The Relationship Between Political Power and Economic Elites in the UK
1. Introduction: The Relationship Between Political Power and Economic Elites in the UK
The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch as head of state. Parliament, the supreme legislative body of the UK, is sovereign and has ultimate authority over all other political bodies including the executive, judiciary and devolved national legislatures. The economic elites have always had a great deal of influence over the political decision-making of the state. In the early days of capitalism, this was done through direct ownership of parliamentarians and control of the media. In contemporary Britain, the relationship between political power and economic elites is more complex and nuanced. The growth of global capitalism and the trend towards deregulation and privatisation have led to a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small number of individuals and corporations. At the same time, the weakening of traditional party structures and the decline in trade union power has made it harder for working people to hold their elected representatives to account.
2. Political History of the UK
The United Kingdom has one of the oldest continuous parliamentary democracies in the world. The first English parliament was convened in 1265 by King Henry III. The Model Parliament, which included representatives from towns and cities as well as from the nobility, laid the foundations for modern representative democracy. In 1603, King James I brought Scotland and England under one crown, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union 1800 merged Great Britain with Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The House of Lords is the upper chamber of parliament and is composed of hereditary peers, appointed life peers and bishops of the Church of England. The House of Commons is the lower chamber and is elected byuniversal adult suffrage (with a few exceptions). MPs are elected to represent single-member constituencies using first-past-the-post voting. The leader of the party with a majority in the House of Commons becomes Prime Minister and forms a government.
The UK has a written constitution that sets out the structure and powersof parliament, government and judiciary. Constitutional conventions play an important role in shaping political life in Britain. For example, although there is no formal requirement for there to be a women Prime Minister, it is generally accepted that there will be one at some point in future.
3. Economic History of the UK
The United Kingdom has a long history as a major trading nationand an early adopter of capitalism. As early as the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I encouraged trade and industry with policies such as granting monopoly rights to certain businesses (such as soap manufacture)and establishing royal docks (at Deptford on Thames).
The UK was oneofthe first countries to industrialise, duringthe Industrial Revolutionof themid-18thto early 19thcenturies. This sawa shift from manual labourto manufacturing using new technologies such asthe steam engineand mass production techniques;the developmentof new industries suchastextiles,ironand coalmining;and agrowth ininternationaltrade(particularlyin slavesand tea).
The UK continuedto be a leadingeconomicpower throughouthistory, despite setbacks suchasthe loss ofthes American colonies followingthe Warof Independence(1775–83),and threemajor recessions:in 1873 (theLong Depression),1929 (theGreat Depression)and 2008 (theGlobal Financial Crisis).
4. The Relationship Between Political Power and Economic Elites in contemporary Britain
In contemporary Britain, the economic elites have a great dealof influence over the political decision-making of the state. This is done through a number of channels, including control of the media, financial donations to political parties, and direct ownership of parliamentarians.
The media plays an important role in shaping public opinion and influencing government policy. In the UK, a small number of corporations dominate the media landscape. The Murdoch family’s News Corporation owns a large number of national newspapers, including The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. The BBC is the largest broadcaster in the country and is funded by a compulsory licence fee paid by all households with a television.
Political parties in the UK are heavily reliant on donations from wealthy individuals and corporations to fund their activities. In 2017, it was estimated that 71% of Conservative party funding came from donors who had given more than £7,500 (about $10,500). Labour party funding was more evenly spread, with only 31% coming from large donors.
A number of parliamentarians in the UK have direct or indirect financial ties to interests that could potentially benefit from decisions made by government. For example, former Prime Minister David Cameron was a paid advisor to Greensill Capital, a firm that later collapsed after receiving millions of pounds in emergency loans from the UK government.
The relationship between political power and economic elites in contemporary Britain is complex and interdependent. The growth of global capitalism and the trend towards deregulation and privatisation have led to a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small number of individuals and corporations. At the same time, the weakening of traditional party structures and the decline in trade union power has made it harder for working people to hold their elected representatives to account. The economic elites have a great deal of influence over the political decision-making of the state, which they exercise through a variety of channels including control of the media, financial donations to political parties, and direct ownership of parliamentarians.