PLSC 3340: Western European Politics – Britain

PLSC 3340: Western European Politics – Britain

What do we mean by the expression the “Modernity of Tradition?”
(remember the list of questions that I posed at the end of the last lecture; we must answer each of these questions for Britain)

A. What class or group led the transition to democracy?

1. Going back to the Magna Carta (1215), the English nobles were asserting their “rights” vis-a-vis the crown.

2. The Black Death (1348-1351) causes sever labor shortages, forcing the landowners (nobility) to find new ways of attracting and holding labor (peasants) on the land. This is the beginning of the Enclosure Movements and the “freeing” of peasants, which continues until the eighteenth century. Landowning aristocrats must find new ways of making money.

3. Reign of Henry VIII and Protestant Reformation strengthens the monarchy (in the short run) at the expense of the nobles and the Church. But Henry’s wars with France force him to sell confiscated Church lands–a move which reinforces the position of the aristocracy.

4. The struggle between the Crown and Parliament comes to a head in the English Civil War (1642-49), ending in the triumph of the landed aristocracy and Parliament, and the establishment of a “Protectorate” or military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell (1649-60).

5. A constitutional monarchy is established by the Glorious Revolution in 1689, with the accession to the throne of William and Mary of Orange. This is a great victory for the WHIGS (later the LIBERALS) over the TORIES (later the CONSERVATIVES). Parliament passes a Declaration of Rights and the Toleration Act. These laws grant civil liberties and a measure of religious freedom.

B. What route to modernity is taken by Britain??

1. It is the Liberal or Bourgeois route, with the gradual rise of a merchant class and the establishment of constitutional or parliamentary government.

2. Compared to France or Germany, this transition is relatively gradual, peaceful, and bloodless. The old feudal order (and the old classes) give way to anew capitalist order.

3. The Old Whigs triumph over the Old Tories.

4. What is the Old Whig conception of authority, and how does it differ from that of the Old Tories?

  • Old Tories support the Crown and they believe strongly in divine right, hierarchy, degree, order and Noblesse Oblige.
  • Old Whigs have a new justification for hierarchy, rooted more in “sociology than cosmology.”
  • Old Whigs believed in the superior ability of the aristocracy, the gentry, and the yeomans.
  • Old Whigs support representation (to a point) and they want politics to be based on program and interest.
  • Both Tories and Whigs continue to support mercantilism over free trade, and they support corporatism over individualism.
  • Note Edmund Burke’s theory of representation!

5. Can you see the odd combination of tradition and modernity?

C. The English are gradually building a new kind of state, one which will build a “self-regulating” market, expand commerce (with the power of the Royal Navy and British East India Co.)

  1. The Scottish political economist, Adam Smith, will be the philosopher of the new industrial age. Note publication of The Wealth of Nations (1776!)
  2. But the English build a state BEFORE they build a nation (problems of the Celtic fringe…)

When and in what order are rights extended in 19th Century Britain?

A. Period of domestic political repression during the French Revolution (1789-1800) and during the Napoleonic Wars (1800 until 1822).

B. Then begins a period of radical and liberal movements, culminating in the Reform Act of 1832, which redistributed seats in favor of larger communities, eliminating many “rotten boroughs”, and extending the franchise to middle class men. Passed by Earl Grey’s Whig government.

C. The Old Whig idea of representation (for corporate bodies)gradually gives way to the Liberal and Radical idea of individual representation and representation of interests.

D.  A new “Liberal” conception of authority is emerging, based on

  1. Individualism, laisser faire, and parliamentarism
  2. Source of authority and action is the rational individual, not the corporate body.
  3. Property becomes more important as a qualification for voting.
  4. Liberal MPs, however, still have a Burkean or Old Whig theory of representation. They should represent the whole country, not just the narrow interests of their individual constituencies.

E. But the “radicals” begin a new round of agitation in the Chartist Movement (1838-48).

  1. They want to advance the interests of workers and the “people”.
  2. During this period, political parties are weak and poorly organized.
  3. Liberals and Radicals join the Anti-Corn Law League.

F. The Corn Laws are repealed in 1842 and Victorian Britain embraces free trade and a laisser faire economy. Why?

Socialist and Tory Democracy (to be continued…)

A. Disraelian conservatism.

B. Further extension of political and civil rights (1867 Reform Act)

C. First attempts to build a welfare state.

Liberals, radicals, and the Origins of the Modern Political Party

A. Rise of the Liberal Party in mid-nineteenth century, grew out of the Whig Party at the time of the 1st Reform Act (1832)

1. New idea of representation, from corporatist bodies (classes) to the rational individual.

2. New policies included free trade (repeal of Corn Laws),religious freedom, abolition of slavery, and extension of the franchise.

3. Who were some great liberal leaders/thinkers?

  •  Lord John Russell, W.E. Gladstone, Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George
  • Jeremy Bentham, David Ricardo, James and John Stuart Mill

4. Liberals attacked privilege, pushed for the protection of private property, and electoral reform (get rid of the rotten boroughs!)

5. But liberals kept the Burke an idea of representative government–MP is a delegate, not beholden to special interests

6. Emergence of the “loyal opposition” connotes acceptance of parties and a party system

7. Property is still a qualification for voting.

B. The radicals, who were they and what did they stand for?

  1. They are suspicious of political parties and against property and privilege.
  2. Should be no property qualification for voting.
  3. Power to the people, not to special interests!
  4. They favor direct democracy (rule by majority)
  5. People should be united–ideas that are much closer to Jean-Jacques Rousseau than to John Locke.
  6. Radicals are the precursors of socialists.

C. How do we study and understand modern political parties?

  1. Where do they come from? Inside or outside of parliament?
  2. What is their programme and ideology?
  3. Organization?
  4. Leadership?
  5. Social bases of support?

Tory and Socialist Democracy

A. Collectivism, paternalism, and strong party government.

  1. Cabinet government and collective responsibility
  2. MP’s should not follow their conscience or the narrow interests of their constituency
  3. They should hue to the party line–three line whips!
  4. Functional representation of estates, ranks, orders, interests, classes and vocations
  5. Return to older corporatist ideas, which will evolve into modern pluralism
  6. What happened to the shire and borough?
  7. Joint stock company with limited liability replaces the common law partnership and family firm
  8. Rise of large business corporations and trade unions

B. What is meant by the term “party government?”

C. Tory Democracy

  1. Concern for “the people”
  2. Need for social reform and some type of welfare state
  3. The essence of Disraelian Conservatism
  4. Democracy at home, imperialism abroad
  5. Tory party idea is to govern in the name and interests of all the people
  6. Social class is a force uniting society

D. Socialist Democracy

1. Labour Party grew out of the bowels of the TUC

2. Radical and syndicalist

3. But also Fabian–who were the Fabians?

a. Robert Owen

b. Sidney and Beatrice Webb

c. George Bernard Shaw

d. Oxbridge socialists…

4. Founding of the Labour Party in 1900

E. Fight over Irish Home Rule and the decline of the Liberals

Comparing Political Parties in the U.S. and Britain/Europe

A. Parties provide choice in BOTH countries

  1. But in Britain they provide more: they GOVERN
  2. Both countries have a FPTP electoral system; coalitions are rare.
  3. Parties in U.S. are much “weaker” than in Britain
  4. Parties in U.S. are decentralized and non-programmatic WHY???

B. Institutional constraints are different, thus affecting the way politicians and parties behave.

  1. U.S. has a federal system, compared to the unitary system in the U.K.
  2. U.S. has separation of powers, compared to parliamentary supremacy in U.K.
  3. Was there a time when U.S. had strong party government?
  4. Note executive dominance of the Commons
  5. Party politics in the U.K. is more zero-sum than in U.S.

C. What are the major parties in Britain today?

  1. Basically a two-party system, like in the U.S.
  2. Conservatives v. Labour
  3. What happened to the Liberals?
  4. Are there any third parties: Liberal Democrats, SNP, Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru, etc.

The Conservative or Tory Party today

A. History–grew out of the Old Tory Party–Whigs–Liberals

  1. Disraeli and the Tory Democrats
  2. Thatcher and the neoliberals

B. Ideology

  1. Whigish ideology, harkening back to Edmund Burke
  2. Noblesse oblige, need to improve on past traditions
  3. Sanctity of private property
  4. One Nation–class and hierarchy unite all in society
  5. In addition to its aristocratic base, the party has absorbed elements of the middle class vote (since Disraeli) as well as the working class
  6. Disraeli’s policy was one of “democracy at home, imperialism abroad.”

C. Leadership

1. Disraeli–Tory Democrat (leader from 1867-80)

2. Stanley Baldwin (leader in 1920’s and ’30’s)

3. Neville Chamberlain (1937-40), best known for policies of appeasement

4. Succeeded by the controversial Winston Churchill, opponent of appeasement, led Britain in World War II (1940-45), came back to power in 1951

5. Anthony Eden (Suez Crisis of 1956) and Harold Macmillan (1957-63):   both “wets” and supporters of the “Buskellite” consensus (see below)

6. Edward Heath (1970-74), mild neoliberal but still a wet, supported British entry into the European Community, government fell during the “winter of discontent” in1974, opening the way for the “Iron Lady”

7. Margaret Thatcher

a. rose to power during the turbulent 1970s, a period of economic decline and stagflation.

b. motto was to “put the Great back in Britain”

c. became party leader in 1975, prime minister from1979-1990–pushed aside the wets, Heath, Pym, et al.

d. strong ally of U.S. in cold war

e. pursued supply-side, monetarist, anti-Keynesian policies

f. free marketeer (strong neoliberal), pushed for privatization, deregulation, dismantling the welfare state–broke the back of the Trade Unions

g. strongly opposed to further European integration

h. overthrown in 1990 by the “men in grey suits”

8. Thatcher is succeeded by John Major–return of the wets–PM from 1990-97. Current leader is William Hague, a young Welshman, and so far not a very effective leader. Gets no respect…

D. Organization

  1. Cadre-type party, run from Central Office
  2. One must make an effort to join
  3. Run by a normally tight-knit party elite
  4. Badly split over the issue of Britain’s role in Europe
  5. Participation is limited to a small circle of party activists, MPs, etc.
  6. But don’t forget the “blue rinse” set!

E. Social bases of support

  1. Conservatives still get the support of the ever dwindling aristocracy–life peers, etc.
  2. Biggest base of support is in the SOUTH of England, among big business and finance.
  3. Very weak in the old industrial north of England, and in Scotland–note plight of Sean Connery (see below)
  4. Thatcher (like Reagan) built a new “catch all” base for the party, among middle and working class voters
  5. But these centrist voters have since shifted their support to Tony Blair and New Labour
  6. Since the mid-1990s, the party has been in disarray, searching for new leadership, for new issues, and a new constituency (in the American sense).

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