A kingdom divided into England and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland; Also called: UK, Great Britain, Britain, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
(UK) Country in NW Europe off the coast of France, consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The UK is a constitutional monarchy with parliamentary government. There is no written constitution. Cabinet government, which is at the heart of the system, is founded on rigid convention, and the relationship between the monarch as head of state and the prime minister as head of government is similarly based. Parliament is sovereign, in that it is free to make and unmake any laws that it chooses, and the government is subject to the laws that Parliament makes, as interpreted by the courts.
Parliament has two legislative and debating chambers, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The House of Lords has three main kinds of members: those who are there by accident of birth, the hereditary peers; those who are there because of some office they hold; and those who are appointed to serve for life, the life peers. There are nearly 800 hereditary peers. Among those sitting by virtue of their position are 2 archbishops and 24 bishops of the Church of England and 9 senior judges, known as the law lords. The appointed life peers include about 65 women, or peeresses. The House of Commons has 650 members, elected by universal adult suffrage from single-member geographical constituencies, each constituency containing, on average, about 65,000 electors.
Although the House of Lords is termed the upper house, its powers, in relation to those of the Commons, have been steadily reduced so that now it has no control over financial legislation and merely a delaying power, of a year, over other bills. Before an act of Parliament becomes law it must pass through a five-stage process in each chamber—first reading, second reading, committee stage, report stage, and third reading— and then receive the formal royal assent. Bills, other than financial ones, can be introduced in either house, but most begin in the Commons.
The monarch appoints as prime minister the leader of the party with most support in the House of Commons, and he or she, in turn, chooses and presides over a cabinet. The voting system, which does not include any form of proportional representation, favors two-party politics, and both chambers of Parliament are physically designed to accommodate two parties, the ruling party sitting on one side of the presiding Speaker and the opposition on the other. The party with the second largest number of seats in the Commons is recognized as the official opposition, and its leader is paid a salary out of public funds and provided with an office within the Palace of Westminster, as the Houses of Parliament are called.
For early history, see Britain, ancient; England: history; Scotland: history; Wales: history; Ireland: history. The term “United Kingdom” became official 1801, but was in use from 1707, when the Act of Union combined Scotland and England into the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Cabinet government developed under Robert Walpole, in practice the first prime minister (1721–42). Two Jacobite rebellions sought to restore the Stuarts to the throne until the Battle of Culloden 1746, after which the Scottish Highlanders were brutally suppressed. The American colonies that became the US were lost in the American Revolution.
The Act of Ireland 1801 united Britain and Ireland. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution, the mechanization of production that shifted the balance of political power from the landowner to the industrial capitalist and created an exploited urban working class. In protest, the Luddites destroyed machinery.
Agricultural enclosures drove small farmers off the land. The alliance of the industrialists with the Whigs produced a new party, the Liberals, with an ideology of free trade and nonintervention in economic affairs. In 1832 they carried a Reform Bill transferring political power from the aristocracy to the middle classes and for the next 40 years the Liberal Party was a major force.
The working classes, who had no vote, created their own organizations in the labor unions and Chartism; their attempts to seek parliamentary reform were brutally suppressed (at the Peterloo massacre 1819). The Conservative prime minister Robert Peel introduced a number of domestic reforms, including the repeal of the Corn Laws 1846.
After 1875 the UK's industrial monopoly was challenged by Germany and the US. To seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the Conservatives under Disraeli launched the UK on a career of imperialist expansion in Egypt, South Africa, and elsewhere. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand became self-governing dominions.
World War I and the Depression
The domestic issues after 1900 were social reform and home rule for Ireland; the Labour Party emerged from an alliance of labor unions and small socialist bodies 1900; the suffragists were active until World War I. After the war a wave of strikes culminated in the general strike 1926; three years later a world economic crisis precipitated the Depression that marked the 1930s and brought to power a coalition government 1931.
The following years were dominated by unemployment, which reached almost 3 million in 1933. The death of George V Jan 1936 brought Edward VIII to the throne, closely followed by the abdication crisis precipitated by his desire to marry US divorcee Wallis Simpson. In Dec 1936, Edward VIII abdicated, and George VI came to the throne.
World War II
In 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and Britain entered World War II by declaring war on Germany. In 1940 Winston Churchill became prime minister, leader of the Conservative Party, and head of a coalition government. The country sustained intensive bombardment in the “Battle of Britain” July–Oct 1940, and the Blitz of night bombing which affected especially London and Coventry. After the defeat of Germany 1945, the Labour Party, led by Clement Attlee, gained power.
reform and renewal
In 1945 the UK was still nominally at the head of an empire that covered a quarter of the world's surface and included a quarter of its population, and, although two world wars had gravely weakened it, many of its citizens and some of its politicians still saw it as a world power. The reality of its position soon became apparent when the newly elected Labour government confronted the problems of rebuilding the war-damaged economy. This renewal was greatly helped, as in other W European countries, by support from the US through the Marshall Plan. Between 1945 and 1951 the Labour government carried out an ambitious program of public ownership and investment and laid the foundations of a national health service and welfare state. During the same period the dismemberment of the British Empire, restyled the British Commonwealth, was begun, a process that was to continue into the 1980s.
When in 1951 the Conservative Party was returned to power, under Winston Churchill, the essential features of the welfare state and the public sector were retained. In 1955 Churchill, in his 81st year, was succeeded by the foreign secretary, Anthony Eden. In 1956 Eden found himself confronted by the takeover of the Suez Canal by the president of Egypt, Gamal Nasser. Eden's perception of the threat posed by Nasser was not shared by everyone, even within the Conservative Party. The British invasion of Egypt, in conjunction with France and Israel, brought widespread criticism and was abandoned in the face of pressure from the US and the United Nations. Eden resigned, and the Conservatives chose Harold Macmillan as their new leader and prime minister.
The Conservatives won the 1959 general election with an increased majority. By the early 1960s, the economy had improved, living standards had risen, and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was known as “Supermac”. Internationally, he established working relationships with the US presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. He also did much for the Commonwealth, but was sufficiently realistic to see that the UK’s long-term economic and political future lay in Europe. The framework for the European Economic Community (EEC) had been created by the mid-1950s, with the UK an onlooker rather than a participant, and in 1961 the first serious attempt was made to join the EEC, only to have it blocked by the French president, Charles de Gaulle.
poor economic performance
Despite rising living standards, the UK's economic performance was not as successful as that of many of its competitors, such as West Germany and Japan. There was a growing awareness that there was insufficient investment in industry, that young talent was going into the professions or financial institutions rather than manufacturing, and that training was poorly planned and inadequately funded. It was against this background that Macmillan unexpectedly resigned 1963, on the grounds of ill health, and was succeeded by the foreign secretary, Lord Home, who immediately renounced his title to become Alec Douglas-Home.
In the general election 1964 the Labour Party won a slender majority and its leader, Harold Wilson, became prime minister. The election had been fought on the issue of the economy. Wilson created the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) to challenge the short-term conservatism of the Treasury, and brought in a leading labor unionist to head a new Department of Technology. In an early general election 1966 Wilson increased his Commons majority, but his promises of fundamental changes in economic planning, industrial investment, and improved work practices were not fulfilled. The DEA was disbanded 1969 and an ambitious plan for the reform of industrial relations was dropped in the face of labor-union opposition.
In 1970 the Conservatives returned to power under Edward Heath. He, too, saw institutional change as one way of achieving industrial reform and created two new central departments (Trade and Industry, Environment) and a think tank to advise the government on long-term strategy, the Central Policy Review Staff. He attempted to change the climate of industrial relations through a long and complicated Industrial Relations Bill. He saw entry into the EEC as the “cold shower of competition” that industry needed, and membership was negotiated 1972.
Heath’s “counter-revolution”, as he saw it, was frustrated by the labor unions, and the sharp rise in oil prices 1973 forced a U-turn in economic policy. Instead of abandoning “lame ducks” to their fate, he found it necessary to take ailing industrial companies, such as Rolls-Royce, into public ownership. The introduction of a statutory incomes policy precipitated a national miners’ strike in the winter of 1973–74 and Heath decided to challenge the unions by holding an early general election 1974. The result was a hung Parliament, with Labour winning the biggest number of seats but no single party having an overall majority. Heath tried briefly to form a coalition with the Liberals and, when this failed, resigned.
Wilson’s “social contract”
Harold Wilson returned to the premiership, heading a minority government, but in another general election later the same year won enough additional seats to give him a working majority. He had taken over a damaged economy and a nation puzzled and divided by the events of the previous years. He turned to Labour’s natural ally and founder, the labor-union movement, for support and jointly they agreed on a “social contract”: the government pledged itself to redress the imbalance between management and unions created by the Heath industrial-relations legislation, and the unions promised to cooperate in a voluntary industrial and incomes policy. Wilson met criticism from a growing left-wing movement within his party, impatient for radical change. In March 1976 Wilson, apparently tired and disillusioned, retired in midterm.
Wilson was succeeded by the political veteran James Callaghan. In the other two parties, Heath had unexpectedly been ousted by Margaret Thatcher, and the Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, had resigned after a personal scandal and been succeeded by the young Scottish MP David Steel. Callaghan was now leading a divided party and a government with a dwindling parliamentary majority. Later in 1976 an unexpected financial crisis arose from a drop in confidence in the overseas exchange markets, a rapidly falling pound, and a drain on the country's foreign reserves. After considerable debate within the cabinet, both before and afterwards, it was decided to seek help from the International Monetary Fund and submit to its stringent economic policies. Within weeks the crisis was over and within months the economy was showing clear signs of improvement.
In 1977, to shore up his slender parliamentary majority, Callaghan entered into an agreement with the new leader of the Liberal Party, David Steel. Under the “Lib–Lab Pact” Labour pursued moderate, nonconfrontational policies in consultation with the Liberals, who, in turn, voted with the government, and the economy improved dramatically. The Lib–Lab Pact had effectively finished by the autumn of 1978, and soon the social contract with the unions began to disintegrate. Widespread and damaging strikes in the public sector badly affected essential services during what became known as the “winter of discontent”. At the end of March 1979 Callaghan lost a vote of confidence in the House of Commons and was forced into a general election.
Conservatives under Thatcher
The Conservatives returned to power under the UK's first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She inherited a number of inflationary public-sector pay awards that, together with a budget that doubled the rate of value-added tax, resulted in a sharp rise in prices and interest rates. The Conservatives were pledged to reduce inflation and did so by mainly monetarist policies, which caused the number of unemployed to rise from 1.3 million to 2 million in the first year. Thatcher had experience in only one government department, and it was nearly two years before she made any major changes to the cabinet she inherited from Heath. In foreign affairs Zimbabwe became independent 1980 after many years, and without the bloodshed many had feared.
creation of SDP
Meanwhile, changes were taking place in the other parties. Callaghan resigned the leadership of the Labour Party 1980 and was replaced by the left-winger Michael Foot, and early in 1981 three Labour shadow-cabinet members, David Owen, Shirley Williams, and William Rodgers, with the former deputy leader Roy Jenkins (collectively dubbed the “Gang of Four”), broke away to form a new centrist group, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The new party made an early impression, winning a series of by-elections within months of its creation. From 1983 to 1988 the Liberals and the SDP were linked in an electoral pact, the Alliance. They advocated the introduction of a system of proportional representation, which would ensure a fairer parity between votes gained and seats won.
Unemployment continued to rise, passing the 3-million mark Jan 1982, and the Conservatives and their leader received low ratings in the public-opinion polls. An unforeseen event rescued them: the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. Thatcher's decision to send a battle fleet to recover the islands paid off. The general election 1983 was fought with the euphoria of the Falklands victory still in the air and the Labour Party, under its new leader, divided and unconvincing. The Conservatives had a landslide victory, winning more Commons seats than any party since 1945, although with less than half the popular vote. Thatcher was able to establish her position firmly, replacing most of her original cabinet.domestic problems
The next three years were marked by rising unemployment and growing dissent: a dispute at the government's main intelligence-gathering station, GCHQ; a bitter and protracted miners' strike; increasing violence in Northern Ireland; an attempted assassination of leading members of the Conservative Party during their annual conference; and riots in inner-city areas of London, Bristol, and Liverpool. The government was further embarrassed by its own prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act and the resignations of two prominent cabinet ministers. With the short-term profits from North Sea oil and an ambitious privatization program, the inflation rate continued to fall and by the winter of 1986–87 the economy was buoyant enough to allow the chancellor of the Exchequer to arrange a preelection spending and credit boom.
party leadership changes
Leadership changes took place by 1987 in two of the other parties. Michael Foot was replaced by his Welsh protégé Neil Kinnock; Roy Jenkins was replaced by David Owen as SDP leader, to be succeeded in turn by Robert MacLennan Sept 1987, when the SDP and Liberal parties voted to initiate talks toward a merger.
Despite high unemployment and Thatcher's increasingly authoritarian style of government, the Conservatives were reelected June 1987.
The merger of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties was an acrimonious affair, with the SDP, led by David Owen, refusing to join the merged party and operating as a rival group. Paddy Ashdown emerged as the leader of the new party.
In a cabinet reshuffle July 1989, Geoffrey Howe was replaced as foreign secretary by John Major. In Oct 1989 the chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, resigned because of disagreements with the prime minister, and Major replaced him.
Douglas Hurd took over the foreign office. The government was widely criticized for its decisions forcibly to repatriate Vietnamese “boat people” and to give right of abode in the UK to the families of 50,000 “key” Hong Kong citizens after the transfer of the colony to China 1997. David Owen announced that the SDP would no longer be able to fight in all national constituencies and would only operate as a “guerrilla force”. The Green Party polled 2 million votes in the European elections.
In Sept 1990 the House of Commons was recalled for an emergency debate that endorsed the government's military activities in the Persian Gulf. In Oct the government announced that it was joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). In Nov the deputy prime minister, Geoffrey Howe, gave a dramatic resignation speech, strongly critical of Thatcher. Michael Heseltine then announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Having failed to gain a clear victory in the first ballot of the leadership election, Thatcher was persuaded by her colleagues to withdraw from the contest. In the subsequent second ballot Michael Heseltine (131 votes) and Douglas Hurd (56) conceded that John Major (185) had won. He consequently became party leader and prime minister.
Major was initially popular for his consensual style of leadership, but dissatisfaction with the poll tax continued and was seen as the main cause of a 25% swing away from the Conservatives in a March 1991 by-election. A hastily constructed replacement of the poll tax did little to repair the damage done to the Conservative Party, which sustained heavy losses in the May 1991 local elections. The deterioration of the National Health Service was also an issue. Despite the apparent waning popularity of the Conservative government and almost two years of economic recession, the party won its fourth consecutive victory in the April 1992 general election, with a reduced majority. Neil Kinnock announced his resignation as leader of the Labour Party and Roy Hattersley resigned as deputy. John Smith was elected as the new Labour leader July 1992.
With a deepening recession and international pressure on the pound, the government was forced to devalue Sept 1992 and leave the ERM. Further criticism in Oct forced it to review its economic strategy and, in the same month, Trade and Industry Secretary Michael Heseltine announced a drastic pit-closure program, involving the closure of 32 collieries and the loss of 30,000 miners' jobs. The announcement initially met with massive public opposition, but the closure program eventually went ahead.
Conservatives lose ground
In Nov 1992, the government won a narrow majority (3) in a “paving debate” on ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on closer European economic and political union. The vote went in favor of the government motion because of the support of the Liberal Democrats. In May 1993 the Conservatives lost a key seat to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election. Norman Lamont, who was largely blamed for the 1992 ERM fiasco, was subsequently replaced as chancellor of the Exchequer by Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke, but this failed to prevent a second Conservative by-election defeat in July. In the same month the Maastricht Treaty was finally ratified by parliament.
In Dec 1993 Prime Minister John Major and Irish premier Albert Reynolds issued a joint peace proposal on Northern Ireland, the Downing Street Declaration, which offered all-party constitutional talks in return for a cessation of violence.
the sleaze factor
During the Conservative Party was plagued by a series of personal scandals, further eroding public confidence and undermining the party’s Back to Basics campaign for a return to traditional family values. Revelations of British arms sales to Iraq prior to the 1991 Gulf War and the alleged complicity of senior Conservative figures, including John Major, further embarrassed the government, as did reports that certain Conservative MPs, including junior ministers, had been paid by clients to ask helpful parliamentary questions. Responding to public concern, Prime Minister John Major announced the setting up of a committee “to oversee standards in public life”.
the European dimension
In March 1994, the government’s failure to retain the full extent of the UK’s blocking vote in negotiations held on wider European union enraged Conservative “Euro-skeptics”, leading to calls for Major to resign or call a general election. Later in the year there was further opposition to the proposed UK contribution to the budget of the European Union (formerly the European Community), forcing Major to threaten to seek a dissolution of parliament if the “Euro-skeptics” in his party failed to come into line.
new Labour leader
Liberal Democrats made substantial gains in the May 1994 local elections and in the same month Labour leader John Smith died. Tony Blair, young and articulate, with a clear view of the direction he wished the party to follow, emerged as the new leader after the first fully democratic election for the post. The impact of Blair's election was instantaneous, his party's popularity rating immediately soaring. Meanwhile, the Conservatives were recovering from further substantial loses in the June European elections.
In Aug 1994 Major, in a dual initiative with Irish premier Albert Reynolds, secured a cease-fire by the Irish Provisional Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, as an initial step toward a negotiated peace process. Prospects for lasting peace improved when, in Oct, the Protestant Loyalist paramilitaries announced that they, too, would end their campaign of violence as long as the IRA cease-fire held.
In the April 1995 Scottish local elections, the Conservatives failed to win a single seat.
Ostrvo u Evropi (220.000 km2)