The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot
is a classic work of political theory and analysis that provides an insightful examination of the workings of the British government during the mid-nineteenth century. Originally published in 1867, the book is still considered to be one of the most influential texts on the British Constitution.
Bagehot’s central thesis is that the British Constitution is not a formal, written document, but rather a collection of conventions, traditions, and practices that have evolved over centuries. He argues that the British Constitution is unique in the world, as it is based on a system of government that is both democratic and monarchical, with power shared between the monarch, the government, and Parliament.
Bagehot’s analysis of the British Constitution is divided into three parts. The first part examines the role of the monarchy, which he argues is primarily ceremonial and symbolic, but also plays an important role in the functioning of the government. He notes that the monarch is largely dependent on the advice of ministers and has limited power to act independently. However, Bagehot also stresses the importance of the monarch’s role as a unifying figurehead for the nation.
The second part of the book focuses on the Cabinet and the executive branch of government. Bagehot argues that the Cabinet is the most powerful body in the British government, and that it is responsible for making most of the major decisions. He notes that the Cabinet is made up of senior ministers who are appointed by the Prime Minister, and that they operate on the principle of collective responsibility, meaning that they must support the decisions made by the Cabinet as a whole.
The final part of the book examines the role of Parliament and the legislative branch of government. Bagehot argues that Parliament is essential to the functioning of the British Constitution, as it provides a forum for debate and discussion of public policy. He notes that the House of Commons is the most important body within Parliament, as it is directly elected by the people and has the power to approve or reject the government’s legislative agenda.
Overall, Walter Bagehot analysis of the British Constitution is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the workings of the British government. His insights into the role of the monarchy, the Cabinet, and Parliament provide a deep understanding of the complex web of institutions that make up the British Constitution. Although the book was written over a century ago, it remains relevant today, as many of the institutions and practices that Bagehot describes continue to shape the British political system.