Britain is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch and Queen Elisabeth II reigns as the head of state. The British constitution, isn’t spelled out in a single document. Instead, it is made up of a combination of laws and conventions.
A thousand years ago the Anglo-Saxon kings consulted the Great Council before making important decisions. Between 1066 and 1215 the king ruled alone, but in 1215 the nobles forced King John to accept the Magna Carta, which took away some of the king’s powers. In later centuries this was seen as the first occasion whereby the king was forced to take advice. In 1264 the first parliament of nobles met together. Since then, the British constitution has developed slowly as the result of countless acts of parliament. Eventually, parliament invited William and Mary to become Britain’s first constitutional monarchs. In a word, a constitutional monarch is one who can rule only with the support of the parliament.
The Bill of Rights was the first legal step towards constitutional monarchy. This bill prevented the monarch from independently making laws or having an army without Parliament’s approval. Since 1689 the power of the parliament has grown, while the power of the monarch has become weaker. The UK is a constitutional monarchy: the head of the state is a king or a queen. In practice, the Sovereign reigns, but doesn’t rule. The present Sovereign is Queen Elisabeth II. Today the Queen isn’t only the head of state, but also an important symbol of national unity. In law the Queen is head of the executive, head of the judiciary, the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces of the Crown and of the established Church of England.
The monarchy’s absolute power has been progressively reduced over time. The Queen is impartial in her decisions and acts on the advice of her ministers. The Queen and the Royal family continue to take part in many traditional ceremonies. Their
visits to different parts of Britain and to many other countries attract considerable interest and publicity. The proceedings of both Houses of Parliament are broadcast on television and radio. General elections to choose Members of Parliament must be held at least every five years.
Today every man and woman age 18 and over has the right to vote. The Government is formed by the party with majority support in the Commons. The party in power determines the domestic and foreign policy of the country. The Queen appoints its leader as Prime Minister. As head of the Government, the Prime Minister appoints about 100 ministers, approximately 20 of whom are in the Cabinet, which is the primary group that makes major policy decisions. Ministers are collectively responsible for their own departments. The second largest party forms the official opposition with its own leader and “shadow cabinet”. The opposition has a duty to challenge government policies and to present an alternative programme and agenda.