Democracy in the uk

To help with AS revision on the british politics

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Defination of democracy

Abraham Lincoln said:

  • Government OF the people:

Being able to vote, participate in parties or pressure groups. Participatory democracy.

  • Government BY the people:

General people make important decisions either directly- referendums e.c.t or on our behalf - MP's e.c.t

  • Government FOR the people:

Decisions are made not to benefit themselves but the wider public. Parliament is accountable to the people

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Why is democracy important?

Protects freedom-

Governments can not make decisions without the people's consent.

Protects Minorities-

Everyone British adult can vote and stand for office-everyone is given a vote

Controls government's power-

By holding them accountable to the people by re-elections and opposition parties scrutinizing them.

Encourages participation-

As people are given a voice, they can influence and make decissions.

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What is it to be a citizin?


  • To be a resident of the state
  • To vote in elections
  • Treated equally under the law
  • Freedom of movement,religion, thought and expression
  • Right to fair trial


  • To obey the law
  • To accept the legitimacy of the government 
  • To pay taxes
  • Join armed forces if conscripted
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Turnout is falling!

General election results

  • 1979 76%
  • 2001 59%
  • 2005 61%
  • 2010 65%

Party membership

Conservative: 1950 - 2.8 million members. 2010- 300,000 members. 

Labour- 1950- 800,000 members . 2010 200,000 members.

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How to increase political participation?

Voting made compulsory-

Example- Australia. However you can argue it is against our human rights and may add increase to turnouts but not legitimacy as people will vote without thinking if they do not care.

Reduce voting age-

 From 18 to 16. There is an argument 16 year olds are not mature enough. However it is important to note 16 year olds pay taxes through V.A.T and can join the army. 

Make voting easier-

By texting your vote or by the internet ( this could lean to security issues).

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Increasing participation continued

Lessons in school-

Educate people from a younger age my get them more interested in politics. However this could bore children and turn them even more off politics. Plus the problem of biased teachers.

Change the voting system-

Possibly to AV, so that smaller parties can win more seats and people don't feel their votes are 'wasted'.  

Using more referendums-

Could make people feel more involved in politics and used to voting. However this could undermine the governments authority and general elections could be taken less seriously.

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Direct democracy and referendums

What is Direct Democracy?

Involves any direct decision making by the people

Often referendums are used as they are the purest form of direct democracy.

But since 2007 e-petitions are being frequently used more to influence parliament.

What are referendums?

Citizens are asked a pre-determined question of public importance.

UK referendums are practically binding as parliament would never reject them.

Always a 'yes' or 'no' question

Normally one question asked ( apart from the Scottish parliament referendum of 97 that had two)

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Important Referendums

1975- Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community?

yes- 67% no- 33% turnout- 65%

1998- Are you in favour for a Greater London mayor and a separate elected assembly?

yes- 72% no- 28% turnout 34%

2010- Should we change the voting system to AV?

yes- 33% no- 68% turnout- 42%

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Arguements for and against referendums.

Arguments for

  • They are the most direct and pure form of democracy
  • People may be more likely to respect and conform to decisions they have made themselves. They represent true government by consent.
  • Prevent governments making unpopular decisions.
  • They made resolve and unite parties who can not make a decision 

example: EC referendum of 1975 reunited a split labour government.

  • They entrench constitutional change ( decisions made by a referendum will only be changed by another referendum)
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Arguements for and against referendums.

Arguments against

  • They may undermine the government and representatives. Meaning people will not respect their knowledge and authority.
  • Issues may be too complex for people to understand.
  • They may produce an emotional instead of rational response
  • Media may influence the public and effect their judgement.
  • Unpopular governments may be voted against for their unpopularity then the issue at hand.
  • Minorities will suffer from the tyranny of the majority
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parliamentary representation

In the UK we have parliamentary representation   

The idea that MP's must make decisions based on their constituency's behalf. But often they have to consider their own party and their own opinion. 

Only when the party whips are called off can a MP 'free vote' to their own will.

Party delegation- is the control and influence a party leader has over a MP's decisions. This means there are practically no independent MP's.  

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Parliamentary democracy in the UK

  • Parliament is the source of all political authority and without its support decisions can not be made
  • The government is accountable to parliament and the party in power will be scrutinized by the other parties to keep them in line.


  • All citizens are represented through their MP's  


  • Parliament keeps a party to their mandate making sure it is not abused or to step outside their mandate- in theory


  • Parliament is expected to represent the national interests
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Representative democracy in the UK

  • Each MP represents a constituency and should represent their constituency in decision making.
  • Parliament in theory are expected to represent the society as a whole- not to benefit themselves.  


However parliament can not claim to represent society as a whole ...

women only represent 22% of the house of commons and 21% of the house of lords, although they make 51% of the population.   

Ethnic minorities only represent 4% of the house of commons and the house of lords, although they make 8% of the population.

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How parties represent us.

All mainstream parties claim to represent the whole nation, but really they represent the middle class as this is the majority and this it where they can get the majority of the votes.

Many people would rather turn to pressure groups, as they accurately and precisely represent people's views.

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Direct vs. representative democracy

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Is Britian a Liberal Democracy?

Accountability- The government is accountable to the people to ensure they act in the public interest.

Free and fair elections- Every Adult can vote and run for office so everyone has a voice. However we can not say everyone is represented as minorities or not prominent in parliament. Also the FPTP system is not far for small parties and constituencies with 'safe seats', these result in 'wasted votes' and not everyone's views are being represented.

Transfer of power and election results are accepted- In the UK all parties accept election results and the governments legitimacy.

Information- The government doesn't sensor the media, so the public are open to a wide range of political views and news. Plus this offers a chance for the media to constantly scrutinize the government.


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Is Britian a Liberal Democracy? continued...

Rights- The UK is signed up to the European convention on human rights to protect human rights. However the government can refuse these rights in the interests of national security or law and order

Limited government- Unlike the USA we do not have a constitution which can be good or bad.

Bad- Fundamental laws are not safeguarded a government in power can do whatever they want.

Good- Governments can change old and outdated laws that the public do not agree with.

Tolerance- Britain is tolerant to someone's beliefs and philosophies as long as it does not pose a threat to nation security, law and order and the governments authority.

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democratic deficit

A democratic deficit is considered to be occurring when governments are seen to be falling short of fulfilling the principles of the parliamentary democracy.

Does Britian have a democratic deficit?

1. Falling political participation

2. The persistence of undemocratic institutions within the system of the government.

3. The increased centralisation of power that is insufficiently accountable within the government.

Main ways to reduce these problems.

1. Engage young people with the democratic process

2. Parliamentary and constitution reforms

3. Devolution and constitutional reforms.

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Key concepts

Democracy- The original Greek word was derived from "demos," meaning "the people," and "kratein" meaning "to rule." It was intended to mean "The people to rule" or "ruled by the people."
Democracy is a form of government in which power is held directly or indirectly by citizens under a free electoral system.

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