thumbnail of Window on the world; Sir Hugh Gaitskell
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
The National Association of educational broadcasters in cooperation with the British Information Services presents a window on the world a tape recorded series of talks by eminent British citizens. This week our speaker is the Right Honorable Hugh Gates co chancellor of the Exchequer. His subject the party system in Britain and here now is the Right Honorable Hugh Gates go. And I'm delighted to have this opportunity of speaking in the window on the series of talks. I'm speaking from my home in London England. And my subject is the party system in Britain. The way it works here. Some time ago a friend of mine once defined democracy to me as a situation in which the people are free to change that government peacefully. And I think that's not a bad definition. Well if they have to change that governments peacefully they must of course have an opportunity of turning out existing governments. They must have elections
but at those elections they must have a choice. That is the real difference between the bogus kind of election that you have in common is to fascist countries where everybody has to vote for the one party and the genuine true elections that we have in the democracies where there is a choice before the people. But again if there is to be a tryst before the people then somebody or other must present themselves as alternative governments that really that is where the party system comes in. It is through the party system that alternative governments are presented to the people. Of course in some countries there are many parties and what the elector is really doing at a general election that is to choose between alternative groupings. That's the situation you generally have in France but in Britain as indeed in the United States we have a two party system
and the issue at an election is a pretty clear cut either to have the one government in power all the other government in power. There's been a lot of discussion in this country over the years as to why we have a two party system and that we say that not everybody prefers it that way. Well I think the answer is partly in our voting system at a general election. The country is divided up into what we call constituencies. And in these constituencies the people choose the man who gets the largest number of votes is elected. This means of course that small parties who can only mobilize a limited number of votes in each constituency do not come out of the election very well. They may very easily have a minority let us say in a whole constituency but they would have no seats in parliament whatever. Well that's one reason.
Another reason sometimes but forward is that Britain likes cricket and football both of them to team games and therefore in their politics as well they like to be able to choose between duty. Well in all these ways of course there is no real difference I think between Britain and America but now we don't come to the differences in America. When an election takes place there are really two separate decisions which the people of making their elect in Congress and electing the president or the administration because the president himself chooses his own administration which is outside Congress. And this separation between the chair of the lawmaking body or Congress on the one side and the administration or executive on the other is of course continued. Sometimes there are very serious conflicts between them. I remember a few years ago
being interviewed on television in New York and I was asked what I thought was the most interesting political event that I had discovered in the United States. And I said well it's the continual constitutional crisis in Washington that rather surprised my interview. But of course what I meant was the difficulties which were at that time continually cropping up between the president on the one side and Congress on the other equally and perhaps partly because of this separation of powers party discipline in Congress is fairly loose. I once asked two senators when they were over here in London how they decided which way to cost their votes. And they told me I'm not sure whether they were strictly accurate that they had neither of them ever cast a vote because the party had demanded that they should do so in a particular direction. They had always been free
to make up their minds for themselves. Well be that as it may they situation over here is quite different. The government and parliament are both elected together. The government is formed out of the majority party. The queen when an election is over is obliged under the Constitution to send for the leader of the party which has been successful and invite him to form a government. She does not attempt to influence him in any way. He can appoint who he likes he makes his own programme. She will come down to the House of Commons to the parliament rather and will read the speech from the throne as we call it which includes the government's intentions. But she will not have written that speech. It will be written of course by the government themselves. Well then equally of course in parliament the government has to depend for its existence upon its majority upon its
members voting with it. And that is one reason why indeed the main reason why in our country party discipline has to be so much more strict than it is in the United States. Because if the government were to be unable to rely on the votes of its own supporters and were defeated in the House of Commons on an important issue it would be obliged to resign and therefore obviously not being anxious to bring its career to an end it has to see to it that discipline among its members exists on the other side. The opposition here it comes from the other party in America. It's not unfair to say that to some extent opposition to the administration comes through the Congress itself it is that as a watchdog as a continual critic of the administration. But in Britain it is not so parliament as such. It is not to the same extent the critic of the government. The opposition in parliament is the critic of
the government and its that job as the alternative government to do everything they can to pick those in the government's activities and programs and to advertise their greater fitness for the job of governing so that they may do well at the next election. Well there's another difference which really links up with this business of discipline in America. The election is of course at a fixed time every four years for the president every two he has of a Congress with special arrangements about the Senate well over here. There is no or nothing of that kind. An election must take place within five years but it can take place at any time within those five years. And as I say if the government were to be defeated in Parliament on a major issue then the government would have to resign and the Queen would then either dissolve parliament if the prime minister of the day asked her to do so. That would be normally what she would do
or if by any chance she said no invite the opposition to take over the government. She might do that instead. But since they would not have a majority they would almost certainly ask for parliament to be dissolved and for a general election immediately. Well again difference is of the same kind rally or rather arising out of the same circumstances can be seen in the lives of members of parliament and members of Congress over here a member of parliament has a pretty modest salary even with the little extra that's recently been granted to cover expenses. It's not much above $3000 a year and out of that an MP as we call him he has to maintain himself. Now he can of course have another job it isn't prohibited but it is becoming increasingly difficult I think for members of parliament to find the
time to do other jobs. We have a certain number of lawyers of attorneys as you would call them who do a lot of work as well as being members of parliament. We have a number of newspaper people who write for the papers as well as doing members of parliament. And of course we have some people in business provided they've got some pretty active partners to carry on while they're in the House of Commons about a great many members of parliament have to concentrate full time on their jobs. Now they have of course a lot of correspondence and letters from the electors in their constituencies. But I must make it plain that it's not on the same scale as you have in the United States. I remember going over the Senate Office Building in Washington and finding out that one senator had I think as many as a dozen people helping him. And he had a correspondence of something like 25000 letters a month. Well we don't have anything like that here. But we do have
quite a heavy correspondence which the member of parliament has to contend with. And incidentally that brings me to one other small difference and it's this that over here the civil service is independent of the party as it goes along whatever government is in power. Top civil servants top officials as we call them using it in a different sense from the one you do. Top officials are a career man and they go on whether whoever is Prime Minister or whoever is the minister in charge. Well I dare say that you could argue that there are disadvantages in our system. It may be said that the party discipline doesn't mean that there isn't enough freedom for the individual member of parliament that he has to vote as he stowed the great party machines conclude that the majority rule must prevail and there is something in that that I must say that members of parliament are generally
speaking very free to say what they like as long as it does not lead to obviously serious party disunity. Because if there is serious party disunity that we could lose the prospect of a party getting back into power in this country. And on the other side I think one can say quite genuinely that although the party system here has its disadvantages because of that rigidity from the point of view of the individual. Nevertheless it has great advantages as well. You do know where you are at a general election. The people have a clear cut choice before them and the government that is elected because of this part it is can be and generally is a strong and stable government on either side. Well I think myself there are great advantages in that great advantages if I may say so not only internally but from the point of view of international politics as well. However I'm not trying to advocate a system. Each country has its own institutions which have
developed through the as a for all sorts of historical reasons. What we can I think agree on is this. That however precisely elections are conducted in whatever form the party system takes in some degree. At any rate it is essential to the working of democracy. It is essential to that freedom that opportunity to change all government peacefully in which we all believe. You have been listening to the Right Honorable Hugh Gates co Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer speaking on the party system in Britain. Listen next week when window on the world will present Great Britain's marshal of the Air Force Sir John Slessor his topic power and peace. This has been a tape recorded presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters in cooperation with the British Information Services. This is the ABC radio network.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Window on the world
Sir Hugh Gaitskell
Producing Organization
British Information Services
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-dr2p9h4h).
Episode Description
Sir Hugh Gaitskell, a British Labour politician, talks about the party system in Great Britain.
Series Description
A series of short talks by well-known British personalities on the subjects usually associated with them.
Broadcast Date
Talk Show
Politics and Government
Radio programs--United States.
Media type
Producing Organization: British Information Services
Speaker: Gaitskell, Hugh, 1906-1963
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 54-30-33 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:13:43
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Window on the world; Sir Hugh Gaitskell,” 1954-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 19, 2024,
MLA: “Window on the world; Sir Hugh Gaitskell.” 1954-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 19, 2024. <>.
APA: Window on the world; Sir Hugh Gaitskell. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from