Political Culture and Constitutionalism: A Comparative Approach

By Daniel P. Franklin; Michael J. Baun | Go to book overview

distaste for its extreme racism and violent street actions, but probably mainly because, beginning in 1978, the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher stole its thunder by publicizing a very restrictive immigration policy. The general election of 1979, carrying the Conservatives into office, which they have yet to leave, heralded the collapse of the front as an electoral party. Ambitiously, it had fielded 303 candidates, but they averaged only 1.4 percent of the vote in the constituencies they contested. Even in its areas of greatest popularity in the East End of London, the party averaged only slightly more than 5 percent of the vote. The National Front has continued to fail miserably in general elections; in 1992 none of its candidates were able to win more than 1.2 percent of the vote.


Conclusion: Never Underestimate British Stability

Misunderstanding of the British political system has often arisen from a tendency among both British and foreign observers to perceive it as nearly perfect. When received information conflicts with this utopian image, one reaction has been to assume that the system is in decline or possibly on the verge of collapse. In fact, while there is much to admire about British constitutional democracy, it has to varying degrees almost all the imperfections found in other Western democracies. No constitutional arrangements can guarantee effective solutions to all public problems. The British electorate is no better informed, more interested in politics, or more politically active than most other Western democratic electorates; and, as we have seen, it is often highly critical of its politicians and the operations of its political institutions. If a large majority of British people favor moderate political behavior, the deviant minority of several million people is large enough to foster radical political movements and occasional riots and other violent behavior. The same is true of political leaders. While a large majority are generally content with constitutional democracy as it has evolved in Britain and favor only incremental reforms, there are a few ideologues on the left and the right who pursue hopeless attempts to change society and its political institutions rapidly and radically. Such radical leaders and followers have always been found in Britain and very likely always will be. Their presence, although often a stimulant for action by the country's moderate leaders, needs no more presage the end of constitutional democracy today than it has at any other time during this century.


Notes
1.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Journeys to England and Ireland, trans. George Lawrence and K. P. Mayer ( London: Faber & Faber, 1958), pp. 82-83.
2.
Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928), pp. 126-27.

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