The United States and British political systems are born out of similar ideals . Both political systems use a version of democracy, but their main differences lie that the U.S.A. system was designed for “the New World”. This style of governance was born from the thirteen independent states that revolted in 1776. The system used in Great Britain is one of evolution and alterations. The nation has used the system for centuries and has adopted many nuances. The British system is often called “The Mother of Parliaments”. Compared to the U.S. governance system, it can be seen as Monarchy vs Federalism.
When Great Britain was first formed, its system was founded on a constitutional monarchy. This ruling system is still in use today, although the monarchy is a figurehead with the prime minister leading governance issues. The citizens elect the prime minister, meaning it is a democratic system. The U.S. system runs on federalism. All original 13 U.S. states have equal power. The founding fathers introduced a written constitution to oversee how the three branches of power should operate. The three branches are the legislative, the judicial and the executive. Congress, Supreme Court and the President are responsible for governing the citizens. This differs from the British system, which does not employ a written constitution. Their version of a constitution comes from several sources, not only one like in the U.S.A. The Constitution used in the U.S. is more flexible than the British one. They drafted it so it can have Amendments added. This makes the Constitution fluid over time.
The nation prefers to do things as they have done before. Currently, there are ten Amendments in the Constitution. These are referred to as the Bill of Rights. The U.S. has the oldest living constitutions still in use. This differs from Britain’s system, where they base their laws on convention.
The three branches of power
Two Dominant Political Parties
Both the British and U.S. systems have two political parties challenging to be in government. There are often independent candidates contesting; however, it is predominantly two parties that can mount a bid to lead governance. In America, this system is more defined. The President of the U.S. will always come from the Democratic or Republican Party. The country will vote based on these two only. In the British system, there are multiple parties. This method of electing officials allows for a multi-party election. It can still be considered a two-party state because the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are the only parties that have dominated the English government for over 90 years. Only recently, in the 2010 British Elections, no single party had a majority. This phenomenon is known as a hung Parliament. It means parties would have to form coalition alliances to pass decisions within the house of Parliament.
The legislative branches of governance in both the U.S. and Britain are bi-cameral. These two nations employ two chambers when making decisions. The U.S. Congress is split into the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Commons and the House of Lords are in the British systems. The main difference is within the U.S., you must be elected to serve in the chambers. The British system requires only the House of Commons to face an election; however, those who sit in the chamber of the House of Lords are appointed to serve for their lifetime. These Lords are often chosen because they bring personal qualities that help ensure better governance. Before 1998, these roles were usually handed down to generations of the same family. The rule allowed the sons of the Lord to inherit their father’s seat in Parliament. The practice was abolished as the individual was not required to face any election process or meet any other evaluation of suitability.
Separation of Powers
The U.S. system was built to avoid the past governance mistakes committed by Monarchs. These founding fathers felt “the Old World” bred a lack of accountability among rulers. To avoid dealing with greedy and abusive kings, these fathers designed the U.S. Constitution to prioritize checks and balances. Checks and Balances are good tools for governing because they prevent one branch from becoming too powerful. To hold each arm of government accountable, there had to be a separation of powers. Absolute power breeds unaccountability. Therefore, this system was made to protect the minority from the majority.
It was established to regulate the branches allowing each branch to limit the power of another. For example, if the legislative branch of congress votes to take the U.S. armies to war, then the executive can oppose that decision. The approval of both branches is required to execute this dual process. In theory, this system helps to avoid emotional and personal (presidential) decisions.
There is also a separation of powers in the British system. Their system prevents full autonomy to one branch of government, however, in a weaker form. In the British system, they call this a Fusion of Powers. They have three branches of government that are intermingled and integrated. The U.K. Prime Minister is present for debate in the House of Commons. This system means that the legislative branch also contains members of the executive branch. Before 2009, the court with the most authority was the House of Lords. During any judicial disputes, this branch would have the final say. The Lords of this chamber were the final arbiters in the unelected Upper House. After 2009, the system changed and moved some of the Lords who were specialists in Law to the new Supreme Court. This had the effect of separating the judicial and legislative branches. The main difference between the U.S. and Britain’s two branches of government is the Supreme Court can overturn unconstitutional laws. The British Supreme Court can only handle judicial reviews.
Division of Power
The U.S. President has limited power as compared to the British PM. The two-party system in the U.S. can prevent the President from making decisions. This action is often expected when the President is of a different party than the majority in Congress. The British system has no systematic limitation on the PM’s power. The PM must have a majority in Parliament to change laws; however, he still has some executive powers that remain unchanged. The other significant difference is that the PM of Britain can continue to serve numerous terms if re-elected. In the U.S. system, the President can only serve for a maximum of two periods (8 years).