Revision notes on Democracy and Participation unit 1

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Politics unit 1
Democracy and political participation
What is democracy?
Democracy refers to any society and/or political system in which the people are able to make or
influence decisions and where government is accountable to the people.
Derived from the Greek words demos and kratis, `rule by the people'
Abraham Lincoln president 1861-65 described democracy as `government of the people, by
the people, for the people'.
Modern idea and widely accepted = number of variations
Direct, representative, liberal and pluralist democracies
UK, USA and France are key democratic states
Is democracy always appropriate?
Culture and religion = not always
People do not always desire personal liberty
What is legitimacy?
Closely associated with democracy . A government or any other political institution has a democratic
right to hold political power.
Contestable term = not always clear whether an institution is legitimate
Legitimacy in the UK:
Area Legitimate Not legitimate
House of Commons elected Electoral system = unfair
Distorts political
House of Lords Traditional authority Not elected
Political influence widely
UK government Elected with clear mandate to Every government in UK
govern elected with minority of the
popular vote
PM power Widely acknowledged that No legal basis for their power
they are supreme policy maker
Problems with legitimacy in other countries:
Seize power by force
E.g. gov. Of Cuba = communist party came to power after civil war
One-party systems
E.g China

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Lack democratic legitimacy despite widespread popular support
Democracy viewed as a facade or a `sham'
E.g. Iran
Hereditary monarchies
E.g. Saudi Arabia or Baharin
Direct democracy
People make important decisions rather than leaving decision making to elected and
appointed representatives
The people are directly involved in political decision making. They are consulted and their
opinions are sought regularly.
Types of DD:
Most common form of DD
Occurs when an important decision is put to the people rather than being determined by gov.…read more

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Good or bad?
Advantages Disadvantages
It is the purest form of democracy Means majoritarianism - gov by a simple
majority.…read more

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Good or bad?
Advantages Disadvantages
Elected or appointed representatives may have Representatives may not accurately represent
superior experience and judgement to the the opinions and demands of the wider
general population population
Representatives are more likely to make rational Party representation in particular can prevent
judgements than the population who may be elected representatives from acting
swayed by emotion independently
Representatives usually accountable, which Representatives democracy can turn into `rule by
helps to make them behave responsibly elites' rather than dispersed power, which
occurs in…read more

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Governments at all levels
Every individual represented
By MP, regional assembly member and local councillor
Who may take up an individual's grievances in gov.…read more

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Why referendums have been held
Division on an issue
Government has split opinions
Resolve issue = referendum to give people final say = escape problem
Unwritten constitutional principle
Any important constitutional change can only be made if approved by a referendum
Has the effect of entrenching a constitutional change
Preventing it from being changed too easily by future gov.…read more

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Why has the use of referendums increased since 1997?
Greater interest in constitutional reform
Since 1997
Considered important that any such reform receives direct consent
Labour party
Most reform introduced by them
Way of entrenching reform, preventing possible future conservative governments reversing
them without popular consent.
E.g.…read more

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Liberal democracy
Fear of `tyranny of the majority'
Response as they feel too much dominance in the power of the majority
Normally incorporates a bill of rights to protect interests of individuals and minorities
Power divided and separated
Mechanisms for preventing too much power falling into too few hands
`separation of powers' distributes power between different branches of gov.
Checks and balances
The different branches of gov.…read more

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Government accountable to parliament submits proposals
Parliament ensures the geographical representation of all parts of the UK
Ensures mandate is not abused
Represent national interest
Parliament gives legitimacy to government in Britain
Democracy in the UK
Key criticisms of democracy:
o Electoral system
o Voter participation
o Dominant party system
o Elective dictatorship
o Whips (unelected Lord Archer and Lord Ashcroft)
o Civil service power/Quangos (unelected and unaccountable)
o Judicial independence
o Party power
o Pressure group power
o Media power
o EU
o Fusion…read more

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Party membership
1980 1,693,156 4.12% - 2008 476,000 0.95% percentage of electorate
Especially conservative party 1980 1.20 million ­ 2008 0.17 million
Partisan dealignment
People identify less closely with parties
Fewer people are interested in politics
General election = turnout in 1950 was 84% by 2001 it had dropped to 59% but 2010 rose
to 65%
Local elections turnout was 30% in 2009 = worth nothing that local gov.…read more


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