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Elections in the UK
What are the functions of Elections in a liberal democracy like the UK?
Mechanism of social choice by which people choose representatives to hold office
and carry out particular functions.
Are national elections about choosing effective executives OR selecting competent
Ideally should do both, but except in rare circumstances that is impossible therefore
societies have to decide priorities and strike compromises.
Symbol of liberal and representative democracy
Competitive elections to choose governments
Enables widespread political participation
Resolves peacefully questions as to who is to rule a state
Provides legitimacy for the government
1. The Functions of Elections
A. Representation (national & local) and Accountability
In modern democracies, with very large populations, the mass of citizens do not
directly participate in decision-making for the society. Instead they elect
representatives to act on their behalf. Fair, free and frequent elections are a
means by which demands are channelled from the public to politicians. The
consent of the citizenry is necessary to politicians, and to be elected, politicians
must respond to, and prove themselves before, public opinion.
This function of elections operates at many different levels local, regional,
national and even international (with the elections of MEPs Members of the
European Parliament in the EU member states).
Members of elected assemblies are commonly tied to geographical areas known as
constituencies in the UK there are 659 such areas, each with one MP. In Britain,
individual MPs represent geographical constituencies which, increasingly, they
must `husband' by acting as local `ombudsmen'.
In most democracies, the voters elect representatives for local councils for
cities for example for regional assemblies for example for the Scottish
Assemblies should also be representative in that they accurately reflect the
relative support different political parties have among the citizens. The British
system of First-Past-The-Post does not.
The other aspect of representation is accountability because if individuals or
parties lose the support of voters they are ejected from office. If a government
loses public support as the Labour government did in 1979 and John Major's
government did in 1997, the electorate can eject the government. If a party is
out of touch with public opinion it does not gain power (1983 Labour manifesto
was called, by Denis Healey, the `longest suicide note in history'
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B. Making Governments
In a parliamentary system of elections, an executive arises out of, and must
maintain the confidence of, the elected chamber. In Britain, the general election
under FPTP is a contest between two major parties, one of which usually has a
clear majority because of the distortion produced by FPTP. So elections
indirectly produce a government.
C. Recruiting Politicians
In democratic states, elections are the major means by which politicians and
decision-makers are recruited.…read more