Is the governance of the UK legitimate?
The term ‘legitimacy’ is a prominent concept in global politics and international relations, which refers to an acceptable actor acting in an acceptable way. The most general and reasonablesource of legitimacy is democracy, the power of people. A state, in order to be considered democratic, must have a balance of power. Meaning that the decision-making power is spread between three branches: executive, legislator and judicial. Moreover, every vote should count equally, and the government should represent the needs and wants of people, who should be able to elect and remove the latter at regular intervals. This essay will argue that a government like the one of UK is legitimate to a certain extent. It will focus on the three main branches of power: The House of Commons, The House of Lords and the Monarch. By giving a detailed description of aspects considered illegitimate such as: the simple majority voting system, the Prime Minister being appointed by the Monarch, the Monarch having a hereditary ruler and The House of Lords being able to slow down the decisions of the people. On the other hand, it will argue the aspects for which the country is still considered legitimate. Examples such as: a clear result in the voting system, the House of Lords not having the power of VETO on bills and the discrepancies between theory and practical power of the Queen.
First of all, The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament divided in: The House of Commons and the House of Lords. The premier challenge to the governance of the UK is the voting system of the House of Commons. The UK government adopted a Single majority voting system, meaning that the first party past the post. The House of Commons is made up of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs), each representing one constituency (electoral district). An example that attempts to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the voting system isthe 2015 parliamentary election, where, even though the Conservative Party won barely the 36% of the people’s votes (not more than 50%) they still got into the Parliament gaining more than half of the seats. This discrepancy between the votes and the seats simply shows the way towards legitimacy (votes of the people) contrasted by the way towards power (seats by the MPs).Votes are a mean for people to show their wants, however the party that gains more than half the seats wins the election. Thus, it’s arguable that the House of Commons is illegitimate because the seats are allocated disproportionally and do not represents the wants of the people. Since the root of legitimacy lies in democracy, this has turned to be not expressing the power of people but rather a disproportional representation.
However, it can be easily argued that this voting system gives a clear result and a clear winner if compared to other voting systems, like the Italian one, also known as Perfect Representation (PR).
In Italy, the votes of the people are proportionally represented by the seats in Parliament. However, let’s assume that both the Left and Right wings parties gain 49 % of the votes, and the central party gains 2%: the latter will gain negotiating power and would need to be persuaded by one of the other parties in order for them to win the election. Therefore, it is arguable that the single majority voting system is a more desirable system, since it presents a clear ruler and doesn’t give negotiating power to a small party that can take opportunity out of the situation.
Another aspect regarding how the UK governance arguably lacks legitimacy is the membership of the House of Lords, which is made up of 50% more members than the House of Commons. The House of Lords are also not elected by the people, but appointed by the Prime Minister, who turns out to be a prominent figure inthe UK monarchy. This important prerogative of the Prime Minister allows him to introduce in the Parliament the members of its party. Even though, theoretically speaking, the Queen has the right to appoint those members, in practice, it is the Prime minister. An example of that is the old prime minister David Cameron, who illegitimately appointed (without consulting the wants of people) 224 additional members in the House of Lords. Moreover, regarding the membership to this house of Parliament, the 10% have inherited places, meaning that people do not express their opinions and that men are favoured by the government. Additionally, 26 members are bishops of the Church of England. The latter fact establishes a lack of legitimacy in terms of representation, since the Church of England must not be the only religious representative of a multicultural nation like Britain. Thus, the membership of the House of Lords has turned to be very undemocratic, therefore illegitimate because it doesn’t represent the people.
However, there are some aspects in the House of Lords, that are increasing its legitimacy; one of these is the prohibition to VETO for a bill. Until 1911 the House of Lords could VETO a bill and completely misrepresent the power and wants of people. Nowadays, even though the organ has some flows in it, this housecan only postpone a bill for a year, asking the House of Commons to modify it. Even though this is not considerable as legitimate yet, it can be argued that in the past it was far more misrepresentative of the people.
The third power that should be considered in this evaluation is the Monarch. The fundamental theoretical features of the monarch makes the UK governance more illegitimate, however in practice things are not as they may appear. The actual queen Elizabeth II is a hereditary ruler, meaning that she came to the throne because of her father being the king of England. Even though Elizabeth II came to the throne, usually male have priority in gaining this charge, meaning that if the queen had a brother, he would now be the ruler of England. Moreover, the Queen is unaccountable, and she is the Head of both the State and the Church. However, this title conveys that she represents only a branch of the Church, the Church of England, but it misrepresents several other religions existing in the UK. Additionally, the Queen can hire or fire a Prime Minister and she has the absolute power of VETO. The Prime minister exercises the Queen’s power; in these terms, he can declare war without parliamentary approval and he can make treaties. For example, the Prime Minister can decide to stipulate the Brexit treaty and the Parliament doesn’t have to approve this decision. This shows how illegitimate the UK governance is, thatit doesn’t really represent democracy and slows down the decision taken by people by postponing bills. Moreover, if we compare America to UK, we can easily deduce that it is more democratic, since in the US, the Senate must approve decision on treaties.
However, it can be easily argued that what is written doesn’t always correspond with what really characterised the monarchy. For example, even though the Monarch has the right to VETO, noMonarch has used this power since 1707, to maintain a balance within the country and not to go against the wants of people. Even though the UK looks undemocratic the Queen appoints the prime minister by choosing the leader of the most popular party. “The monarch reigns, but doesn’t rule”, meaning that who really owns the power is the Prime Minister. Thus, it’s shown that people are partially represented by this form of government because ‘De jure + De facto’, meaning that theory is different from reality, where people are represented by the politicians they elected.
To sum up, the UK governance is legitimate only to a certainextent. Even though the theory differs from the practical approach of the Parliament, where the Queen doesn’t really use her power to VETO and people are represented by the appointed leader of the winning parties as the Prime Minister, there are still many points that challenge its legitimacy in being democratic. Some of them are: The House of Commons, which does not represent the votes of people proportionally in Parliament; in the House of Lords nearly 90% of the members are appointed by the Prime Minister, the general public has little influence. The Queen has the power to VETO a decision and to initiate a war or to stipulate a treaty without parliamentary agreement, this adds to the argumentof illegitimacy. Therefore, the UK governance is illegitimating because the general acceptable source of legitimacy is democracy, a concept not fully emphasized in this type of government, which implies people to have the power.