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United Kingdom (UK) - Government and Economy

The United Kingdom has a decentralised governmental system that is considered a Constitutional Monarchy. England is ruled by Queen Elizabeth II; however, her role is predominantly that of a figurehead, as the power to make decisions is in the hands of Parliament and the Prime Minister. The House of Lords and House of Commons vote on significant issues for the country, but it is the Prime Minister and cabinet that hold executive powers to make the most important decisions for the Crown. The Queen has Royal Prerogative, meaning she can make decisions, but the ministers still have to agree. The Church of England also has some say in how the United Kingdom operates, however the Church is considered a separate entity with its own governing body. The judiciary system is also separate from the executive powers. For officials to be a part of the parliamentary system they must be voted in, and the only way to lose their job is through electoral defeat, resignation or death.

Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish Devolved Governments

Despite the unity of the UK, each nation has a separate government. The Queen of England has powers over England and Wales. Wales still has a devolved government but with quite a few limitations, ensuring the Prime Minister of England still holds ultimate sway over the decision-making process. Scotland and Northern Ireland have a more devolved system. The Scottish Government rules Scotland, and in Northern Ireland there is an Assembly and a Secretary of State.

Elections and Voting Rights

The entire United Kingdom works, on average, on a five-year election campaign period, in which all officials hold their posts for up to five years and can then be either re-elected or replaced. The general election is for members of Parliament (MPs), and this also includes an election for the prime minister’s role at the same time. In order to avoid a clash with the English parliamentary elections, the Welsh Assembly holds its general election one year after England. The next election for England is in 2015, thus Wales’ will be in 2016. Scotland and Northern Ireland had a national assembly/government election in 2011, so they will also hold elections in 2016.

Any person that holds a citizenship for a United Kingdom country is able to vote in UK general elections. European Union citizens are also allowed to vote in the elections, since the UK is part of the EU. All voters must be 18 years of age. Expats, if they have dual nationality or UK citizenship, are allowed to vote. British expats may also vote up to a certain time after leaving the UK, however this option is currently the subject of debate and may change in the future.

Political Landmarks

England’s most important political landmarks are located in London and include the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Houses of Parliament. In Scotland there is Edinburgh Castle, the House of Parliament, and Barlinnie Prison. Barlinnie Prison was one of the first prisons of Scotland and was still in operation well into the 20th century. Many political troublemakers were famously incarcerated there, including Glasgow gangland figurehead Jimmy Boyle, and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber. Cardiff Castle and Bodelwyddan Castle are the predominant political landmarks of Wales. Northern Ireland’s landmark tours include Belfast, in which political murals are found throughout the city; Divis Tower; Milltown Cemetery; and Felon’s Pub.

Current Economic Issues

The United Kingdom has suffered from a recession brought on by the worldwide banking collapse. Unfortunately, England and much of the UK suffered a second recession in 2012. The United Kingdom is on the mend, but interest rates will remain at 0.5% according to the central Bank of England. Inflation lowered from 2.7% in October 2013 to 2.2% in November and is likely to continue at the lower rate.

Unemployment has seen a small change for the better at 7%, rather than the higher rate of early 2013. GBP growth is expected to hit 2.4% in early 2014 after remaining near 2 and 2.2% throughout 2013. Economists feel that the UK is vulnerable, and the slightest negative news could stop growth expectations; however progress is definitely being made, and with proper management full recovery is possible.

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