During the last half century, the traditional confidence in the British political system has weakened. At first sight, this phenomenon seems paradoxical. After all, the general direction of public policy has been the same for several decades, suggesting stability and a high level of public confidence. Two developments may help to explain it.
The first concerns the perceived style of politics. Top politicians have always had various personal advisers to help them with matters of policy and presentation (for instance by writing their speeches). But in recent years it is their public relations advisers, whose job is to make them look good in the media, who have become their closest (and therefore most powerful) advisers. To characterize this role and the importance attached to it, the word “spin doctor” has entered the British vocabulary. The second is a more serious matter. It concerns the style of
There are censorship laws, but they relate only to obscenity and national security. There is a law against blasphemy, but it refers only to the Christian religion. Moreover, the tendency in the second half of the twentieth century has been to apply both types of law as little as possible and to give priority to the principle of free speech.
by the state is being eroded. The proliferation o of CCTV cameras is one example. Another is t the national DNA database. In 2007, about 5% 5% of the population had their DNA stored on on police databases. This proportion is growin growing rapidly. A further example is the incr increased powers the authorities have to searc search people and their homes and to detain them them without charging them. Under the presen present anti-terrorist laws, a suspect can be ke kept in police custody for 42 days without charge.
These changes have not take place without protest. But it seems that fear of crime, illegal immigration and terrorism have been enough to allow them through.
There has been a long history of migration from Scotland, Wales and Ireland to England. As a result there are millions of people who live in England but who would never describe themselves as English. They may have lived in England all their lives, but as far as they are concerned they are Scottish or Welsh or Irish - even if, in the last case, they are citizens of Britain and not of Eire. These people support the country of their parents or grandparents rather than England in
sporting contests. They would also, given the chance, play for that country rather than England.
There is, in fact, a complicated division of loyalties among many people in Britain, and especially in England. But the same person is quite happy to support England just as passionately in a sport such as football, which the West Indies do not play. A person whose family are from Ireland but who has always lived in England would want Ireland to beat England at football but would want England to beat (for example) Italy just as much. This crossover of loyalties can work the other way as well. English people do not regard the Scottish, the Welsh or the Irish as 'foreigners' (or, at least, not as the same kind of foreigners as other foreigners!). An English commentator of a sporting event in which a Scottish, Irish or Welsh team is playing against a team from outside the British Isles tends to identify with that team as if it were English.
A wonderful example of double identity was heard on the BBC during the Eurovision Song Contest in 1992. The commentator for the BBC was Terry Wogan. Mr. Wogan is an Irishman who had become Britain's most popular television talk-show host during the 1980s. Towards the end of the programme, with the voting for the songs nearly complete, it became clear that the contest (in which European countries compete to present the best new popular song) was going to be won by either Ireland or the United Kingdom. Within a five-minute period, Mr. Wogan could be heard using the pronoun 'we' and 'us' several times; sometimes he meant the UK and sometimes he meant Ireland!
[blæsfimi] or bad language about God or holy things – богохульство
smth offensive to accepted ideas or morality, indecent – непристойность
1. What are the main developments that may help to explain the weakening confidence in the British political system?
2. Why has the role of “spin doctors” become so powerful in the modern political process?
3. In what kind of a society could an unwritten constitution work?
4. Do you think Russia is a multicultural society? Why?
5. Are there any distinct national loyalties in your country? If so, is the relationship between the 'nations' in any way similar to that between the nations in Britain? Do these loyalties cause problems in your country?
FOR YOUR INFORMATION… The Scottish Parliament
Before the 1980s, most Scottish people, although they insisted on many differences between themselves and the English, were happy to be part of the UK. But there was always some resentment about the way their country was treated by the central government in London. From the mid 1980s onwards, opinion polls consistently showed that a majority of the Scottish population wanted either internal self-government within the UK or complete independence. A referendum finally decided the issue and in 1999, nearly 300 years after it abolished itself, the Scottish Parliament was reborn. It has considerable powers over internal Scottish affairs.
Support for the Scottish Parliament has grown since that time, and currently the Scottish National Party (SNP), which wants complete independence from the UK (but with the English monarch as the head of state too), is the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. The present arrangement puts pressures on the relationship between Scotland and England.
The existence of two parliaments in Great Britain, one for the whole of the UK and one for Scotland alone, has led to a curious situation which is known as the West Lothian question (this being the name of the British parliamentary constituency whose MP first raised it). Westminster MPs cannot vote on matters of health, education, law and order, or welfare in Scotland because Scotland has a separate parliament which decides these matters. They only decide these matters for England and Wales. But they include in their number, of course, MPs from Scotland, who are thus able to vote on matters which have nothing to do with the people they represent! At the same time, these MPs do not have a vote on matters of great concern to those people because, again, Scotland has a separate parliament for these things! The situation has caused some resentment in England.
NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
The New Northern Ireland Assembly was constituted under the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998. 108 members were elected to the Assembly on the 25 June 1998 by Proportional Representation from the existing 18 Westminster constituencies. But it was only in 2007 that internal self-government, with an elected assembly and a cross-party cabinet, was firmly established. Ironically, the new “First Minister” (a Protestant) and “ Deputy First Minister” (a Catholic) were people who each came from the more extremist wings of their communities. But nothing could be more indicative of the changed climate than the fact that during the ceremony in which they took up their new positions, while these two former mortal enemies sat chatting and joking together over a cup of tea, the only trouble which police encountered was from demonstrators protesting against the Iraq war!
The Assembly has full legislative and executive authority in respect of the following matters:
Finance and Personnel
Health and Social Services
THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES
The Welsh Assembly was set up in the same year as the Scottish Parliament, 1999. Its powers are much more limited than those of the Scottish body. However, in Wales too, there is growing support for greater self-government.