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The birth of political parties

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Hanover dynasty succeeded the Stuarts. Queen Anne succeeded her brother-in-law, William III (of Orange), and her sister Mary. During her reign, Scotland became officially united with England with the Act of Union of 1707. Many Scots emigrated to England and the expanding colonies. The Whigs and the Tories were the first political parties in Britain. The Tories were descendants (conservatories) of the Royalists, they were supporters of the monarchy and they believed in divine right of the monarch (supported by the Church of England), and the Whigs descended by the Parliamentarians (reformists), they were supporters of the Parliament and they believed in tolerance and economical development (supported by the wealthy and commercial classes). There were elections to the House of Commons, but a small number of men controlled main of the votes. The first prime minister was the Whig Sir Robert Walpole, who was in power for over twenty years. He managed to keep England out of foreign conflicts so that trade could flourish and taxes could be kept down. Trade was stimulated by the removal of customs duties on exports and on imports of raw materials, but in 1723 tea, coffee and chocolate became subject to taxation. This kept smuggling under control and at the same time increased government income. From 1726 Walpole and his government were accused of corruption and bribery during elections. He had, however, survived a change of monarch when George I of Hanover died and was succeeded by his son, George II. The new king relied more and more on Walpole and gave him a house in Westminster, 10 Downing Street, which is still the official residence of the prime minister today. In 1735 the Whig William Pitt entered Parliament as an opponent of Walpole, and became prime minister in 1766. He started a mercantilist policy to make England a strong and economically competitive country. This led to the establishment of a new set of values based on power, wealth and prestige. In this period, England expanded its possessions in India, North America and the Caribbean.

The Act of Union

The Scottish Members of Parliament voted to join the Union, and on the 16th January 1707 the Act of Union was signed. The Scottish Parliament was dissolved and England and Scotland became one country. Currency, taxation, sovereignty, trade, parliament and flag became one. The red cross of St George combined with the blue and white cross of St Andrew, resulting in the old union flag. However, there were and there are significant differences between the two countries in culture, education, religion and language.

Modern political parties

Nowadays the two main parties are the Conservative Party (represents private enterprise and the ruling classes), and the Labour Party (represents the working classes); a third important party is the Liberal Party. British voters do not choose their prime minister; he or she is elected within their political party. After a general election, the leader of the political party with the most Members of the Parliament in the House of Commons is asked by the Queen to become Prime Minister and to form a government that will manage the Country.
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