Democracy and Political Participation

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what is legitimacy?

  • Legitimacy: refers to the right of an individual or body to be recognised and have the right to exercise power 
  • Power: refers to the ability of an individ or body to force others to do something they might not otherwise do 
  • Authority: means the 'right to exercise power' deriving from tradition, election of charisma 
  • 'right to govern' and 'make laws' which will be enforced & likely to be obeyed:
  • a regimed may be legitimate because its gov is widely recognised but some regimes may be disputed
  • can refer to degree to which a body or gov can be justified in exercising power 
  • in democratic world, legitimacy conferred by election 
  • British gov lacks legitimacy as it is elected on a minority of the national vote 
  • legitimacy closely related to authority 
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what is consent?

evidence that people consent to being governed in a certain way:

  • by free elections
  • good turnouts
  • lack of popular dissent 
  • clear demonstrations of support for government 
  • by an explicit referendum to adopt a particular constituion 
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what is citizenship?

  • an enjoyment of rights 
  • enjoyment of civil liberties 
  • certain duties & obligations 
  • duty to be politically active 
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what is democracy?

-any system of gov where people have access to independent info and influence gov decisions -also gov makes itself accountable  -features of a modern democracy:

  • regular, free & fair elections
  • right for different beliefs to be tolerated
  • high degree of freedom for individuals and groups 
  • access to independent info
  • rule of law - all are equal under law 
  • gov operates on broad interests of people 
  • gov accountable 
  • peaceful transition from 1 gov to the next 
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direct democracy

  • people themselves make decisions - through referendums
  • people directly consulted on pol decisions - consultative democracy
  • people take initiative in making pol change 
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representative democracy

  • people elect representatives 
  • elected reps make decisions on behalf of the people 
  • pol parties that represent different views 
  • associations and pressure groups rep different sections of society, interests & causes
  • representative assemblies that express the will of the people and sections of society 
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how representation operates in the UK

  • through MPS, represent constituents 
  • most MPs represent a party 
  • parties have a representative function 
  • pressure groups represent interests & causes
  • HofC represents national interest
  • HofL vehicle for representation as many peers rep sections of society 
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pluarlist democracy

  • multiple parties and pol associations are allowed to operate
  • different pol beliefs tolerate & allowed to flourish 
  • many sources of indep info 
  • power dispersed among diff indiv's, bodies & institutions 
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liberal democracy

  • individ liberties respected & protected
  • strong constitution that limits power of gov
  • gov features stong internal checks & balances
  • high level of pol toleration 
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DEMOC IN THE UK - +ve's of rep democ

  • most people do not have time to be continually involved so people do it on their behalf
  • reps have more knowlegde & expertise than population 
  • reps can be made accountable for decisions
  • demands of people may be incoherent & contradictory 
  • people can react emotionally & irrationally 
  • reps can educate public 
  • different sections of society & various pol causes best represented by elected reps 
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-ve's of rep democ

  • difficult to make reps accountable inbetween elections 
  • may vote in their way of their own pol career advance
  • may favour parties policies over constituents 
  • too much pol conflict 
  • idea of electoral mandate flawed in the sense that votes are only presented w/ a manifesto which must be accepted or rejected 
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+ve's of direct democ and referendums

  • purest form of democ 
  • sig decisions strengthened if they recieve direct consent of the people - gives legitimacy 
  • referendums can educate 
  • people can participate more directly 
  • constitutional changes can be 'entrenched' trhough a ref
  • when gov is decided, consulting people can solve conflict 
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-ve's of direct democ and referendums

  • issues may be too complex for everyday person to understand
  • may vote irrationally/emotionally
  • people to busy to vote, lack of turnout 
  • if too many 'voter fatigue'
  • voters may loose respect for institutions asking them to vote too often 
  • may encourage 'tyranny of the majority' 
  • low turnout, result may lack legitimacy 
  • close ref may result in unsatisfactory conc 
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refs in the UK

  • 1975: whether or not UK should remain in the EU - yes 
  • 1997: whether to introd a devolved gov in Scotland - yes 
  • 1997: whether to give Scottish Parl power to vary level of income tax - yes 
  • 1997: whether to introd devolved assemb in Wales - yes 
  • 1998: LDN to adopt elected mayor - yes 
  • 1998: Northern Ireland to approve Belfast Agreement to introd a devolved gov - yes 
  • 2004: northeast Eng to introd an elected regional assembly - no 
  • 2011: whether to adopt AV electoral system - no 
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comparing direct & representative democ

  • direct democ purer 
  • direct democ opperates in connection w/ constitional changes - whereas rep concerns day-to-day running of country 
  • direct democ reps small will of majority - rep considers various interests & more pluarlistic 
  • resps accountable for their decisions 
  • refs seen as more legit than decisions made by rep institutions 
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enhancing democ - participation in UK pol

in UK, citizens can particpate by:

  • general elections
  • local elections 
  • referendums
  • joining a pol party
  • pressure group 
  • direct action 
  • standing for pol office & local, regional or national level 
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evidence of decline in pol participation

  • turnouts in national & regional elections falling 
  • turnouts in refs ow 
  • party membership falling since 1980s 
  • activism in pol parties falling 
  • widespread disillusionment w/ party pol 
  • identification w/ parties fallen 
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increasing pol participation - votes @ 16


  • educates
  • improves level of identification w/pol 
  • makes pol ed more relevant 


  • many apathetic anyway (won't vote anyway)
  • too young to vote
  • distortion of party pol's to attract young voters 
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citizenship education


  • improves pol knowlegde
  • encourages engagment w/ pol


  • ed expensive
  • may not created genuine interest 
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  • provides greater access to politics 
  • promote a more direct form of democ
  • e-voting might increase voter turnout 
  • internet provides vast source of indep info 


  • open to fraud and hacking 
  • illicit and falso info can circulate easily 
  • those who lack technical info excluded 
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compulsory voting


  • increases turnout
  • forces people to think about politics
  • people become used to voting 
  • results have more legitimacy 


  • abuse's peoples freedom
  • results seen as artifical
  • expensive
  • cannot solve problem of apathy 
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how democratic is the UK? +ve's


  • free, regular elections 
  • free media 
  • democratic institutions 
  • freedom to vote & stand for office & to form pol parties 
  • parliament makes gov accountable 
  • refs held from time to time when important const issues are to be resolved
  • variety of parties can flourish 
  • freedom, equality & rights protected by ECHR 
  • independent judicary 
  • rule of law applies 
  • Freedom of Info Act 
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how democratic is the UK? -ve's


  • unelected institutions persist in forms of monarch & HofL
  • elections are not fair owning to FPTP system
  • govs are elected on minority of national vote
  • PM enjoys arbitrary, prerogative powers
  • no entrenched const
  • parliamentary sov means individ rights are inadequately protected 
  • great deal of power transferred to EU 
  • pol participation declining 
  • growing degree of pol disengagment 
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methods 2 improve democ

replacing monarchy w/ elected head of state:


  • increase democratic legitimacy of head of state
  • would settle pol deadlocks
  • could increased popular pol engagement 


  • might destablise politics
  • head of state might give too much power to governing party
  • UK would lose an important historical institution 
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elected second chamber


  • increased legitimacy of 2nd chamber
  • would be effective check on gov power


  • challenge authority of HofC
  • check gov excessively
  • might be less independent 
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reforming electoral system


  • alternative system would be fairer to give the electorate more real choices
  • HofC would be more pol representative
  • would increase democ legit of MPs & gov
  • outcome would reflect pluralistic nature of pol more accurately


  • prop rep would remove important MP-constituency link
  • multiparty gov would ensue and be less stble 
  • unpredictable consequences
  • voters mind find it difficult to accept new system 
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increased use of refs


  • increase pol awareness
  • coudl be seen as a purer form of democ
  • improve pol ed
  • increase pol participation


  • too many votes - voter fatigue
  • people vote emotionally 
  • issues to complex to understand 
  • tryanny of maj 
  • lose respect for rep institutions for pol processes 
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introducing a codified const


  • written const stop drift towards excessive power of gov & PM
  • make citizens aware of how pol system works 
  • create more public engagement w/ pol system
  • rights & freedoms better protected


  • pol system lose flexibility
  • destroy pol traditions so reduce public attachment to pol 
  • put too much power into hands of unelected, unaccountable judges who have to interpret const 
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decentralising the pol system


  • local & regional gov smaller scale seen as more democ
  • gov be less remote and close to people 
  • less tight party control over pol 
  • strengthen local communities
  • growing power of central gov curbed


  • more powerful local gov mean more variable state provision
  • citizens mighty take local gov less seriously - low turnouts
  • tensions between central & decentralised gov might increase
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