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Explaining Politics: UK Elections and Devolution

Explaining Politics: UK Elections and Devolution

With the current political climate heating up in the UK, we have witnessed political divides and democracy under turmoil. From the catalyst of Brexit bringing the British political system to the forefront over the past two years from proposing another snap election, second referendums, motions of no confidence - it makes it important to ask, what is the British political system and how does it constitute our everyday lives?


What is Parliament?

Political scientists have often suggested that the British premiership is the strongest executive office in the world as it has a remarkable degree of power concentrated in the sovereignty of Parliament. The Parliamentary system in the UK is powered by Parliament to represent the public’s interests operated by the legislative branch. This branch is formulated by the House of Commons and the House of Lords with the former consisting of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) elected by British citizens who are in charge of laws and government administration. Usually elections to elect MPs runs every 5 years, however the Prime Minister or Monarch could call for another election (at their own self-informed risk). The House of Lords on the other hand, are appointed by the Monarch through the advice of the Prime Minister and whose role it is to scrutinize the government administration. Interesting fact: Parliament currently consists of a record high of 208 women MPs and 26% female members in the House of Lords in disparity to men following the 2017 General election.


 The UK voting system

The electoral system operated in the UK is premised on the First past the post system to elect MPs in England and Wales to the House of Commons. This is followed by voting once for a candidate in your constituency out of the 650 we currently have, and the one with the most votes becomes your MP. These elections are usually held in May every five years unless one is proposed sooner by Parliament; the leader of the majority or coalition of parties will then become the Prime Minister. In 2017, the Conservative party formed a minority coalition with the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) with a formal confidence-and-supply agreement. This, however, has caused tensions with May’s Brexit deal as the DUP has abstained on May’s Irish backstop deal. The DUP certainly holds proportional leverage on May’s proceedings, but this coalition friction does not mitigate the Tories current division with Labour.



Devolution means decisions on the issues that affect you will be made locally without the need for government permission; these range from health services to travel and business. Devolving is a great tool to get local people more involved in the decision-making processes with the intent of resulting in more effective growth through targeting public services. The result of devolution from passing the Scotland Act, Northern Ireland Act and Government of Wales Act in 1998 have gave these nations representative jurisdiction, but what prevents the UK not being a true federal state is that Parliament is still sovereign nonetheless. The existence of the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and the Northern Ireland assembly depends on powers being granted to them by the UK government and those powers, in theory, can be withdrawn at any time. The powers that are not devolved by the sovereignty of the UK, also known as “reserved powers” concern areas of foreign policy, immigration and citizenship, tax policy, defence and national security and the constitution. City areas will also be granted over the years more power through the implementation of “devolution deals” that involve taking stronger autonomy to grow its economy, decide public expenditure, business growth and many more.


Snap elections

There have been talks around Parliament about having a snap election amid the Brexit turmoil as May grows uncertainty to get her withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons. This type of election is one that is called earlier than expected and are generally used to sought political advantage. May called for one in 2017 to boost a majority in parliament but her gamble backfired as her majority was slashed by 13 seats and led to the DUP coalition. But how likely are we to see another snap election? It seems unlikely, but Corbyn is not backing down without a fight as his interview with the Independent reveals that he is urging a general election to mitigate May’s Brexit deal.


The role of the public

In light of UK politics, where does the public fit in this puzzle piece? Despite our common voter rights, societal response through many other forms are very influential than the government often concede. For example, if you create a petition with at least 100,000 signatures, it will be considered in a debate inside the House of Commons. You can also give your views on government policies through responding to consultations which governments consider before finalising decisions; there are currently 80 open consultations. Responding to these can be done via email or through a written letter (view more details on the .GOV website under the “get involved” section). There are also more active ways to get your voice heard from becoming involved in pressure groups to get your partisan or non-partisan feedback heard, joining political parties, campaigning, participating in protests and many more. The virtues of democracy mean that people are granted to have a voice on what is decided for the country which invites us to get involved in politics through multifaceted ways.