British Politics For Dummies
If you don’t know left wing from right wing (or think they live on a KFC menu) it’s time to get clued up! Get the lowdown on British political ideology, discover how the country is governed, and find out how laws are passed. Like it or not, politics affects pretty much every aspect of daily life. So it’s an incredibly useful topic to know about, and a little knowledge goes a very long way.
Post-1945 British Governments
Red, blue, blue, blue . . . since 1945, the Conservatives have been the dominant political force in Britain. The biggest political animal of them all was undoubtedly Thatcher, who managed to win three consecutive elections. Here’s a list of British governments since 1945:
|Years in Office||Party of Government||Prime Minister|
|1955–1959||Conservative||Anthony Eden (1955–1957)
Harold Macmillan (1957–)
|1959–1964||Conservative||Harold Macmillan (–1963)
Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1963–1964)
|1974–1979||Labour||Harold Wilson (1974–1976)
James Callaghan (1976–1979)
|1987–1992||Conservative||Margaret Thatcher (–1990)
John Major (1990–)
|2005–||Labour||Tony Blair (–2007)
Gordon Brown (2007–)
Major British Political and Social Events Since 1900
Britain’s political and social scene has changed dramatically over the course of a century, with the result that it’s barely recognisable today. Here are just a few of the important events that have shaped our lives today.
|1907||Legalisation of trade unions|
|1908||Introduction of the state pension|
|1914||Outbreak of world war one|
|1918||Votes for women over 30|
|1919||Formation of League of Nations|
|1924||First Labour government|
|1928||Women given the vote on same terms as men|
|1929||Wall Street Crash|
|1939||Outbreak of world war two|
|1945||The United Nations is created|
|1944||Butler Education Act, creating publicly funded system of grammars, comprehensives and technical schools|
|1948||National Health Service is set up|
|1962||Cuban missile crisis|
|1967||Abortion is legalised; homosexuality is decriminalised|
|1969||The voting age is lowered to 18|
|1973||Britain becomes a member of the European Economic Community (EEC)|
|1984||Start of the miners’ strike|
|1989||Fall of the Berlin Wall signals demise of Cold War|
|1998||Good Friday Agreement|
|2003||UK and USA invade Iraq|
|2007||July bombings in London|
Quick Definitions of Political Ideologies: the -isms
Let’s face it, ideologies are confusing things. The -ism bit seems to makes them so very forgettable. But not anymore! Here’s a quick alphabetical guide to the major (and not so major) political ideas that inspire people to get involved in politics.
Anarchism: Can be grouped around socialistic or individualistic strains. Anarchists believe that the state and forms of compulsory government are harmful or unnecessary to people’s lives.
Communism: Communists believe that capitalist system is damaging to interests of masses, and that workers must unite and overturn it by revolutionary means. Communists also believe in the state ownership of all land, natural resources and industry.
Conservatism: Conservative thought is coloured by the belief that – over time – history has produced institutions and modes of government that function well, and which should be largely preserved for the future. They also believe that political change should be organic and gradual, rather than revolutionary.
Environmentalism: Key political concern is protecting and improving the condition of the natural environment. Many believe there is a need for much greater regulation of humans’ interaction with the environment, and aspects of our lifestyles are environmentally unsustainable.
Feminism: The belief that society and the political system is patriarchal. Feminists seek to improve the political and particularly, the social and economic position of women.
Liberalism: The belief in protecting the rights of individual, so as to ensure their maximum freedom. There have been shifts in liberal thought, the most prominent of which was the move from classical liberalism (minimal role of state, unsecured liberties) to progressive liberalism in early twentieth century. Progressive liberals argued that civil liberties and freedoms must be safeguarded and actively protected by state.
Socialism: Socialists are motivated by the desire to improve quality of life for all members of society. They believe in a political system characterised by strong state direction in political and economic policy. Another key idea is redistribution of resources to redress inequalities inherent in free-market economy.