A quick guide to UK Politics for Canadians

I follow politics pretty closely and among the first things I did upon arriving here was register myself and Sonia to vote (I’m a citizen through descent and Commonwealth citizens living in the UK have a vote because colonialism).

So here’s a rough translation of UK politics for Canadians (probably most of my readers).

First: Make sure you (sort of) get the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England and Scotland. This video helps:

Now, the differences and similarities presented in a handy table format:

  Canada United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Parliament Unelected Senate and House of Commons Unelected House of Lords (with religious representatives) and House of Commons
Head of State Queen Elizabeth II Queen Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Steven Harper, Conservative David Cameron, Conservative
Government Majority, elected with 40% of vote Coalition with Liberal Democrats, combined vote of 59%
Official Opposition New Democratic Part Labour
Other Parties with Seats Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, Greens Democratic Unionist Party, Scottish National Party, Sinn Féin, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Green, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Electoral System Single member plurality Single member plurality
Last election 2011 2010

The UK also has some rising parties like UKIP (UK Independence Party) that is essentially the Reform Party of Canada, which advocates leaving the European Union and a bunch of libertarian ideology. Not to be outdone, the British National Party pushes farther right into fascist and neo-Nazi territory (often with an overlapping membership with the English Defense League).

To put the two countries main parties on the left-right axis:

Canada: NDP – Green – Liberal – Conservative

UK: Labour – Liberal-Democrat – Conservative – UKIP – BNP

With the policies of the 1990s Labour government mirroring that of Canada’s 1990s Liberal government and the two Conservative parties being fairly similar in ideology.

Each country has its own separatist movements: the Bloc Quebecois in Canada and the SNP in the UK. Scotland will be holding a referendum in a year to decide whether it wants to become an independent country. Scotland won an independent parliament in 1998 after a referendum. Support for independence is lukewarm, with polling suggesting between 30 and 40% support (versus 45 and 60% opposition). As in Canada, the UK provides a fair amount of stimulus to bribe it’s separatist nations to stay united.

There are no provinces in the UK (unless you consider Scotland/Wales/England/North Ireland to be) and local councils handle politics at the municipal level. Unlike Canada, all municipal politics in the UK is partisan and has the same political parties as at the federal level.

Like Canada, most of the major newspapers support the Conservatives, although the Guardian, Independent, and New Statesman take more centre to left wing views (in that order). The BBC tries to remain neutral and objective, which makes the far right rags criticize it for being left-wing propaganda.

Canada and the UK are both part of NATO but the UK keeps a supply of nuclear weapons on hand, just in case (of what, we’re not sure, but the government continues to assure us that it’s a threat).

Both countries offer universal health care but where Canada has a single payer insurance system (where the government gives everyone health insurance to attend private and public clinics), the UK operates a public delivery system where the government simply employs the doctors and lets people visit for free (which seems like less paperwork to me). Citizens of both countries complain about rising costs and the unsustainability of the systems.

Education will merit it’s own article but put simply the UK system is very complicated, sort of ends at age 16, and is only worthwhile if you’re rich.

What did I miss? What else should I cover? Let me know and I’ll try to find out.