December 2, 2010
Political, Social, and Economic Environments of the United Kingdom
Historically, the United Kingdom has been one of the dominant world powers. While much of their power has declined over the course of the last 100 years, the UK remains a relevant western power in today’s world. The reason for this are varied between their political and legal history, social environment and economic status in today’s world. Political and Legal History
Prior to 1707, the nations that currently make up the UK were each separate states. On May 1, 1707, the UK was formed by the unification of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Wales by the Act of Unions (Duncan 2010). This act formally joined all three kingdoms located on the British Isle under the same crown and government, with England remaining the most powerful entity within the UK. Also formed under the Act of Unions was the Parliament at Westminster, the UK’s main political body and rough equivalent to the United States’ Congress (Duncan 2010). Nearly 100 years later, the kingdom of Ireland joined the UK under the Union with Ireland Act of 1800 (Office of Public Sector Information). While Ireland would remain a part of the UK for over 120 years, they would leave the UK on December 6, 1921 as part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (Factindex.com 1). During Ireland’s exit from the UK, the subdivisions of Ireland had to each approve the move to leave the UK. Because of this, some of the territory of Northern Ireland refused to approve this measure, and returned to the UK two days later (Factindex.com 1). Today, the territories of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland make up the UK.
Prior to 1945, the UK was one of the most active nations in the world as an imperial power. During the UK’s colonial reign, they controlled an empire that reached around the globe. Nations that the UK ruled during their imperial period included the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and much of South Africa (Commonwealth Secretariat). While the United States was the first nation to gain independence from the UK in 1776, most of the UK’s colonies did not gain their independence from the crown until after World War II (Rosenberg 2010). The UK knew it was necessary to maintain good relations with their former colonies, so they established the Commonwealth of Nations in 1931 (Rosenberg 2010). Today, there are 54 independent nations that are a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, most of which were former members of the British Empire (Commonwealth Secretariat).
The UK’s legal system is very similar to that of the United States, however, there are a few major difference. One of these differences is that the UK does not have an official constitution. The legal system of the UK is instead based on the practices of common law and previous statutes (Index Mundi 2010). While the UK still has a royal family, the descendents of England’s previous kings and queens, they are mostly symbolic and hold little power within the government. Instead, power rests in the hands of Parliament and the Prime Minister. As previously stated, the UK’s Parliament is similar to the United States’ Congress, while the Prime Minister is similar to the President (Britannia 2004). Like the United States’ Congress, the UK’s Parliament is divided into two houses. The upper house is the House of Lords and the lower house is the House of Commons (Britannia 2004). The House of Lords consists primarily of descendants of British nobility, such as dukes, earls, and thanes. The House of Commons is made up of 651 members who are elected by the people of the UK. Each representative of the House of Commons comes from a particular constituency of the UK, much like representatives in the United States’ House of Representatives come from particular districts in the United States (Britannia 2004). In the UK’s Parliament, the House of...