| The United
Kingdom is an hereditary monarchy, with the real power being
held by the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the largest
parliamentary party and also the head of the Cabinet.
The two main political parties are Labour and the
Conservatives (Tories), although a centre party (the Liberal-SDP
Alliance, later merged as the Liberal Democrats) threatened
to disrupt this old balance in the mid-1980s.
None of the British parties holds seats in Northern Ireland, where
the political map is split up between Unionist and Nationalist parties.
Scotland and Wales return a handful of Nationalist MP's. The lack
of proportional representation in parliamentary elections does not
encourage the prosperity of smaller parties in Britain. Elections
are held every 5 years, though the timing is at the discretion of
the Prime Minister.
The legislature is bicameral; the House of Commons is made up of
elected members, while the House of Lords is a peculiar mixture
of appointed members, bishops, judges and hereditary peers. Britain
is almost unique in the world with no written constitution, and
the political and administrative machine is powered by a mix of
common and statute law, judicial decisions and archaic convention;
the royal assent to an Act of Parliament, is still proclaimed in