Deciding Policy: The U.S. versus England


If we were to consider the decision making process in the United States versus England regarding domestic issues we would first want to note who’s in majority in the legislative offices, as it will affect policy making ideologically. We will say, then, that the President and the majority in the House of Representatives is Republican and the majority in the Senate is Democrat. From here we can discuss the decision making process regarding domestic issues.

Decisions in Origin: The Source of Political Power

First, we should briefly recognize how and why people (politicians) come to power and retain it. In order to maintain a general sense of civil order, as opposed to anarchy, there must be a system of law and regulators (lawyers, judges) to protect both the rights of the public and the individual, “which must be obeyed under penalty.” When it comes to making governmental policy decisions over a group of people so the courts can uphold the system, an individual, or representatives of the people, must have an invested authority, or right, as an “ability to command respect and exercise power.” When the authority is respected by the people, the political authority has legitimacy, as the “mass feeling that the government’s rule is rightful and should be obeyed.” And when a government’s legitimacy and authority is in place this gives it sovereignty, “being boss on its own turf, the last word in law in that country.”

Decisions in Policy: Political Parties, Ideologies, & Policies

In Europe, the government is “a given cabinet,” of ministers (or top executives) who head a ministry of the government that serves society. Equivalent to England’s “government,” in America the administration is the “executives appointed by U.S. president” who are the secretaries of departments as the equivalent of ministers of ministries. In England Parliament is the “national legislature” of the House of Commons run by the MP’s, or the “British members of Parliament.” There is also the House of Lords, who are the “upper, weaker chamber of British Parliament.” Like England’s bicameral, or “two chambered” legislative branch of government, America also has the upper house of the Senate and the lower House of Representatives (also called the Congress). In America we know that the people elect both the legislature who “enacts laws that advocate values for society” and the chief (the president) of the executive branch who “enforces the statues passed by the legislature.” In England, however, voters elect the legislature while the figurehead monarch (now Queen Elizabeth II) asks the head of the largest party in parliament to become prime minister as the chief political official in parliamentary system, equivalent to the U.S. president who is the “chief political official.” It is the prime minister, then, who will “form a government” of cabinet ministers to guide the English ministries.
Like America, England also has various parties who make up Parliament, such as the Tory party who are the “British conservatives.” Today, the Republican Party would be considered America’s modern conservatives. Modern conservativism in America is a blend of the classic liberalism of Adam Smith regarding free market economics and the classic conservativism of Edmund Burke regarding a concern for traditions, especially religious values. Here is where we find political parties beginning the attempt to influence policies – through ideology – which is a “belief system that society can be improved by following certain doctrines; usually ends in ism.” The textbook Political Science: An Introduction discusses the shift in ideologies between classic liberalism and classic conservativism to modern liberalism and modern conservativism. The classic liberalism of Smith was that of an economy being “hands off” (laissez-faire) from the government, an ideal that changed for liberals when they saw the faults of this system through corporate corruption, after which they sought government intervention to protect freedoms (“freedom to” - 100) and “to correct economic and social ills,” such as for the sake of workers, turning them into modern liberals. Classic conservativism, on the other hand, appreciated the long standing traditions and institutions as tried and true for the sake of social order, whereas they saw, such as in France, that “liberalism turned into radicalism” (98), especially in areas of morality, as Burke refers to a new willingness to kill kings and clerics (Reflections on the Revolution in France). Ironically, in America it is the modern conservatives who have retained Smith’s economic principle, although still called liberals in Europe, which makes sense since the U.S. notion to be “conservative” is to conserve the American ideals that are much younger than those of Europe.
Political Science: An Introduction also lists a few examples of the moral values within modern conservatism and social values of modern liberalism in America today. “American conservatives would get prayer into public schools, outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage, and support church-related schools. Modern conservatives also oppose special rights for women and minority groups; everyone should have the same rights.” Conversely, modern liberalism “championed wage and hour laws, the right to form unions, unemployment and health insurance, and improved educational opportunities” (100). Concerning the social values of modern conservativism and the moral values of modern liberalism one would call attention to conservatives supporting big business from their Smithian principle of hands off government-economics and strict international relations (e.g., limited immigration), while liberals have began to support the option of infanticide, same-sex marriage, and removing any religiosity from public institutions. Today, a conservative critic might say that American liberalism has gone too far in their pursuit of “freedom to” in the area of traditional morality and has turned into immoralism. On the other hand, a modern liberal critic might say that conservativism is stuck in the past.
Oddly, these two modern ideologies have found themselves pretty much represented in the two modern American political parties of the Democrats and Republicans who find great support on both sides from ideologues who believe “passionately in [their] ideology.” Although not completely characteristic of every person within these parties, one might suggest that modern liberalism is endorsed by the Democratic Party (“left-wing”), while modern conservativism is endorsed by Republican Party (“right-wing”). On the left-to-right wing scale, with a center-seeking tendency of some to “become moderate, aiming for a large block of votes in center of political spectrum,” the three major political parties in England are also characterized by their leanings. The Labour Party is traditionally left-wing with 355 seats in the House of Commons, while the Conservative Party is traditionally centre-right with 198 seats and the Liberal Democrats centrist to centre-left with 63 seats (www.britishcouncil.org).
From this background we can begin to postulate the decision making process in the United States as led by a Republican House of Representatives and a Democrat Senate and as compared to England. Because of the strong influence of ideologies and the tendency of U.S. politics to swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican controlled legislatures since the 1850s and the last Whig democracy (“Democracy for the few”) cabinet, we often see the same issues coming up over and over again due to bureaucratic politics, or the “infighting among and within agencies to set policy.” The “government executive agencies,” or bureaucracies, that provide information to the president and congress, such as the State Department, Department of Defense (DoD), CIA, and the FBI often find themselves with differing information, and depending upon who the current president chooses to listen to can matter a lot (e.g., the Bush 43 listening to the DoD concerning weapons of mass destruction – WMD – in Iraq, instead of the State and CIA).
Within our presidential system, with an elected executive independent of the legislature, the president has more stability as far as not having to worry about being ousted in unpopular times, whereas prime ministers and his cabinet are held “responsible to the parliament” and can be in parliamentary systems that elect the prime minister from their own ranks. On the other hand, in presidential systems such as in the U.S. there is often dispute between the executive and legislative branches due to the separation of powers to check and balance each other, when they are dominated by opposing parties, such as Bush 43 and the Democrat- lead Congress, which can make government passing policy slow to naught due to deadlock of presidential veto and congress failing to pass something. Yet, when the executive and legislative branches are of the same party issues can pass with ease, such Democrat LBJ’s Great Society programs with the Eighty-Ninth Congress being 2/3 Democrat in each chamber. If, then again, the executive branch and House of Representatives were Republican and the Senate were Democrat, as our initial proposition held, if there is tension between the two parties there again could come more deadlock, since “the two houses of the U.S. Congress are coequal and must pass identically worded versions of a bill” (262). In modern parliamentary systems, however, that has a fusion of power, with the “executive as a leading offshoot of the legislature” which is the current dominant party, cannot have deadlocks. Nevertheless, although rare, a vote of no confidence may occur in which the governing party may disagree with their leadership, which could result in the ousting of the government.
I conclude by pointing out that there are benefits of both presidential and parliamentary systems. Some prefer the “divided government” of the U.S. “because it holds down spending and foolish new laws” (260), as well as the ability of the representatives and senators to oppose the president (264), unlike in the parliamentary system of England where the legislature obeys its executive prime minister. On the other hand, with the absence of deadlocks and immobilization in English Parliament due to their strong parties not dependent on multi-party coalitions to gain control, the English parliamentary system can be more quick and effective in passing legislation.

Works Cited

British Council. “Political parties in the UK”. http://www.britishcouncil.org/china-aboutuk-art-history-england-politicalparties.htm.

Roskin, Michael G. Political Science: An Introduction. 2008, Pearson Prentice Hall, NJ.

My e-mail address: justinsteele@msn.com

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