Country of the World Great Britain

About the country Great Britain, its location, size, population, leaders and rulers.




Lay of the Land: Composed of England, Scotland, and Wales, Great Britain is an island separated from the European continent by the English Channel and the North Sea. Britain can be roughly divided into two distinct topographic regions, the lowlands in the southeast and the highlands in the west and north.

Size: 88,764 sq. mi. (229,899 sq. km.), not including Northern Ireland.

Population: 54.4 million, not including Northern Ireland.

Who Rules: A constitutional monarchy, Great Britain is governed by Parliament, which includes the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which, like the queen, is more symbolic than political. The Conservative and Labour parties--the Liberal party is nearly defunct--vie for command of the House of Commons. The leader of the majority party in the Commons becomes the prime minister and heads the cabinet.

Who REALLY Rules: Neither Parliament nor the prime minister and his cabinet really rule Britain. Actual power is in the hands of an exclusive group of high-echelon civil servants, who manage and control the government's Whitehall bureaucracy. When prime ministers and their cabinets fall and are replaced by opposition politicians, the permanent secretaries remain entrenched in power. This bureaucratic elite does a political juggling act by continuously trying to fulfill the demands of Britain's two most potent vested interests, which are the capitalist Anglo-American corporations and the Socialist trade unions.

Once the industrial master of the world, Great Britain now has a yearly inflation rate of nearly 17% and its highest unemployment rate since W.W. II. With economic stagnation and recession, the country's GNP is far below those of France and Germany. Although Britain's economy may be in trouble, British capitalism is not. The "top 100" profit-earning corporations in Europe include 63 British companies. However, corporate wealth is possessed by a small minority of Britons. Five percent of the British population owns 95% of all private corporate stock, while one percent owns 40% of the nation's personal wealth. (In the U.S., one percent of the population owns about 24% of the personal wealth.)

British society no longer has the rigid class structure it had 50 years ago, but class distinctions still exist, especially in regard to the upper class. The traditional upper class has maintained its power, wealth, and status by means of the "Oxbridge" system. Oxbridge--Oxford and Cambridge universities--is a social filter which weeds out lower-class undesirables and manufactures upper-class young men with good "character." At Oxbridge, an unwritten system of patronage and contacts recruits men for the most important posts in government, business, law, and the military. The Whitehall bureaucracy and its permanent secretaries are mostly Oxbridge graduates, and in 1971, 79% of all High Court judges and 84% of major bank directors were products of Oxbridge. Easily identified by other Britons by their speech, dress, and manners, Oxbridge graduates acquire positions and advancement by means of their wealth, social status, connections, and "breeding."

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