Politics - The Case for Reform of the UK Democratic System

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  • The Case for Reform of the UK Democratic System
    • Democratic system must work well as it makes a government legitimate. It validates the policies of those who exercise power
    • Positive Democratic Features of UK Political System
      • Free Media - challenges government policies and calls out misdeeds of politicians
      • Independent Judiciary - separate from government, upholds rule of law and protects wide range of personal freedoms
      • Developed Governments - powers transferred from UK parliament to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments. Also to elected Mayors. Decisions can be taken closer to local people
      • Free and Fair Elections - largely free of corruption and intimidation
      • Wide Range of Political Parties and Pressure Groups
    • Some argue UK is suffering from 'democratic deficit' - decisions are taken by people whose appointment lacks adequate democratic input, or who are not subject to proper accountability
    • Negative Democratic Features of UK Political System
      • Under-representation of minorities as there is a mismatch between seats won and votes cast at election
      • H of L lacks democratic legitimacy as it's wholly unelected. Attempts at reforming this have failed. Lords are mainly appointed by successive PMs
      • Lack of protection for citizens' rights as Human Rights Act (1998) doesn't adequately guarantee rights of citizens in their relationship with the state. Government  can deviate from articles in Act
      • Media controlled by the rich and unaccountable. e.g Murdoch owns The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun
      • 'Participation Crisis' - a lack of engagement with the political system e.g. lots choose not to vote, join a party, or stand for office
        • Voter Turnout
          • Lower voter turnout = lower legitimacy for government and strength of their mandate
          • 1945-1997 - turnout average = 76%
          • 2001 turnout lowest since end of WW1
          • Turnout even lower in 'second order' elections e.g. devolved, local
          • May 2016 local elections in England - turnout average = 33.8%
            • Could be because voters don't see the vote as important, unlike in general elections
            • Turnout at general elections is almost always higher
        • Party Membership
          • 1.6% of electorate now belong to a political party whereas in 1983 it was 3.8%
          • Conservative
            • 2016 - 150,000 members
            • Mid-1990s - 400,000 members
          • Labour
            • Post-1997 - 190,000 members
            • 2016 - 515,000 members
          • Smaller parties' membership has increased in recent years
  • Case Study: The 2009 Parliamentary Expenses Scandal
    • The Daily Telegraph published evidence of widespread abuse of the system that allowed MPs to claim expenses for living costs
    • 5 former MPs and 2 members of the H of L were sentenced to prison terms
    • 2015 survey by Ipsos MORI - politicians the 4th least trusted profession
  • What should be done to reform the system?
    • Changing the election voting day from a Thursday to the weekend?
    • Allowing people to vote anywhere in their constituency rather than at a specific polling station?
    • Allowing voting to take place over several days?
    • Allowing more postal voting?
      • However, could be increase in electoral fraud, including multiple voting and intimidation. People also would not want this to become the only way they could vote
    • Allowing online voting?
      • Potential risk of cyber attack and impersonation of voters. May also discriminate against people who don't have technology such as older people or poor people
    • Reducing voting age?
    • Making voting compulsory?
      • For
      • Against
        • In preferential voting system, voters may just place candidates in rank order
        • Undemocratic to force people; they should have a choice
        • Would not stop politicians from neglecting safe seats and only focusing on marginal ones
        • Does not address the deeper reasons why people decide not to vote
    • These proposals don't account for if reasons for non-participation lie deeper than apathy. Broader reforms could be considered
      • Changing electoral system for Westminster to one based on proportional representation to more accurately represent voters' preferences
      • Reform parliament and make it more democratic and transparent
      • Transfer more government powers to local bodies


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