between the prime minister and a departmental minister in which policy is agreed.
Sub-committees of the cabinet appointed by the PM to consider aspects of government business.
A government department responsible for supporting the cabinet system and the prime minister, and managing the civil service.
The cabinet and its associated bodies, including cabinet committees and the Cabinet Office.
The principle that ministers must support cabinet decisions or resign from the government.
Individual Ministerial Responsibility
The principle that ministers are responsible to parliament for their personal conduct and that of their department.
The exercise of power over public policy-making by an individual or institution.
The idea that UK prime ministers have taken on some of the characteristics of presidents.
A system of government in which a single, directly elected chief executive governs. The executive branch is constitutionally separate from the legislature.
Secretary of state.
A government minister in charge of a major government department, such as health or education.
An official employed in a civil capacity by the Crown, responsible for policy advice or policy implementation.
A temporary political appointment made by a government minister.
A special advisor employed to promote the image of the minister and his or her policy in the media.
Constitutional Reform Act (CRA) 2005
Reduced the power of the lord chancellor and placed most senior judicial appointments into the hands of a new, independent Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). It was hoped that this change would enhance the separation of powers and result in a senior judiciary that was more socially representative of the broader population. The Act also provided for the creation of the Supreme Court.
The informal and secretive way in which most senior UK judges were once appointed. The phrase describes the way in which the lord chancellor consulted in secret with close associates and those already serving in the senior judiciary. The resulting lack of transparency in appointments led to accusations of elitism.
The senior judiciary comprises justices of the Supreme Court (formerly the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, or Law Lords), head of divisions, Lord Justices of Appeal, High Court judges, and deputy High Court judges.
Someone who has a senior courts qualification; is an advocate in Scotland or a solicitor entitled to appear in the Scottish Court of Sessions; or is a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland or a solicitor of the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland.
Where individuals or institutions traditionally seen as being above the political fray, are dragged into it. Some see the way in which the UK judges were drawn political controversy in the wake of the Human Rights Act 1988 as evidence of politicisation.
The body of legal precedent resulting from the rulings of senior judges. Sometimes referred to as case law or judge-made law, it is an important source of the UK constitution.
From the Latin 'beyond one's powers'. The process of judicial review can be used to determine whether or not a minister or other government officer has acted ultra vires, beyond the power granted to them.
Where the impact of differences in the Supreme Court's interpretations over time can appear tantamount to a legislative change, even though parliament has made no change to statute law.
A system where power is held by 'the people'.
A system where the people are able to make decisions directly on an issue usually in the form of a yes or no response.
A system where the people elect a person or group of people to represent their interests and make decisions on their behalf.
A system of government where there is competition between different groups who represent popular concerns to the government of the day.
A means by which the people, rather than the government, can call for a vote on a specific issue.
An appeal to make something specific happen, usually by demonstrating a high level of popular support.
A phrase used to describe the period before an election or vote where members of local councils or governments are not allowed to make any new statements or proposals that could affect the way in which people vote. The period is usually between 4 and 6 weeks.
A group of like-minded individuals who come together on the basis of shared interests or a commonly held cause in order to put pressure on policy-makers at Westminster and beyond.
A term used to describe the undemocratic nature of institutions or procedures that are supposed to promote democracy.
A term used to describe a failure of the public to participate in the political process, which can undermine democratic legitimacy.
The right to vote in elections.
A term used to describe any electronic or digital method that can lead to greater democracy.
An authoritative instruction; the doctrine of the mandate gives the party that wins a general election the authority to implement its manifesto commitments.
A document in which a political party sets out its policy programme at an election.
A one-off election that takes place in an individual constituency when a vacancy arises between scheduled elections.
An electoral system in which the winning candidate must achieve an absolute majority of votes cast in a single member constituency.
Single-member plurality system
An electoral system in which the candidate with the most votes in a single-member constituency wins.
The number of representatives elected from a particular constituency.
An electoral system where a proportion of representatives are elected under a majoritarian/plurality system in single-member constituencies, and the others are elected as 'additional members' using a proportional system in multi-member constituencies.
Proportional Representation (PR)
An electoral system in which political parties compete in multimember districts; voters choose between parties, and the seats in the district are awarded proportionally according to the results of the vote.
A constituency in which the incumbent party has a large majority, and which is usually retained by the same political party at election after election.
A constituency where the incumbent party has a small majority and which may thus be won by a different party at the next election.
The extent in support for one party to support for another party from one election to another.
The percentage of registered voters who voted at an election.
The share of seats that the first placed party wins in excess of its share of the vote under FPTP. The system exaggerated the support received by the most popular party, giving it more seats than is proportional to the number of votes it received, thus boosting its majority in parliament.
Voting for the candidate most likely to defeat the voter's least favoured candidate.
A vote for a losing candidate in a single-member constituency, or a vote for a winning candidate that was surplus to the plurality required for victory.
A situation often found in two-party systems in which the governing party is confronted by an opposition party that offers a different policy programme, and which is outwardly hostile towards the government even when in broad agreement with it.
The practice of voting for candidates from different parties in an election where an elector is permitted to cast more than one vote.
Changes made to an electoral system; or a change from one electoral system to an alternative. In Britain, the term commonly refers to the campaign to replace FPTP with PR.
Where people no longer vote according to their social class.
The idea that people will vote for a party based on the economic interests of their class.
Any group of voters who will loyally vote for a party, regardless of any personal issues.
Floating (swing) voters
Voters who are not loyal to a party and are therefore open to persuasion.
The idea that people are less committed or loyal to one particular party.
A way of categorising people based on their status in society, usually by occupation or income.
The theory that politics requires cultural and moral resources to engage the people and make them feel part of society. As such, citizens have certain responsibilities and duties to make society work effectively.
The perceived ability of the government, or opposition, to manage the affairs of the country well.
The process of using your vote to prevent another candidate from winning, rather than voting for your first choice of candidate. It happens in seats with a third candidate who has no realistic chance of winning.
A style of leadership where the prime minister relies on his or her own inner circle of advisers, rather than cabinet.
Dissolution and apathy
A process of disengagement with politics, leading to a decline in political activity, particularly in voting.
A survey of public opinion from a sample of the population at a given moment. They are often used to determine the expected results of an election.
A device by which different political standpoints can be mapped across one axis or more as a way of demonstrating their ideological position in relation to one another.
Where a number of exist but only one holds government power.
Where many parties compete for power and the government consists of a series of coalitions formed by different combinations of parties.
Where one party dominates, bans other parties and exercises total control over candidacy at elections.
Where two fairly equal matched parties compete for power at elections and others have little realistic chance of breaking their duopoly.
A loose ideology favouring a pragmatic approach to dealing with problems, while seeking to preserve the status quo. Some argue that conservatism is, in fact, not an ideology at all because it looks to work with, and improve upon, what exists already, as opposed to building from the ground up from a more ideological standpoint.
An economic theory which advocates controlling the money supply as a means of keeping inflation in check.
A political ideology closely related to classical liberalism. They stress the importance of the free market, individual rights and limited government. In the UK context, it is closely linked with Thatcherism.
Where power and authority are held centrally but the state acts benevolently and cares for the neediest. Paternalism is said to be a key characteristic of traditional one-nation conservatism.
Or 'yah-boo' politics. The instinctive antagonism between the two main Westminster parties. The term was used by Professor S. E. Finer and commonly applied to UK politics from the 1970s.
The broad agreement between the Labour and Conservative parties over domestic and foreign policy that emerged after WWII. The consensus saw the parties cooperating over the creation of a welfare state and the adoption of a Keynesian economic policy. The posr consenses began to break down in the 1970s and was said to have ended with the more ideological, adversarial approach that accompanied Thatcherism.
An ideological approach combining a free-market, neo-liberal economic policy with a more orthodox conservative social policy in areas such as the family and law and order. Closely linked with the dominant Conservative ideology of 1980s and 1990s with the ideas of Sir Keith Joseph and right-wing think-tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute.
A political ideology that accepts the basic premise of capitalism which advocating a more equitable distribution of wealth along the lines favoured by all socialists.
A political ideology advocating greater equality and redistribution of wealth. Socialists are suspicious of capitalism. They favour greater government intervention, in both economic and social policy.
A term that characterises the party that emerged to fight the 1997 election following a process of party modernisation completed by Tony Blair. Blair fist used the term when addressing his party in 1994. Labour's modernisation programme began under Neil Kinnock following the parties landslide defeat in 1983. It involved a less powerful powerful role for trade unions and a rebranding exercise designed to make the party more appealing to middle-class voters. It was characterised by the concept of triangulation and the Third Way.
A term characterises the Labour party prior to the programme began by Neil Kinnock in 1983 and completed by Tony Blair. Refers to the party's historic commitment to socialism and its links with socialists societies, trade unions and the working class.
An ideological position said to exist between conventional socialism and mainstream capitalism, closely associated with Tony Blair and New Labour, also referred to as the 'middle way'.
The process of melding together the core Labour Party principles and values, such as the party's commitment to greater social justice, with the lessons learnt from Thatcherism. It was closely associated with New Labour and the notion of a Third Way.
The goal of greater equality of outcome, as opposed to equality of opportunity alone. It is achieved through progressive taxation and other forms of wealth distribution. The idea is closely associated with the Labour Party and with other parties of the left and centre-left, such as Greens.
'Gang of Four'
Referring to Bill Rodgers, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and David Owen. Believing the Labour party had fallen under the control of a left-wing clique les by Michael Foot in the wake of Labour's defeat at the 1979 general election, these four former Labour ministers left the party in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
An electoral alliance between the SDP and the Liberal Party that was in place at the time of 1983 and 1987 elections. The alliance won 26% of the vote in 1983 and 23.1% in 1987. The two parties merged in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats.
A political ideology associated with the notions of personal liberty, toleration and limited government. It is often subdivided into two separate strands; classical liberalism and progressive (or new) liberalism.
A Labour Party initiative which requires a constituency party to draw up an entirely female shortlist from which their parliamentary candidate will be chosen.
A meeting at which an election candidate can address local voters, as well as paid up party members.
A popular ballot in which all registered voters have a hand in selecting the candidate who will run in the election proper.
Priority lists (A-lists)
Lists of candidates intended as a means of boosting the number of women and ethnic minority Conservative MPs.
Funds paid to opposition parties in the House of Lords in order to help them cover their administrative costs and thereby provide for proper scrutiny of the government. In 2014-15, the Labour Party received £572,717 in Cranbourne money.
Funds paid to opposition parties to help them cover their administrative costs and thereby provide for proper scrutiny of the government. It is available to all opposition parties that win at least two seats, or win a single seat while also securing over 150,000 votes nationally. In 2014-15, the Labour Party received a total of £6,684,794 in Short money to support the leader of the opposition.
The legal capacity to act in a particular area.
The process by which states and peoples become more interdependent and interconnected.
Where the authority of the state is derived from the consent of the people
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