Extended glossary

All the glossary entries from the back of the book and a few more that you might come across in the news or in other books.

Act of Parliament

Laws passed by the government. Each Act refers to a different area of law. For example the Offenses Against the Person Act makes it a crime for someone to hurt or kill another person.

Aide

Someone who works for an MP, helping them answer their emails from voters and manage their work schedule.

Attorney General

The top legal advisor to the government, chosen by the Prime Minister to be a member of their Cabinet. They advise the government on legal matters.

Backbencher

An MP who does not have a role working directly for the Prime Minister, for example in the Cabinet.

Bill (parliamentary)

A draft of an Act of Parliament which has not yet been approved by MPs. MPs must debate the Bill and vote to approve it before it can be turned into an Act and become law.

Cabinet (Minister)

The most senior MPs in government who are chosen by the Prime Minister to run each government department, such as Education or Health.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

The Cabinet Minister responsible for running Britain's economy – the taxes collected and what they are spent on. This is one of the most senior roles in government.

Civil service

The unelected organisation whose officials do a lot of government work – researching possible new laws and implementing those that parliament votes through.

Coalition

An agreement between two or more political parties that they will run the country together. This usually occurs after a hung parliament.

Constituency

A voting area in the UK. People who live in each one can vote in a general election for one MP to represent them in the House of Commons. Whoever gets the most votes becomes the MP for that constituency until the next election. Each constituency has what is called one ‘seat’ in the House of Commons.

Cross the floor

Refers to MPs who change parties, e.g. from Labour to the Conservatives. The phrase comes from the fact that the governing party and the opposition party sit on opposite sides of the House of Commons – across the floor from one another. When they switch parties, the next time they come to the House they have to cross the floor to sit on the opposite benches.

Division

A vote on a Bill in the Houses of Parliament. The Speaker of the House of Commons calls, ‘Division’ and MPs divide to walk through either the ‘Aye’ corridor or the ‘No’ corridor to record their vote.

Foreign Secretary

The Cabinet Minister responsible for Britain's relationships with other countries. This is one of the most senior roles in government.

Go to the country

A phrase often used in newspapers or news reports to mean ‘to call an election’.

Home Secretary

The Cabinet Minister responsible for home affairs – things that happen in Britain, with a focus on crime and security. This is one of the most senior roles in government.

House of Commons

A chamber in the Houses of Parliament where elected MPs debate and discuss possible new laws and other subjects that are important to the country. They pass some Bills into law.

House of Lords

The other chamber, sometimes called the ‘other place’, in the Houses of Parliament where unelected senior people – Lords – debate and discuss possible new laws and other subjects that are important to the country. They can seek to change the proposed laws and delay them from being passed.

Hung parliament

An election result in which no single political party has a majority of seats in the House of Commons. A minority government could form, but they may find it difficult to pass any laws because the opposition parties outnumber them and could out-vote them. The other alternative is a coalition.

Manifesto

A document created by a political party before an election to tell voters what they plan to do (their policies) if they get elected.

Member of Parliament (MP)

A person voted for by the majority of the people who vote in a constituency to represent them in Parliament.

Parliamentary Private Secretary

An MP who works for a more senior MP, either a Cabinet Minister or a Minister of State. Not to be confused with Permanent Secretary and Private Secretary.

Permanent Secretary

The civil servant who is at the head of each government department, such as Education. They usually have many years of experience in their field in government.

Private Secretary

A civil servant who works for a Cabinet Minister.

Recess

The time when parliament is closed for a break and MPs either have time off or work in their constituencies.

Serjeant at Arms

A role dating back to 1415, traditionally responsible for security in the Houses of Parliament, as well as the parliamentary maces.

Shadow Cabinet

Similar to the government's main Cabinet, but the Shadow Cabinet is formed of opposition MPs. For example, the opposition party will choose someone to act as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Speaker of the House of Commons

An MP who is voted for by other MPs to chair all debates in the House of Commons. The Speaker must be politically neutral.

Special advisor (spad)

Someone chosen by a Minister, from outside the civil service, to work for them. They usually advise on particular topics, such as speaking to the press.

Stand it up

The process a journalist uses to back up a story they want to write. It must stand up to scrutiny. They often try to get two sources for a story.

Taoiseach

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. (Pronounced: Tee-shahk)

Whip

An MP who works for the senior members of their political party to ensure that others from their party vote the way the party wants in the House of Commons. Some say they use fair means or foul to achieve their aims.