The British Political System

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

THE PREPONDERANCE OF THE EXECUTIVE

GREAT BRITAIN was the original home of parliamentary institutions. Here was first developed the system of government which has since been taken as the model for the constitutions of other Commonwealth countries and been imitated in so many and varying forms in other parts of the world outside the British family of nations. The essential characteristics of parliamentary government are very simple: a politically irresponsible head of state, a Cabinet which is politically responsible to Parliament and must resign if it fails to command a majority, and the power of dissolution. The essential point is that the government must always act in accordance with the will of the people, expressed directly in general elections and indirectly through Parliament in the intervals between elections. As the Cabinet is responsible to Parliament, it cannot act in defiance of the wishes of Parliament or of the electorate on any matter of importance. If such differences do arise, it becomes necessary to find a new government whose policy is in accordance with the wishes of Parliament and of the country.

Parliamentary government is based upon collaboration between different organs with independent powers. It cannot exist where alt the functions of the state are concentrated in a single body or where there is a rigid separation of powers. But the requisite balance of power need not always take the same form. There are many possible types of parliamentary government, the form of which varies considerably from country to country.

It would be conceivable for the legislature and the executive to have approximately equal powers. It would not normally be possible to maintain such an equal balance for any length of time, however, even if it could ever be realised in actual practice.

In many parliamentary regimes the legislature has become the dominant organ. The logical justification for this is that the Cabinet is merely an emanation of Parliament which is itself the more representative body, and there can be no genuine democracy unless the lower House of Parliament, directly elected by universal suffrage, always has the last word. This form of parliamentary government has been adopted in France

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