Michael Barone

LONDON -- British politics has a familiar look to Americans, with a center-right Conservative Party and a center-left Labour Party resembling America's Republicans and Democrats.

Britain's parliamentary system, however, presents a contrast with the U.S. Constitution on the surface. A prime minister whose party has a majority in the House of Commons can pass any law he or she likes, since members of Parliament almost always vote on party lines.

The House of Lords can delay or amend legislation, but can be overridden by a Commons majority. The monarch theoretically has a veto, but it has not been exercised for hundreds of years and is unthinkable today.

Local governments are creatures of Parliament, subject to national law and can even be abolished. Margaret Thatcher snuffed out the left-wing Greater London Council in 1986.

So theoretically, the British live under what has been called a prime ministerial dictatorship. Yet in practice it isn't working that way.

At the moment British politics seems stalemated in a way not wholly unlike the way American politics is stalemated, with a Democratic president tussling with a Republican House, with different states pursuing different policies, often at odds with the federal government.

The cause, when you get to the bottom of it, is the same: Voters who are unwilling to make crisp and clear choices between two closely competitive national political parties.

Such was the case in the last general election in May 2010. Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was ousted, but Conservative leader David Cameron fell just short of a parliamentary majority, with 307 of 650 seats.

So Cameron formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats that has proved surprisingly durable but not entirely unfractious.

Achievements include Education Secretary Michael Gove's academics, freeing most United Kingdom schools from union control and seniority assignments, and Iain Duncan Smith's welfare-to-work program eliminating perpetual unemployment benefits.

After long stagnation, the British economy is finally growing again, and two recent polls show Conservatives ahead of Ed Miliband's increasingly leftish Labour party -- contrary to the usual British pattern in which the party in power lags behind.

This raises the possibility of a Conservative victory in the election scheduled for May 2015. But the party faces two serious obstacles.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM