Central government (or National Government) is the body that runs the country. It meets at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. Parliament actually consists of three parts: the Queen, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The Queen is the official head of Parliament but doesn’t have any real power. The House of Lords recommends changes to bills from the House of Commons. The House of Commons is where the MPs sit, debate and vote on policies. A MP is a Member of Parliament. There are 646 MPs of different parties, the main ones being Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat.
The people of the UK vote for a MP to represent their constituency. The country is divided into 646 constituencies. Each constituency has about 70,000 voters. The MP is chosen at the General Election. These are held every 5 years or before that, if the Prime Minister decides. The voting system is a ‘First past the post’ system. Whichever person gets the highest numbers of votes wins the ‘seat’. The Party with the most MPs becomes the governing or ruling party.
They then choose the Prime Minister who in turn chooses his Cabinet of Ministers from his MPs. Other MPs are called Backbenchers. A By-election may take place if an MP dies or has to stand down. Devolved Parliament (Regional Government) Before 1997, all-important decisions concerning Scotland and Wales were made in London. But for a time the people of those countries wanted better representation. In that year, Devolution occurred and regional governments were set up in Edinburgh in Scotland and Cardiff in Wales. A year later, the Northern Irish Assembly was set up in Belfast. Now decisions concerning the people of those countries can be taken locally, though things such as taxation are still decided in London. The people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also still vote for MPs to send to Westminster – the House of Commons.
Choosing the members of Regional Government is done by Proportional Representation and not the First Past the Post System as in Central Government. This is viewed as a fairer system as every vote counts. County Councils The UK is divided into Counties such as Derbyshire, Kent etc and County Councils have responsibility for the running of services in their area. County Councils are part of Local Government. They are responsible for things like education and planning. Local Authorities raise half their money through council tax on every household who lives in that area and business rates on business premises. Central Government provides the other half.
People vote for a councillor to represent their ward. The Party with the highest number of councillors is the ruling party. In a County Council, often not one party has an overall majority – this is known as a Hung Council and two parties may have to join together to be in overall charge. Councillors can stand for four years but Local Elections may happen more regularly than that, depending on when new councillors need to be elected. Everyone who is eligible to vote, can do so, though actually the percentage who vote (the turnout) is generally much lower than in a General Election
Greater London Assembly (GLA) London is the capital of England and because it’s so big has a different local government system. It is made up of ‘the City’, a self governing business district, thirty-two boroughs and the Greater London Assembly with its directly elected Mayor and twenty-five members. The Mayor of London at the moment is Sir Ken Livingstone. The Greater London Authority meets at City Hall. Elections take place every four years – at the same time as for the Mayor. At the moment the Conservatives are in the majority though the Mayor was a Labour minister.
Metropolitan Councils Other big cities have a unitary system where the Unitary or Metropolitan Authority looks after all the local services. Derby City Council is a Unitary Authority whereas Leeds is a Metropolitan Authority. All these forms of Local Government have councillors who are voted for at Local Elections.