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Political Rights - How they were gained
POLITICAL RIGHTS - HOW THEY WERE
From Feudalism To
William I set up a ”feudal system”, he established a
strong monarchy through centralization of the government. The king owned all the
land, granting estates to his barons, which they devided among their followers;
below there were the Saxon serfs. The newly established Royal Council (Curia
Regis) was more dependent on the king than the Saxon Witan had been.
But the cruel rule of William´s successors came to an end when
Henry, Duke of Anjou, ascended the throne through marriage.
Henry restored peace by re-establishing a highly competent government and
freed England from feudal strife by putting down baronial rebellions and
instituted royal courts, travelling judges (today´s ”circuit
judges”) and the jury system. From then on the sentences pronounced at the
courts were collected; they form the Common Law that serves as case examples for
judges even today. But the church had ist own courts, hoping to have them
abolished, he made his best friend, Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of
Canterbury. Henry was furious when Thomas now opposed him; four knights, wrongly
believing they were carrying out the king´s wish, murdered Thomas in
Henry´s son Richard I (Lionheart) spent most of his time on the
Third Crusarde - his brother John I (also called Lackland) was one of the most
unpopular English kings, he ruled so badly that in 1215 the barons and
bishops forced him to sign a charter protecting their privileges.
This Magna Carta was to become a cornerstone of British
Chief provisions of the charter:
*no taxation without the consent of the Common Council
* no man may be imprisoned without fair trial by his
* free election of bishops and abbots by the English
* the King subjected to the control of a council of 25
This Magna Carta is the first do stress that the law of the land is even
above the will of the ruler and that the law is binding on the ruler. Although
it was not really a democratic document, for it gave rights only to the freemen
(nobelmen and barons) - a very small group of the population - it could later be
applied without difficulty to other groups, and finally to all people.
During the rule of John´s son Henry III, a
”parliament” was called together by a powerful baron, Simon of
Montfort. It consisted of barons, bishops, two knights of each shire, and
two citizens from each town. Simon de Montfort´s Parliament
(1265) was the first Parliament in which the plain people were
The king had to promise that neither nore his successors would introduce
new taxes or new
laws without the consent of Parliament.
The first king to summon a parliament himself was Edward I
(the ”Model Parliament of 1295), because he
needed money for his wars. (= the model for all future Parliaments)
Edward´s Model Parliament, 1295, established permanently the
representative system in the Great Council by admitting representatives of the
commonalty (two knights elected from each shire and two burghers from each
borough) to vote on taxation.
The right of the people to be represented in Parliament was officially
recognized, for the king realized that he could levy taxes more easily with the
good will of the people.
The Commoners (citizens and townsmen) were allowed to be present but
didn´t yet take part in the decisions of Parliament. Parliament met only
when it was called by the King, who called it only when he was in need of
Statute Law (written laws adopted with the consent of Parliament) began to
supersede royal instructions and the Common Law established by custom:
a) Quo Warranto, 1290, wihdrew special privileges from feudal lords unless
confirmed by royal grant and long usage.
b) Quia Emptores prohibited subinfeudation (granting away of land legally
belonging to the feudal lord).
c) Statute of Mortmain prohibited land-grants to the Curch without
financial compensation to the Crown.
Jurisdiction began to be devided from administration through the
establishment of seperate courts; Common Pleas for civil suits and King´s
Bench chiefly for criminal cases, both in Westminster Hall.
Development of Parliament during the rule of Edward
Excessive taxation during the French war enhanced the importance of knights
and burgesses, who began to meet separatly for financial debates before voting
In the year 1340 the Commoners met themselves for the first
This led to the division of the Great Council into the House of
Commons (elected representatives of counties and boroughs) and the House
of Lords (personally summoned barons and bishops).
But there was still a limitation: the Crown was still supreme in all
matters, the Crown had always the ”last word” in
The t w o - c h a m b e r s y s t e m, and the predominance of the
Lower House, where the burgeois element was strenthened through the landed
gentry, have since constituted the two principal features of the English
Disintegration of Feudalism
In the 15th century the townspeople (esp. traders) became richer and
richer, they were even able to pay more taxes than the nobles. Consequently the
Commons gained a greater influence on all matters of finance. Numbers of former
serfs freed themselves from feudal services by paying a fixed sum (firma),
which made them free ”farmers” (freeholders), while the rest became
permanent paid land-labourers. Thus serfdom was abolished four hundred years
earlier than on the Continent.
Decline of nobility
The Wars of the Roses, which were fought chiefly by barons, extinguished
many noble families and encouraged lawlessness and violence among nobles and
their retrainers (military employees used also in the Hundreds Years´ War).
This led to the elimination of the old nobility from political influence and the
creation of a new aristocracy of court officials under the Tudor
The Tudors were the most popular dynasty in the English history, uniting
dencies with respect for Parliament and the interests of the powerful new
middle classes through their keen instinct for England´s commercial
Henry VII (Tudor) restored order and royal authotrity by r i g o r o u s
t a x a t i o n and suppression of the lawless nobility, who were forbidden to
keep retrainers. The former political influence of the nobility was now
superseded by a new gentry (reliable offices drawn from middle
Struggle between Parliament and Crown
for Supremacy (1603-1688)
(Stuart Age - Absolutism and the English
The Early Stuarts were politically undiplomatic and abitrary, though with
personal dignity and courage, the Stuarts were very unpopular through their
despotic and Catholic tendencies. Resistance to Stuart despotism led to the
revival of Parliamentarism.
James I (son of Mary Stuart) was disliked by the extreme Protestants and
by the Roman Catholics. The latter plottet to blow up Parliament and the King
and seize power, but failed.
Guy Fawkes, who wa to setfire to gun powder stored in a cellar underneath
Parliament, was captured and executed together with the other conspirators.
Since that time the 5th November has been celebrated as ”Guy Fawkes
Nowadays the Queen (or King) reigns but does not rule, but both James I and
Charles I (1625) regarded themselves as ”Kings of Divine
Rights” and wanted to rule absolu-
tely. Charles dissolved Parliament and tried to rule in an absolutistic
”Long Parliament”, elected in the year 1642,
contained only the King´s opponents. Under the leadership of John Pym,
Hampden and Cromwell, Parliament soon became stronger than the King, excluded
bishops, abolished episopacy and introduced Constitutional Reforms:
* no dissolution of Parliament without ist own consent
* Parliament meets every three years even if it isn´t summoned by
* Abolition of Star Chamber and Court of High Commission
Charles conflict with Parliament developed into a civil war. The
parlamentary troops, supported by the Puritans (Roundheads) were organized by
Olver Cromwell. After years of fighting, the King´s
”Cavaliers” were defeated and Charles was executed in
Oliver Cromwell established a Puritan ”Commonwealth”,
called himself ”Lord Protector” and dissolved Parliament
(1649). During the last five years of his rule Cromwell exercised a
military dictatorship, though he declined to accept an offer of the crown and
re-established a new House of Lords consisting of peers nominated by
Oliver Cromwell forbade all old customs, closed all theatres, moreover it
was the time of religious intolerance, even games and fun on Sundays were
Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard, who followed him, eas
not able to cope with the army and Parliament and abdicated after one
The Restoration of the Stuarts
After Oliver Cromwell´s death Charles II (the Merry Monarch;
son of the executed King Charles I) was asked to return from exile in France,
the masses rejoiced (1660). He re-established Parliament and the Church of
England, Protestant and Roman Catholics were excluded from puplic
Of the two political parties, the ”Tories” (chiefly
the landed aristocracy) supported by the King and the Church of England; the
”Whigs” (mostly moneyed middle-class) stood for the
Dissenters and the rights of Parliament.
1673, the Test Act: in 1672 Charles had secretly become a Catholic,
issued the Decleration of Indulgence in favour of Catholics and Dissenters.
Under pressure from Parliament, this led to be withdrawn, and was superseded by
the Test Act. Through requiring that civil service appointments be made
dependent upon taking the sacraments of the Curch of England, the Test Act
secured final control of puplic affairs by the Established Curch.
1679 Exclusion Bill introduced into Parliament in 1679
proposed to exclude Charles´s brother James, who was avowedly Catholic,
from succession. Charles prevented the passage of the Bill by repeated
dissolution of Parliament.
1679 The Habeas Corpus Act - together with the Magna Carta,
this is the greatest landmark in the establishment of the rule of the law in
England. It was enacted ba Parliament against abitrary imprisonment (no person
must bearrested without a judicial warrant and speedy trial).
The Habeas Corpus Act became later a symbol of English freedom as against
suppression of subjects in absolutistic states. It is a part of Austrain law,
too, probably it was the most important act passed in Parliamnet: arrested
persons were to be questionend by a magistrate wihin three days, or set
Supremacy of Parliament (1688 -
James II (brother of Charles II) tried to restore Catholicism by rigorous
measures, he was very unpopular and finally even lost the support of the Tories.
But the throne was offered to Mary and her Protestant husband, William of
Orange, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, so James fled to France. This
”Glorious Revolution” (1688) marks the end of the old fight between
King and Parliament.
The Parliament was supreme - William and Mary, who ruled very jointly, had
to sign the
Bill of Rights (1689), giving Parliament all the rights of
law-making and taxation. - From now on the Kings formed their Cabinets from the
strongest party in Parliament.
Chief provisions of the Bill of Rights:
* Parliament to control legislation and taxation
* No standing army without consent of Parliament
* No excessive fines and cruel punishments
* Free election of members to Parliament
* Freedom of speech, supplemented in 1695 by abolition of censorship in
* Parliaments to be held frequently
The Time after the Glorious Revolution saw the end of the idea of the
Divine Right of King; the monarch no longer held office by the grace of God, but
by the grace of Parliament.
The Cabinet became responsible to Parliament, not to the King. Since 1707
no English monarch has vetoed an Act of Parliament.
The Bill of Rights is the nearest approach to a written constitution of
A few further Act passed under the rule of William and
- Toleration Act, (1689), granted Dissenters freedom of
worship, in practice also extended to Catholics.
- Triennial Act, (1694), provided that no Parliament should
continue longer than three years.
- Act of Settlement, (1701), this act contained important
* The Sovereign must be member of the Curch of England
* He must not leave the country without the consent of
* The nation shall not be involved in any war of defence of territories
not belonging to the
Crown of England without the consent of Parliament
* Foreigners shall not be eligible for offices or membership of either
House of Parliament or
to have any grant of lands from the Crown.
* Persons holding offices under the Crown or receiving pensions from
the Crown shall not
be members of the House of Commons.
The Act of Settlement and other statutes provided for a maximum interval
between elections to the House of Commons (still on a very narrow franchise),
and declared that new lawes and taxes must be approved by Parliament and by
monarch. But there was no formal restriction on the types of laws that might be
passed. Any existing law could be replaced by a new one, this provided that it
passes through the prescribed process.
Under Queen Anne (James II´s younger daughter), Parliamentary
union with Scotland was effected in 1707, sixteen Scottish lords were
to be elected to the House of Lords, as well as representatives to the House of
Commons. The ecclesiastical, legal and educational systems, however, have
After Queen Anne´s death a strange thing hapened: the English accepted
a foreign king rather than having the Catholic Stuarts back.
George I of Hanover (1714), a greatson of James I, was not able t
speek English and was therefore unable to preside over meetings of his
”Cabinet”. This had to be done by one of his ministers, who came to
be called PRIME MINISTER. From now on the King left the government of the
country to Parliament and the Cabinet.
During the Napoleonic wars there was one important
”The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” was created
by abolihing the Irish
Parliament and sending Irish Members to Westminster (1801).
Suffrage - Supremacy of the House of
The Victorian Age - Queen Victoria , who came to the throne
in 1837 (after George IV and William IV), gave the century her name: She and her
husband; Prince Albert became symbols of ”Victorian” morality and
respectability. Her age was one of great changes.
The industrial reforms had been introduced:
* slave trade and slavery had been forbidden
* religious tolerance was granted to all
* industrial towns were given seats in Parliament
* the right to vote was extended to more people (which brought
Britain closer to a real
* working hours for women and children in factories werde
* criminal law was reformed (e.g. no longer the death peanalty for
steeling a sheep)
* education was improved (it became cumpulsary in 1876)
* Factory Act 1833,
Collieries Act (1842, women and children under 9 were not to work
* Ten-Hours Act (1847, limited the working day of women and young
* Factory Act (1864, on Saturdays factories were closed at two
o´clock and the other five
working days were limited to ten and a half hours per
* Employment of child chimney sweeps was forbidden in 1864
* Gangs Act (1868, forbad gang labour of children under
A number of Reform Acts, beginning in 1832, gave the vote to an
increasing number of people: the middle classes (1832), the industrial workers
(1867), the rural population (1884), women (1918 and 1928) and, finally, in 1969
the young (18 plus).
The system of
Britain is a without a written constitutional monarchy constitition.
Some parts of the governmental system are written down in Acts of
Parliament (they are also called ”laws” or
”statutes”), others are regulated by ”conventions”,
which are commonly accepted assumptions about the way things should be done,
mostly based on precedents.
Britain is like a democracy, yet ist people are not, as one might now
expect in a democracy, constitutionally in control of the state. The
constitutional situation is an apparently contradictory one.
As a result of the historical background the people of Britain are subject
of the Crown, accepting the Queen Elizabeth as the head of the state.
But yet even the Queen is n o t sovereign in any substantial sense since
she receives her authority from Parliament, and is subject to ist
direction in almosts all matters. In short, she ”reigns” but does
Technically, British sovereignty collectively resides in the three elements
THE CROWN, and Parliament´s two chambers, THE
HOUSE OF LORDS and
THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
The reigning monarch is not only head of the state but symbol of the unity
of the nation. The monarchy is Britain´s oldest secular institution, ist
continuitty for over a thousand years broken only once ba a republic that
lasted a mere of eleven years (1649 - 1660).
The monarchy is hereditary, the succession passing automatically to the
oldest male child, or in the absence of males, to the oldest female offspring of
the monarch. By Act (or law) of Parliament, the monarch must be a Prostestant.
Succession is automatic on the death of the monarch, confirmed later by a formal
For example, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in the year 1953, took
place over a year after she became queen.
In law the monarch is head of the executive and of the judiciary, head of
the Curch of England and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, however since
1689 the Crown is only sovereign by the will of Parliament.
The remaining powers of the monarch are basically to summon, prorogue (or
to suspend until the next session) and to dissolve Parliament; to give royal
assent to legislation passed by Parliament; to appoint government ministers,
judges, officers of the armed forces, governors, diplomats and bishops of the
Curch; to confer honours, such as peerages and knighthoods; to remit sentences
passed on convicted criminals; and finally to declare war on or to make
peace with an enemy power.
In practice, of course, she is free to decide herself, the monarch
dicharges all these functions on the direction of the government
Nevertheless, the function of the monarch is politically
The House of Lords
The upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords, is not democratic in
any sense at all.
It consists of four catagories of peer. The majority are hereditary peers,
a total of almost 800, nut of whom only about half take an active interest in
the affairs of the state. A smaller number, between 350 and 400, are
”life” peers - an idea introduced in the year 1958 to elevate to the
peerage certain people who have rendered political or public service to the
nation. Only a quarter of this life peers are women.. All life peers are created
on the recom-
mendation of the Prime Minister of the day, with nominations also sought
from opposition parties. The purpose was not merely to honour but also to
enhance the quality of buisness done in the Lords.
Nine of the most senior judges, the Lords of Appeal in Oridinary, are also
entitled to sit in the Lords.. Finally, alongside these secularpeers, the Lords
Temporal, are the twenty-six most senoir bishops ans archbishops of the Curch of
England, the Lords Spiritual.
The lords of appeal - known as the Law Lords - and the Lords Spiritual are
the ancient non-hereditary compenent of the Lords.
Until 1911 the Lords were able to reject bills passed in the Commoners, and
thus frustrate not only the government of the day, but also the will of the
Commoners. Since then the Lords have been unable to challenge financial
legislation, and have only been able to delay other legislation (since 1949 for
no more than one session) but not prevent it. Theit only other surviving
dicretionary power is to veto an attempt by the Commons to prolong ist own life
beyond ist five-year term. The role of the Lords, therefore, is now more to warn
than frustrate over-zealous governments, and they have done this more by the
proposition of amendments to legislation which causes them unease, than by
Although there are over a thousand peers entitled to sit in the House of
Lords, average daily attendance is only about 300 and most of these are life
peers, who retain a strong interest in the affairs of the state. The House of
Lordsis presided over by the Lord Chancellor , the senior law officer of the
state. The position is not like that of the Speaker, for the Lord Chancellor
is not impartial, but a government officer and besides, the Lords are expected
to conduct their buisness in a far more orderly fashion than the Commons. He is
responsible for the administration of justice and he is also an automatic member
of the Cabinet.
A larger number of peers support the Conservative Party than either
Labour or the Liberal Democrats, who collectively with independent peers (who,
unlike the Commons, have ”cross-
benches” across the back of the chamber to sit upon), can marshall
almost the same number of active peers as the Conservatives.
In 1988 there were 446 Conservative peers, 117 Labour peers, 61 Liberal
Democrats, 25 Social Democrats and 226 crossbenchers. This preponderance in
favour of the Conservatives arises partly because the majority of hereditary
peers sympathise more with the Conservative Party than with ist oppnents, but
also because Labour declined to nominate candidates for life peerages for a
periode during the 1980´s since ist party policy included abolition of the
Lords, on the grounds that it was an undemocratic anachromnsm. Depite this
preponderance, however, no Conservative government can be absolutely sure of
majority, if ist propsals are contoversial. Peers, of whatever party loyality,
are far freer to vote according to their own convictions rather than party
policy than are members of the Commons.
The House of Commons
The dynamic power of Parliament lies in the House of Commons. Of ist 650
Members, 523 represent constituencies in England, 38 in Wales, 72 in Scotland
and 17 in Northern Ireland.
There are only seats in the Commons debating chamber for 370 members, but
expect on matters of great interest, it is unusual for all members to be
present at any one time.
Many MP´s find themselves in other rooms of the Commons, participating
in a variety of committees and meetings necessary for an effective parliamentary
The shape of the Commons debating chamber makes an important comment on
the political process in Britain. Unlike many European chambers which are
semicircular, thus reflecting the spectrum of political opinion in their
seating plan, the Commons is rectangular, with the Speaker´s (the Pesiding
MP) chair at one end, and either side of it five rows of benches running the
lenght of the chamber. On one side, to the Speaker´s right, sits Her
Majesty´s Government and its supporters, and on the other side Her
Majestry´s Opposition, composed of all Members who opose the government.
The front benches on either side are reserved for members of the Cabinet and
other Ministers, and Opposition spokesmen, known as the ”Shadow
Behind them sit Mps from their own party, known as
”backbenchers”. The layout implies two features of British political
life: that it has traditionally been a two-party system and that the process is
essentially adversarial (indeed, a red line on the floor in front of each front
bench still marks the swords´ lenghts - beyond which a Member may not
approach the opposite benches)
The Speaker is chosen by a vote of the entire House, although in paractice
the party leaders
consult their supporters in order to achieve informal agreement beforehand.
The Speaker is
responsible for the orderly conduct of buisness, and is required to act
impartiality between Members in the House. In the words of the Speaker
”It´s not my duty as a Speaker to bend arguments in any way, but
to ensure that everything
that happens here is seen clearly by those who put us here. We are, after
all, the servants of
those who put us here: to electorate!”
The Speaker is assister by three deputy speakers. Unlike peers, who can
only claim expenses,
Mps are paid salaries, approximately twice the average national wage, but
than most Mps earn ourside the Commons.
Here is diagramatic representation of the theoretical political
The House of The
The House of
Westminster - the seat of
Her Majestry´s Government, in spite of ist name, derives ist authority
and power from
its party representation in Parliament. While the government machinery is
to as ”Whitehall”, Parliament is known as
”Westminster”, since it housed in the Place of
Westminster, once a home of the monarchy. Like the monarchy, Parliament is
an ancient institution, dating from the middle of the thiteenth century
The British Parliament is the seat of British democracy, but it
is perhaps valuable to remember that while the House of Lords was created in
order to provide a council of the nobility of the king, the Commons were
summoned originally in order to provide the king with money. The more money a
king demanded the more the Commoners questioned its
use. Because of ist financial power, ist ability to raise withhold money,
the House of Commons eventually - from the seventeenth century onwards - gained
power not only in matters of finance but also of legislation o v e r both,
the monarch and also the Lords.
Parliament is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom.
Free from the constraints of a written constitution Parliament may make any
laws it pleases. It could even prolong ist own life without consulting the
electorate, if it choses to do so. Thus Parliament, rather than the will of the
people, is clearly the real sovereign power in the state. The only guarantee
against parliamentary tyranny is the sense of tradition and reasonableness of
Furthermore, in practice it is not Parliament as a whole which is
sovereign, but the government of the day and ist supporters, since they almost
invariably form a majority in the Commons. For the duration of ist normal term,
five years, the government of the day may enact or implement ist policies, so
long as it can ensure party support in the Commons.
In the words of one distinguished and long-serving parliamentarian who has
sat in both the Commons and the Lords, Britain´s parliamentary system is
in practice a form of ”elective dictatorship”, an
important qualification on the idea of Britain as a democracy.
Parliamen´s functions today are to pass laws, to raise enough
money through taxation to enable the government to function, to examine
government policy and administration, particulary ist financial programme, and
to debate or discuss important political issues.
The life of a Parliament is not fixed, and the government of the day may
call for a general election at any time during the five-year term.
Each Parliament is devided into annual sessions, running normally from
October to October with breaks for public holidays and for a long summer
”recess” (usually late July until October).
The electoral and party
For electoral proposes the United Kingdom is divided into constituences,
each one of which elects a Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons.
To ensure equitable representations four permanent Boundary Commissions
(for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), make periodic reviews to
adjust electoral boundaries and redistribute seats.
Today there are 650 seats in the Commons, one seat on average for
every 66,000 electors.
All British citizens (including citizens of the Irish Republic
resident in the UK) may vote, provided they are aged eighteen or
over, are registered, and are not disqualified by insanity, membership of
the House of Lords or being sentenced prisoners.
Voting is not compulsary, and a general election normally attracts about 75
% of the electorate, a decline in participation of about 8 % since
The canditate in a constitutuency who gains most votes is returned as
Member to the Commons. In this ”first-past-the-post”
system, other canditates, even if they come close to the winner, will not get a
seat in Parliament.
If a Member of Parliament (MP) resigns, dies or is made a peer during the
lifetime of a Parliament, a by-election must be held in his or her old
constituency to elect a new member. No candidate requires the backing of a
political party in order to stand for election, but today no independent
candidates succeed in being elected. MPs are normally chosen by the
constituency branch of the party, from a list of suitable candidates issued by
the party head-
quarters. Where the winning party of an election only just gains the
greatest proportion of national vote, this can lead to a substantial ditortion
of democratic will in actual represen-
tation in the Commons.
The 1987 election results clearly reveal the problem:
Party % of vote
% of Mps
Alliance (Liberal/SPD) 22.6
The political party system has evolved since the 18th century, and since
the first half of the 19th century has been essentially a two-party
Today, this two-party system contest is between the Conservative Party
(still known by their previous nickname, the ”Tories”) and the
Labour Party, which emerged at the end of the 19th century as a result of the
introduction of universal male suffrage and the decline of the Liberal
The Conservative Party is the party of the Right, identified with
the idea of economic freedom and until 1979 with the idea of resistance to
change. It has successfully portrayed itself as the party of patriotism. As in
the 19th century, it appeals to a ”property-owning democracy”, and
as a result ist support tends to lie if the wealthier classes, receiving much
money from major buisness and financial institutions. It puts emphasis on the
importance og law and order, and the maintenance of strong armed forces to
protect British interests.
It is highly disciplined and accepts the direction of the Prime Minister,
Conservatives tend to be reluctant to express dissent from the leadership
The Labour Party is less disciplined but possibly more democratic,
with more open disagreements between the leadership and other party members,
Labour is the Party of social justice, though its emphasis is less on equality
than on achievement of wellbeing of society above individual freedom, in the
economic sphere at any rate.
Traditionally it has been committed to puplic ownership of major
industries, and to economic planning. The trade union movement, which founded
the Labour Party, remains influential in the evolution of party policy. Each
union executive is able to cast the vote of his entire membership, with the
result that some party resolutions are to some extent a contest between the
The Liberal Party, which traces ist origins to the 18th century
”Whigs”, merged with the new Social Democratic Party in 1988
to become the Liberal Democrats, after fighting the 1987 election
unsuccessfully as an alliance of both parties. It seeks to attract opponents of
the Conservatives, dominant in the south of England, and opponents of the Labour
Party, dominant in the north.
Since 1945 the Conservatives have formed seven governments and Labour six,
although in practic during the period 1945 to 1990 the Conservatives have
governed for 28 years and Labour for only 17 years. Since 1979 the domination of
the Commons by the Conservatives reveals the strength and weakness of the
first-past-the-post electoral system. They have enjoyed a large majority in the
Commons although at the elections of 1979, 1983 and 1987 more people voted
against the Conservative Party than for it.