Political Systems of France and Britain

Topics: Parliament of the United Kingdom, United Kingdom, Separation of powers Pages: 11 (3109 words) Published: June 5, 2005


I chose these two systems, which interest me for different reasons. The British system is one that has evolved over many centuries, with both small and large adjustments along the way to keep in on course. In contrast to this, the French model has changed dramatically on several occasions, and can rarely have been described as stable. However, in 1958 Charles de Gaulle made some brave changes to the constitution, which after being approved by the French public, set the scene for the classic semi-presidential system that we see today.

Despite these opposing histories, there are many similarities between the two systems, which I intend to discuss.


The United Kingdom is a democratic constitutional monarchy, with a system of government often known as the Westminster Model. It has been used as a model of governance in many countries, and undoubtedly indirectly inspired many more.

Somewhat unusually, the constitution is unwritten, consisting of conventions along with statutory law and common law, which are collectively referred to as British constitutional law.

The head of state and theoretical source of executive and legislative power in the UK is the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. In theory, the British sovereign can dissolve Parliament whenever they desire. They can in theory choose any British citizen to be Prime Minister, even if they are not a member of the House of Commons or House of Lords. Theoretically, the Sovereign possesses the ability to refrain from granting Royal Assent to a Bill from Parliament, in addition to being able to declare war and appoint ministers. In practice, the head of state is a largely ceremonial role, with powers restricted by convention. However, the monarch holds three essential rights, the right to be consulted, the right to advise and the right to warn. Also, as the position of head of state tends to be held for a longer period of time than that of Prime Minister, the monarch builds up lots of experience and wisdom which is at the disposal of the government. Thus the political head of the UK is the Prime Minister(PM), who must be supported by the House of Commons. The executive branch of the UK system is the Government (or more formally, Her Majesty's Government). The monarch appoints (or in reality, approves) a Prime Minister, who in turn appoints other Members of Parliaments (MPs) to act as Ministers, who are collectively known as the Government, and head the various government departments. The cabinet is the most senior group of government ministers, and usually numbers around 20.

The Government is answerable to parliament, from which its members are taken. A vote of no confidence can be called if any government-sponsored bill is defeated in the Commons. If the vote of no confidence is passed, the PM must either resign, or ask the monarch to dissolve parliament, and call a general election. In practice, since a government usually holds a majority in the Commons, and party ‘whips' try to ensure that party members support the government, governments are likely to win all but the most controversial votes. If however, a government doesn't have a large majority, then it will do it can to bring ‘backbench' MPs into line, and call three-line whips – i.e. votes that are compulsory for MPs to attend, sometimes even being brought in from hospital beds to vote.


The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative institution in the United Kingdom and British overseas territories (it alone has parliamentary sovereignty). It consists of a head of state (currently Queen Elizabeth II), a bicameral system with an upper house – House of Lords, and a lower house – House of Commons At its head is the Sovereign; it also includes an Upper House, called the House of...

Bibliography: Contemporary France: An Introduction to French Politics and Society ~Catherine Fieschi, et al
France Since 1945 ~Robert Gildea
The Globalization of World Politics ~John Baylis (Editor), Steve Smith (Editor)
How Parliament Works ~Paul Silk, et al Longman
Political Institutions in Europe ~ Mény, Y et al
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