The British Political System

By André Mathiot; Jennifer S. Hines | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

I FIRST read Le Régime Politique Britannique by André Mathiot soon after it was published in France, and I at once formed the opinion that this was a book which would help British readers and students of politics to understand and appreciate their own system of government. I therefore gladly agreed to the request of the author and the publishers that I should write an introduction to the English edition.

The author's aim is not to give an exhaustive account of the British system, but rather to describe, explain and interpret its principal features. He concentrates on what he rightly regards as essential, and ignores the rest. He is thus able to provide, within the compass of a book of moderate size, a singularly comprehensive and satisfying view of a complicated political system. The central theme of the book is the source, organisation, exercise and control of political power. Part I deals with the source of power; Part II with the organisation of power; while the third and final part discusses the limitations of power.

Professor Mathiot has a remarkable grasp of English history, and he understands the profound influence which historical events have had on the evolution and working of contemporary British political institutions and practices. Throughout the work he emphasises the extraordinary unity and coherence of the system, and the self-consistency of its several parts. The startingpoint of his analysis is the electoral system, the character of which deeply affects the party system, the working of Parliament and the position of the Cabinet. In Great Britain, he points out, the voters do not merely elect members of Parliament: they decide in effect who shall be Prime Minister, which party shall govern and what policy shall prevail. 'This,' he remarks, 'is much more than the people can do in many other democracies which have formally accepted the principle of the popular sovereignty'.

The electoral system has three important consequences. It democratises the parliamentary regime by enabling the electorate to choose the government. It produces stable and strong government. It fosters clear political responsibility by avoiding electoral or parliamentary alliances and bargaining between groups. Such an electoral system, however, demands a high

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