Political instability in context: the case of the United Kingdom

Lloyd, Nicola Anne (1984) Political instability in context: the case of the United Kingdom. (MPhil thesis), Kingston Polytechnic, .


The study of political instability is reappraised through conceptual criticism and empirical analysis. A revised approach is proposed and applied to an historical case study. Previous literature is beset with conceptual weaknesses which have contributed to the confusion and ambiguity prevalent in this field. Instability is defined by the underlying structUre of political "normalcy" in a specific system and not by the form that de stabilisation takes. Instability is a condition of the political system when it is uncertain whether it will continue to operate in line with the pattern of political processes which characterised its immediate past. The empirical chapters focus on three "levels" of the political system in order to examine these processes in detail. Firstly, conflict in Northern Ireland exemplifies regime instability. Adversity between two communities became institutionalised in the regime's structure of authority based on majority rule. Secondly, government level instability in Britain could be generated through changing electoral trends but is not manifested due to the strength of the current electoral system. Finally, instability at the community level is examined through a comparison of two forms of ethnic conflict: between blacks and whites; and between Scots and Welsh nationalists and the British. These studies show that instability has complex causes and is not the result of simple relationships. Although the underlying sources of destabilisation may lie in a combination of socio-economic or psychological factors, their effect, and whether instability ensues, depends on their mediation through the political system. Political factors. such as group conflict, the power structure and the distribution of political resources are crucial in the development of instability. Political instability in a democracy results from tension between the liberal democratic ethos, which allows conflicting groups to exist, thereby introducing uncertainty; and institutional mechanisms, which contain conflict and prevent it from threatening dominant groups.

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