British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 3 notes - Economy, Society and Politics

Return to full list of chapter notes.
  • British politics is shaped by ongoing changes in economy and society, although this is a two-way process, as government and politics can in turn influence economic and social change.
  • The decline in mining and manufacturing, and the increased importance of (particularly financial) services has major ongoing implications for the distribution of wealth and income and for political attitudes and behaviour. The credit crunch has exacerbated differences between the nations and regions of the UK. While most of the population of the UK live in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland retain their own distinctive economic interests, cultures and identities.
  • Average incomes in Northern Ireland and Wales are lower than the UK average, and there are substantial inequalities between the English regions. The ‘north–south divide’ has some validity both economically and politically. There is, however, more significant inequality within regions and cities than between them.
  • A growing ethnic minority population has resulted from immigration from the ‘new Commonwealth’ and more recently from eastern Europe. Ethnic differences reinforced by social and educational segregation have fed prejudice and discrimination, and created some political tension between communities.
  • Political differences related to variants of Christianity have declined in significance. However, non- Christian faiths are practised by a small but increasing minority. Following 9/11, the Iraq war, and 7/7 Muslims have suffered from Islamophobia and some have felt divided loyalties.
  • The role of women continues to change in the workplace, but less in the home. Gender divisions have had only a limited impact on party political allegiances, but women continue to suffer discrimination in many fields, including politics, and there is an ongoing struggle to secure equal rights for women.
  • Changes in the age structure of the UK population mean than pensioners now comfortably outnumber children. The ‘grey vote’ is of increasing political significance.
  • Income and particularly wealth remains very unequally distributed in Britain, with some obvious implications for political power, although the relationship remains contentious.
  • Changes in occupational class structure overlaid by other social differences have had contentious implications for politics. Differences based on the consumption (public or private) of key goods and services (particularly housing) may be of increased significance.