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Democratic How democratic is the UK? Undemocratic
·General elections at least every 5 years give ·Whips make sure the most MPs most of the
people the chance to vote out unpopular time put their party before their constituents.
governments i.e. the Tories in 1997. ·Americans can vote for individual presidents,
·Civil liberties are respected e.g. habeas but we can't vote for individual prime ministers
corpus, the right to a fair trial. Labour passed unless we live in their constituency.
the Human Rights Act to improve civil liberties. ·Governments made decisions which ignore
·Voters have a choice of 3 main parties in public opinion, e.g. Blair on the Iraq war.
general elections plus several smaller ones. ·We have an unelected Head of State (the
·The media are free from government control. Queen) and an unelected House of Parliament
·The public have the right to demonstrate e.g. (the Lords).
against the Iraq war, or to join pressure groups, ·Anti-terror legislations threatens civil liberties, e.
e.g. to campaign against vivisection , to put g. terrorist suspects can be detained for 28 days
pressure on the government to listen to them. without being charged.
·The government is accountable to the ·Under representation in Parliament of women,
democratically elected House of Commons and ethnic minorities, the poor and the young.
can be brought down by a vote of no ·Low public participation 61% turnout in 2005,
confidence, as in 1979. Royal Society for Protection of Birds having more
·Labour have introduced devolution to made members than all the 3 main parties combined.
government more responsive to regional ·The doctrine of the mandate doesn't work.
commands in Scotland, Wales and Greater ·Governments hold referendums infrequently
London. and only when it suits them, e.g. Labour have not
·Devolution was introduced after the public held referendums on the Euro and the EU
were consulted by a referendum (direct constitution.
democracy). ·The unfair electoral system first past the post.
·Labour have introduced PR in elections for the Giving labour 55% of the seats for only 35% of
Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Greater the votes. This makes it easy for governments to
London Assembly and European Parliament. dominate parliament.…read more
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Differences Between Referenda and Elections Arguments for Referenda
·. Consulting the people is more democratic; referenda are a form of direct democracy.
·They promote public participation in politics, which is declining.
·They foster public debate and education about important issues, e.g. devolution, the Euro.
·They limit the power of the government's "elective dictatorship".
·No govt. since 1935 has had a majority of the vote, so the govt's. mandate to legislate without
referenda is questionable.
Referenda Elections ·They demonstrate public support for policies like devolution; there is little point in it otherwise.
· Concerned with single · Concerned with a wide range
issues of issues
· Referenda can not bring ·Can bring governments.
·Referenda offer a "yes/no" Elections offer a choice between
· Referenda results are not ·Election results are
binding. constitutionally binding
· Referenda do not ·Elections fill potential offices Arguments Against Referenda
legitimize, or create, and legitimate political power
government. · Parliament is supposed to be sovereign and should not abdicate its
responsibility like this.
· The public is ill informed about complex issues like the Euro; better
Referenda to leave it to the experts.
· Public opinion changes, e.g. the Welsh voted against devolution in
1979 but for it in 1997.
· Governments hold referenda for party political advantage, e.g.
Wilson on the Common Market in 1975.
· Governments only hold referenda if they think they can win them;
Circumstances They Are Held In that is why labour have not held one on the Euro.
·Usually held on a major constitutional changes like · Referenda are not always a "level field", e.g. the "yes" campaigns
devolution. had far more media, party and financial support on both the
· Changes less noticeable to the public, like the Freedom Common Market and devolution
of Information Act, are not put to referenda. · Questions in referenda are difficult to frame and bound to
·Governments hold referenda when they think they can oversimplify complex
win; this is why labour have held referenda on devolution. issues.
but not the Euro.
·To resolve divisions in the governing party, e.g. Labour
over the "Common Market" (as the EU was then called)
in1975. Wilson let Cabinet ministers campaign on
opposite sides but made them agree to accept the result.
A referendum is a popular vote on a particular policy issue
like devolution, asking for a "yes or no" answer. It is
proposed by government, unlike initiatives or propositions
in the USA which are proposed by individuals or pressure
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When The Issue Outcome Why
1975 Whether to enter the Yes vote. It was held not only to take a difficult decision out of the governments
`Common Market',i.e. hands, but also to unite the warring Labour cabinet ministers, who
the EU. had to promise to accept the outcome of the referendum.
1979 Devolution in No vote. Labour wanted devolution to reduce support for the SNP and PC who
Scotland and Wales wanted independence, and also to legitimise their proposals for
devolution in Scotland and Wales.
1997 Devolution in Yes vote. Labour saw no point in legislating until public support had been
Scotland demonstrated and wanted to make it impossible for a future Tory
government to reverse it, so a referendum was necessary.
1997 Devolution in Wales Yes vote. Same as above. The Welsh referendum was held a week after the
Scottish one because the government wanted to boost support for
devolution in Wales, where it was weaker than in Scotland.
Why Referenda Have Been Held More Recently
·Labour are committed to constitutional reforms like devolution which the Tories were not.
·To demonstrate public support for devolution, especially outside Scotland where it couldn't be taken for granted.
·It has almost become a convention that major constitutional changes require referenda to legitimise them;
Labour are pledged not to adopt the Euro or change the electoral system without one.
·New Labour believe in keeping in close touch with public opinion.
·In Northern Ireland it was essential to demonstrate public support for the Good Friday Agreement from both
Unionists and Nationalists.
·18 years of Tory govt. which they didn't vote for increased support for independence in Scotland and Wales
meant that Labour thought devolution was essential as an alternative to prevent the break-up of the UK.…read more
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How Pressure Groups Influence the Government and Public Opinion
Factors that influence why some pressure groups are more ·Using "insider" influence, e.g. the NFU over foot and mouth.
successful than others ·Lobbying the EU, e.g. trade unions over rights for part time workers.
·Membership base - the RSPB has more members than all 3 main parties ·Lobbying political parties, e.g. trade unions lobbying Labour for a national minimum wage.
combined. ·Using marches, demonstrations to gain public support, e.g. the Stop the War Coalition 2003.
·"Insider" access and links with the governing party - Ecclestone gave £1 ·Publicity stunts, e.g. Greenpeace landing protestors on the Brent Spar oil rig.
million to the Labour Party and then lobbied Blair to exempt Formula 1 from ·Using the courts, e.g. the World Development Movement sued the govt. over the Pergau Dam affair
the ban on tobacco sponsorship. 1995.
·Hiring professional lobbyists - the UCW hired Lowe Bell to defeat Post ·Using the media, e.g. Snowdrop getting the support of the tabloid press.
Office privatisation 1994.
·Public support, e.g. the fuel protests 2000.
·Timing -Snowdrop got handguns banned because a general election was
·Influence with government - trade unions have more influence with a
Labour than a Tory government.
·Conclusion: business groups have most influence because of
financial muscle, insider access and use of lobbyists.
Differences Between Pressure Groups
and Political Parties
Pressure Groups · Pressure groups are concerned with a
single issue, whereas parties have a range
· Pressure groups aim to influence the
government. whereas parties want to be it.
· Pressure groups are bound together by a
cause or interest, parties by a shared
· Pressure groups do not normally field
candidates in elections whereas parties
The Different Types of Pressure Groups
·Insider pressure groups ·Outsider pressure
A pressure group is an organised group which have direct access to groups lack direct
exists to influence government policy in relation ministers without having to go access and therefore
to a particular cause or interest. pressure groups through Parliament or the have to campaign in
have a narrow issue focus and are bound media, e.g. NFU consulted public, e.g. Snowdrop
together by shared interests or a common cause. about the foot and mouth 1996-7.
crisis in 2001.
· Cause or promotional ·Interest, or sectional
groups campaign for a cause groups exist to defend
not directly linked to them, e. the interests of their
g. Amnesty International for members, e.g. the
human rights. NUT with teachers.…read more
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Help Do pressure groups help or hinder democracy? Hinder
·They widen participation and ·Self interested groups like Formula 1
are especially attractive to bypass public debate and use financial
young people and women. muscle to get what they want.
·They promote debate and ·Unelected groups have no right to
raise public awareness of influence a democratically elected govt.
issues like human rights and ·No justification in a democracy for
the environment. pressure groups to use illegal methods,
·They keep the government in e.g. Reclaim the Streets, or violence, e.
line with public opinion g. the ALF.
between elections, e.g. the fuel ·pressure group influence is not a "level
protests 2000. playing field", e.g. arms manufacturers
·They defend disadvantaged have more influence on govt. policy
groups whose interests might towards arms sales than human rights
otherwise be ignored, e.g. groups like Amnesty International.
Shelter for the homeless. ·Well organised pressure groups can
·They maintain "political get their way even if public opinion is
stamina", e.g. Friends of the against them, e.g. the Countryside
Earth on recycling. Alliance on hunting.…read more