The politics of the United States and the United Kingdom have been closely tied since the 13 American Colonies established their independence from Great Britain in 1776. The United States created a written constitution to protect itself from tyranny and an overly powerful government, yet the citizens were largely of British descent, and created a system of government with many similarities to that of Britain. Since World War I they have been very close allies, holding a "Special Relationship" and their politics and policies have evolved together, yet for all their similarities there are still key differences in the politics of the two countries.
The Constitution of the United Kingdom is uncodified in the sense that there is no single document setting-out how the country is to be governed, but instead a variety of different sources spanning eight hundred years. The British Constitution consists of acts of parliament (notably the Magna Carta and the Act of Settlement), the laws and customs of Parliament and parliamentary conventions, case law and the writings of constitutional experts such as Bagehot and Dicey. The Constitution may be modified by Parliament as with any other law: simply by obtaining majority support in both Houses of Parliament followed by Royal Assent.
The British Constitution rests on two basic principles: the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty. In addition, the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union means that the UK applies all European Union law (and disapplies any provisions of its own which conflict) that it passes in common with other member states.
The American Constitution, on the other hand, is defined by one set document. The constitution clearly defines three branches of government, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The powers of these branches are clearly stated, as are their limitations. A system of checks and balances is also established, and the process for future amendments is clearly stated. The simplicity of the constitution makes the American government more clear and balanced, but it also does not allow the fluidity and openness of the British system.
Where the role of the prime minister is vague in the uncodified British constitution, the role of the president is explicitly spelled-out in the second article of the American constitution. The president acts as the head of the executive branch of government. He has many of the same powers as the prime minister, acting as commander-in-chief and being in charge of the bureaucracy, but is more limited as he is not a member of Congress, and does not necessarily share the same party as the majority in Congress. This discrepancy can make it a challenge for the government to accomplish much, in comparison to the unitary government of Britain, but is part of the American system of checks and balances that was created to keep the public safe from an over powerful government.
The Parliament of The United Kingdom consists of two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The members of the House of Commons are elected in a general election, with each constituency electing one member of parliament (MP). The House of Lords consists of hereditary peers, those with hereditary titles, and life peers, those who have been granted nobility but do not have a hereditary title. The House of Commons is the more powerful house of Parliament, because it is elected by the people, and creates and passes legislation. The House of Lords reviews and revises all bills, which is a very useful aspect of the process as many of the lords in the modern era received their title for excellence in a field, and they can bring a greater depth of knowledge to the legislative process.
The Congress of the United States is also a bicameral system with a House of Representatives and a Senate. Each state gets a number of seats in the house of representatives based on their population, while each state gets two seats in the senate. The two houses both work to create legislation, and for a bill to be passed both houses need to agree on the final draft. A majority vote in both houses is necessary to pass a bill, and they can override a presidential veto of a bill with a majority of two thirds.
In the United States the judicial branch of government is established by the third article of the constitution. The judiciary in the US does not have the power to make laws through their rulings in the way that the courts of Britain do, but instead are charged with interpreting the constitution, and the laws created by legislators. The Supreme Court of the United States also has the power of judicial review, which allows them to declare laws created by Congress, or actions of the president, to be unconstitutional.
In the United States there are separate elections for the president and rotating elections for Congress. Elections in the US are on a set schedule that is defined by the constitution, and the president is elected every four years through an electoral college system, where a candidate gets electoral votes by winning states. Congress is elected, as in the UK, through single seat districts on a rotating schedule that has elections for various congress posts every other year.
The Bill of Rights, however, has much more legal status than the HRA does because it is integrated into the U.S. constitution. That means that it is above regular law while the HRA is about equivalent, and can be changed with the same amount of ease. The Bill of Rights offers several of the same inalienable rights as the HRA, such as: freedom of speech, right to privacy, right to a fair trial, life, and liberty. It also consists of the freedom of religion, right to an attorney, right to bear arms, freedom of assembly and petition, and protects against cruel and unusual punishment. These are all privileges in Britain as well, but they are inherent rights not written anywhere specifically and thus much more malleable. In the US the Bill of Rights can be checked by judicial review, but in the UK the HRA is subject to suspension, amendment, or being repealed all together if it is challenged, while the inherent rights are taken case by case.
Policy within the United States has been one of the most controversial matters for every presidential administration. Issues involving domestic security and the economy are the most prevalent. The September 11, 2001 attacks sparked new legislation which seemed to invade on some of the nations civil liberties to protect the nation as a whole. The attacks also impacted the economy severely and the administration George W. Bush has been struggling ever since to replenish it by making tax cuts, increasing employment, and decreasing deficit spending. Education is another front where the president has attempted to adopt policies to better the public, like the No Child Left Behind Act which aims to close the achievement gap in public schools and has been endorsed by both republicans and democrats. Issues such as healthcare, energy, capital punishment, and civil rights and liberties have all been defining the policies which successive incumbents have had to battle over the years, and still today.
The revision of the EU constitution is another issue still plaguing Britain. The second draft, as it is, would unify Europe as if it were one country with one European President. This idea has faded in the shadow of a newly proposed treaty, produced by the German government, which would essentially do the same as the revised constitution and unify Europe. There are currently twenty-seven members, of which Britain is one, but it is too soon to tell whether or not it will be ratified, or what the final provisions will be .
When it comes to war, Britain has backed the US in nearly every decision in the past few decades. They were involved in the Gulf War of 1991, and backed president Bush as he invaded Iraq after 9/11. The UK has had a long standing relationship with the United States and Blair supported them through false claims of weapons of mass destruction and while in front of the United Nations. The US entered Iraq out of retaliation for the events on 9/11 and it was beyond the 150th time the US has entered an armed conflict. Back before World War I, the policy was to abstain from continental European affairs, but after substantial U-boat attacks on the shipping industries, involvement was recommended. In World War II the States again tried to steer clear of conflict, but was forced in by the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, which subsequently led to the declaration of war on the Axis powers. With a few exceptions, the US policy on war has generally been to abstain until forced involvement.
The US founded NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) at the end of World War II, where there is an alliance system of collective defense . NATO was originally a political association, but quickly turned into a military alliance in the quake of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, thought no military action was necessary. Members of NATO back each other up when one is attacked by an outsider, making it a formidable force, and a supportive and idealistic union to be a member of.