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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'

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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…

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Good or bad?

Advantages Disadvantages
It is the purest form of democracy Means majoritarianism - gov by a simple
majority. May represent the `tyranny of the
majority' = oppresses minorities
It disperses power widely among the population Many decisions may be too complex for people
= prevents a concentration of…

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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…

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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.
Every constituency

Every locality is represented
Through constituency responsibilities of MPs

Is the UK not as representative as it seems?

o Elections
UK parliament = unfair…

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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…

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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. devolution

Better informed…

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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

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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…

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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…


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