Although the United States and the United Kingdom are both considered Western democracies, each of these democracies comes with its own distinct flavor.
In the United Kingdom, political parties and figures are not allowed to buy broadcasting time. The election season lasts for only four weeks and transitions are nearly immediate. New Prime Ministers can take office just hours after votes are counted. Meanwhile, in the United States, broadcasting time can be bought. The election season lasts for at least two years. Transitions are very slow. Although elections are held in November, presidents do not officially take office until January of the following year.
The advantages of the American system are these: Voters have more time to get to know their candidates and the reasons those candidates are running. Governments have time to make sure that the transition of power is neat and orderly. It is easier for candidates to reach voters who may not have heard about them.
The advantages of the British system are these: Wealthier candidates have less influence over exposure. The system is immediately responsive to the will of the people. People are less likely to grow tired of campaigns.
The United States has a written constitution. The UK does not. Because of the way the US Constitution works, it is very difficult to change. This is not the case in the United Kingdom, where such laws can be changed by a simple majority. The fact that the constitution is hard to change in the United States has certain advantages. It prevents tyrannical laws from being passed quickly – and it ensures that legislators cannot spuriously change protections for basic rights. On the other hand, it does not allow legislators to quickly address important issues. Having a written constitution gives the United States government an advantage over the British government. It allows courts to look at specific texts to determine whether legislation is legitimate or not. The written constitution serves as the glue that holds America’s system of checks and balances together. British law lacks such a reference point.
There are distinct differences between the UK and the US in the formation of government as well. In the United States, presidents are elected indirectly by the electoral college. In the United Kingdom, people do not vote for a Prime Minister, they vote, instead, for a party. Whichever party holds the most votes in the House of Commons wins. In the United States, presidents and legislatures are elected separately.
There are advantages to both systems. In the UK, because the prime minister already holds the majority of seats in the House of Commons, passing legislation is comparatively easy. In the United States, because both the House of Representatives and the Senate can be members of a party opposing the president, it is often much harder to see bills become law. On the other hand, because it is so hard for legislation to pass through Congress, the US system has more checks and balances. Bad laws are more easily weeded out.
In the United States, the president appoints the members of his cabinet, but must seek approval from the Senate to have them confirmed. There is a fixed number of officials in the American system. The British System is different. In the UK, the number of ministers is not fixed, and the Prime Minister can point as many as he likes. The advantage to the American system is that it makes transitions smoother and structures clearer. The main disadvantage of the American system is that it requires the president to receive approval from Congress, which is often opposed to his agenda. This can prevent the president’s cabinet from functioning at full capacity and can slow down the workings of government.
The British system has an advantage over the American system, because by allowing the prime minister to select his own cabinet without approval, it is more likely that he can pick cabinet members who he will get along with and who will help further his policies. This leads to less gridlock and quicker governmental action. On the other hand, the British system lacks the safeguards the American system has against dangerous appointments. Furthermore, by allowing the prime minister to appoint as few or as many ministers as he likes, the British system leaves open the door for chaos and confusion. On the other hand, the British system allows Prime Ministers more flexibility and ensures that they have the time they need to realize their agendas – time American presidents may never get.
Britain’s system still provides a role for a monarch. After a bill passes through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it must be approved by the monarch. Monarchy in the United Kingdom remains hereditary. The American system is, too some degree, more Democratic because it lacks such a monarchy. The president, who serves the same role as the king, is elected. Indeed, no position in America is hereditary. On the other hand, the British Monarch may lend more credence and respect to the United Kingdom’s interactions with other monarchies.
Although, occasionally, a third party may gain a seat or two in Congress, the US is largely built around a two-party system. The British government, on the other hand, allows members of multiple parties to have a say in their country’s governance.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both the American system and the British System of government. The overwhelming difference seems to be that of greater executive flexibility under the British system and greater safeguards in the American system.