British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 10 notes - The Changing British System of Government

Return to full list of chapter notes.
  • Britain does not have a written constitution. There is no authoritative description of the British system of government contained in a single document.
  • In the absence of a written constitution, major sources of the British constitution include relevant statute law, case law, conventions and the law of the European Union.
  • Key constitutional principles include constitutional monarchy, parliamentary sovereignty, representative democracy and the rule of law. In contrast to the United States and many other countries, there has been no clear separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers in the United Kingdom.
  • There was a two-party consensus on most aspects of the constitution until relatively recently. This consensus was broken when Labour became committed to specific constitutional changes amid a growing movement for extensive constitutional reform.
  • The New Labour government initiated major constitutional reform, although the pace slowed subsequently, as some initiatives failed or ran into substantial difficulties.
  • An extensive new programme of constitutional reform is promised by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition that took office in 2010. These have further profound implications for the British system of government.
  • The final outcome of recent and ongoing changes to the UK system of government remains unclear, but the future of the ‘Westminster model’ is questionable. Britain could be moving towards a quasi-federal system of government. Another possibility is the break-up of Britain.