The American and British political systems in comparison

The British and American political systems are chosen for this comparative study.  While both these nation states fall within the democratic framework, they differ in some significant ways.  For one, while the American system is essentially a two-party democracy, the British system is a multi-party one.  Also, the American system is “federal”, meaning that there are two levels of government, both of them being equally powerful and have separate designated roles to play.  On the other hand, the British system is what is called a “unitary” one, the parliament being the sole legislative body.  While the federal system of the United States, assigns specific roles for the Senate and the Congress, the British parliamentary system can “make laws on any matter, local government has whatever powers the national government delegates to it” (Anderson, 1997)

The British system is also referred to as “responsible government”.  This means that the government, represented by the Prime Minister and his cabinet of ministers is responsible and accountable to the parliament.  This imposes the necessary checks on government power.  If the majority of the parliament votes against the functioning of the government, the latter could be dismissed and fresh elections could be called on.  On the other hand, the American system is designed in such a way that the head of state (the President) cannot be easily removed by the Congress.  The Congress can of course impeach the President, but this process takes the air of a judicial one and a little drawn out (Almond, 1956).

The British system is also different in regard to the special powers assigned to the Governor-General, who can call for elections earlier than scheduled, when the circumstances so require.  Further, there is a “maximum term” for which an election result is valid.  Such a setup really does empower the general public as illustrated by the following scenario:

“If Government policy that has general community support is blocked by the opposition or minor parties, the Government can appeal to the electorate. In the American system the terms of office of the House of Representatives, Senate, and President are all ‘fixed’, so that an early election cannot be held. If a President dies or resigns, the Vice-President serves out the remaining part of his term. There are no circumstances in which the American President can dissolve Congress and call an early election.” (Almond, 1956)

Another aspect where the two electoral systems differ is in regard to the distribution of powers.  In the American electoral system, the Executive division as well as the Legislative division is elections based, whereas the Judiciary is “appointed” by the Head of State.  This arrangement can have significant ramifications in the direction that the judiciary takes and in setting precedents for future legal disputes.  Usually, there is a tendency for the judicial appointments to reflect the political affiliation of the Executive branch.  For example, in the case of the Administration of George W. Bush, the appointment of John Ashcroft as the Attorney General was quite expected, as both Bush and Ashcroft come from the same Republican Party fold (Anderson, 1997).

The British constitution is a product of centuries of gradual progress and evolution.  Given that the United Kingdom was a functioning monarchy for a long time and a nominal one even to this day, the transition of power from that of the aristocracy to that of the common folk was a slow and gradual one.  While there is no doubt that Britain is one of the leading advocate of democratic political systems during its stage of nascence, the American form of electoral democracy has its own unique qualities.  The United States was unusual as a nation-state in that it does not represent any particular ethnic, religious or racial group.   Hence, the adoption of electoral democracy by the founding fathers was quite natural.  But on the other hand, what we seen in present day Britain is an “imposed democratic system”.  The testament to this reality is the fact that class differences continue to exist in Britain even to this day, and while the political clout of the aristocracy has diminished significantly, it still remains an affluent and exclusivist class in the British society (Kalleberg, 1966).

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