Democracy

Politics unit 1 edexcel

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  • Created by: Elliot
  • Created on: 10-12-09 22:50

Different types of democracy

Types of democracy

Democracy literally translated means rule by the people. Democracy is when the people of the state are able to have their political view heard. This expression of will can be direct or indirect.

Direct democracy
This is when all the people in a state make the decisions affecting them on a daily basis.

In ancient Athens all qualified citizens were able to decide policy on major issues that affected them. This would not work in a modern state where millions of people wishing to vote would not enable a functional society.

Representative democracy
idea that not everyone can be in the decision making process so people are elected representatives to make the decisions on behalf of the citizens. Representatives may be local councillors or MPs in House of commons, it is their job to do what the people wish for.

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Features of representative democracy

Elections

The most important feature, it enables representatives to be chosen to govern on behalf of the people and makes sure institutions of government and parliament reflect and respect opinions of the people. The political direction a country has will be in keeping with the mood of the people.

Representation of society

Another feature of representative democracy is that the government should reflect the society it seeks to represent, both in terms of political opinion, and in terms of the social, ethnic and gender groups of its society. Elected representatives should bear a resemblance to the people who elect them to office, to get more women in they have all women shortlist for safe seats in labour party.

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Features of representative democracy ***

Accountability

In the UK, representatives must be periodically be answerable for the decisions that they make. If they want to be re-elected, their actions need to come under public scrutiny. Elections enable the process of accountability in a representative democracy.

Representatives govern

In the UK, representatives are not mere delegates. MPs are elected to govern as well as to represent. On occasion, the duty to govern may involve public opinion being overlooked. Many MPs used this argument to justify their decision to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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Democracy in the UK

Elements of UK democracy

Limitations of UK democracy

Free and fair elections held at regular intervals

Elections are not free financially and the government chooses the time of the election

Political parties are free to air their views and campaign for their policies

Smaller political parties may suffer as a result of the electoral system

Politicians are accountable to the people at election time

Accountability is blurred; most people vote for or against a party, regardless of the calibre of the sitting MP

The power of politicians is legitimated y the people at election time

Falling turnout at general elections can call into question the legitimacy of the government

Freedom of speech

Limitations on speech regarding race; laws or defamation

Free pass

Limits on issues to do with national security; libel laws

Freedom of association

Some restrictions of the activity of trade unions

Freedom of assembly

The police may break up assemblies that they deem riotous

No official discrimination against minority groups

Discrimination still persists in key areas such as employment and housing

Human Rights Act

Human Rights Act is just an act - rights are not as enshrined as they are in USA

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Recent developments in UK democracy

Some people claim the UK has become a more democratic country since the election of Blair government in 1997. The government has introduced a number of constitutional reforms, which many of the centre left have transformed a constitution of the nineteenth century into something approaching one for the twenty-first century. Conservatives would agree that these reforms have done nothing to make the UK more democratic. They would claim that the massive parliamentary majorities turned the UK into an elective dictatorship. Others, such as the Liberal Democrats, argue that New Labour has failed to tackle the key inadequacies of the UK’s democratic system.

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Devolution

Labour has decentralised power in the UK. Labour fulfilled its promise of giving devolution to wales and Scotland. Devolution is when sovereignty is in a central authority, parliament in the UK. But some powers are given to sub national bodies. Parliament keeps the right to change these powers or to abolish the sub national bodies. this move toward devolution can be seen as bringing politics closer to people involved, the best people to govern major aspects of Scottish and welsh public policies are themselves and devolution enables them to do this. Even though the reforms break with uk tradition and the political power no longer resides in westminster.

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The use of referendums and proportional represent

Labour held referendums in Scotland and Wales on the public desire for devolved assemblies. Until November 2004, when voters in a referendum in the North East turned down a proposal to establish an elected regional assembly, the government was keen to push ahead with referendums for such assemblies in England. Blair government sharply increased the use or referendums, and promised to consult the country over the issues of the European single currency and the EU Constitution

New devolved assemblies are elected using proportional representation systems and it can be argued that the basis for representation in the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales is more democratic than that for the House of Commons, which continues to use the first-past-the-post system. Since 1999 proportional representation has been introduced for elections to the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) representing smaller political parties, such as the Green Party.

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Reform of the house of the lords and HRA

Long standing constitutional headaches for the labour party has been the existence of the house of lords. They failed to reform the second chamber in the other times they were in power, Blair took the biggest step, abolishing most of the hereditary peers in the House of Lords in 99 only 92 remain.

Supporters believe that the hereditary peers were a symbol of undemocratic politics in the UK. Gordon Brown has said he will complete reforms of House of Lords but people are not sure how to replace it.

The government has introduced the HRA which set out the rights of the citizens and previously citizens didn’t have those rights written. Citizens don’t need to contact European court of human rights in Strasbourg if they feel their rights have been broken. The HRA has incorporated the European convention of human rights into English and Scottish law.

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Critisicms of democracy in the uk

Electoral reforms for commons The government changed its mind about holding a referendum on electoral reform in the House of Commons. Many people say it must be reformed because at the moment it is controlled by a political party which has fewer than half the votes of the country. Supporters such as the lib dems say that the government only has a half hearted commitment to the issue. They say that when it comes to reforms affecting the power wielding bodies the government has not acted so it can keep more power.

House of lord reformsThe government can also be criticised for not completing the form on the HOL. Gordon Brown remains under some pressure to complete the reforms, particularly the ones who want to see a fully elected second chamber as some people say it is controlled by government.

Human rights act HRA is not an entrenched document it is another act of parliament which can be changed or abolished at some point in future. Critics say that it is too easy to change, eg terrorism laws. Many groups want a written constitution containing a bill of rights as they say this will protect the citizens.

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Suggestions for enhancing democracy

Lowering the voting age All politicians want to change the perceived alienation of young people by saying they should reduce the voting age from 18 to 16. Matthew Green of lib dems wants to advance votes act 16 campaign.

Introducing compulsory voting Compulsory voting would make the people more politically active it is said. The IPPR is in favour of compulsory voting. Cabinet members such as Peter Hain and Geoff Hoon support this. Australia has compulsory voting and those who support it in the UK say that Australia has over 90% turnout, they say it would reinvigorate parliament and remind citizens that they have responsibilities.

Bringing in digital democracy Supporters of electronic voting hope one day online ballots will change to replace traditional pen and paper voting. E voting can occur in convenient locations rather than the inconvenient places at polling stations. The arguments in favour of e voting say greater accessibility can encourage voter turnout Making wider use of referendums


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Arguments for the wider use of referendums

They enable people to decide on issues which they might not have the opportunity to consider at a general election.

They offer another way for the public to get involved in politics

The associated campaigns can educate the people

They are democratic

There are some policy decisions that are so important that referendums should be used

They can help resolve party splits

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Arguments against the wider use of referendums

The media could have undue influence on public opinion

Governments should do the governing

Governments use them cynically

They undermine parliamentary sovereignty

People might not know enough about the issue to make an informed choice

Voters may not vote on the question posed in the referendum

One side of the debate may have more resources to fund its campaign

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