Features of UK democracy
Britain's democratic system has undergone significant change in recent years. This has made it more complex that just a representative democracy. The features of our democracy includes:
- Free and fair elections
- Universal suffrage
- Electoral choice
- Pressure groups
- European Parliament
Free and Fair elections
People have the right and freedom to have free and fair elections in the UK:
- By the late 18th Century, freedom of speech and assembly was widely accepted.
- This was supported by the secret ballon in 1872, and ended the intimidation at election time.
- In 1928 Universal suffrage was given, which allowed all persons, even women, over the age of 21 to vote.
- By 1948, plural votes given to the elite (Oxbridge) were abolished.
- Therefore, 'one person,one vote' was introduced.
- The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, prevents govts from calling GEs at times which are in their favour.
However, the fairness of the electoral process has been questioned:
- This because both the Monarchy and HOL are unelected, and thus undemocratic.
- In addition, the FPTP voting system allows the formation of govts, even when they have won less than half of the votes cast.
- E.g. UKIP won around 4 million votes, but only gained 1 seat in the HOC.
Elections in the UK became more democratic when universal suffrage was given:
- This is where more individuals, such as all women, were given the right to vote.
- Before, in 1867, the vote was only given to mainly skilled manual (male) workers.
- In 1884, this increased to all male householders and tenants, who were given the vote.
- By 1918, all men over 21 and middle class women over 30 could vote.
- By 1928, all men and women over 21 were given the vote.
- The voting age was decreased to 18 in 1969.
- This has made elections in the UK more democratic because everyone now has the right to vote.
However, there are still people who cannot vote:
- Homeless people, imprisoned convicts and the mentally incapable are not legally eligible to vote.
- Some argue that the voting age should be changed to 16 or 17, especially for referendums.
- Non voting protest is common and political apathy is evidenced by declining voter turnout.
- This means that not everybody are voting, and thus not being represented.
Electoral choice is essential to democracy because:
- It allows electorates to vote for the people, or policies, of their choice (most prefer).
- Whereas, if they had no choice, they would have to vote for what is available.
- Since the 1960s, there are wide range of political parties to vote for, such as the SNP, Labour, Green Party, UKIP and to the Liberal Democracts.
- The Conservatives and Liberals have been the 2 main parties since the 19th Century, with Labour appearing in the 1900s.
- More electoral choice is democratic because it gives people more to chose from, and mostly everyone are likely to be represented a political party.
However, the effictiveness of party competition has been questioned because:
- The 2 party systems means that there are 2 major parties in the UK, leaving people with little choice.
- This is due to the fact that people feel that if they vote for a smaller party, their vote will be wasted.
- This is related to consensus politics.
- Therefore, there may not be much change in policies.
Parliament is the main institution, of democracy, in the UK that:
- Links the govt to the people.
- It lies at the heart of the democratic process.
- Parliament has 3 chambers, that are part of the legislative process:
- HOC is the main chamber, which consists of 650 MPs elected by the people, which the majority is the govt, and proposes laws.
- HOL is the second chamber, which consists of Life, people and hereditary peers, and 'Lord Spirituals, who scrutinise bills and can delay them.
- The Monarch is also unelected, and is hereditary, and formally signs a Bill.
- Parliament is representative of the people, because the HOC is elected by them, and most walks of life are represented in the HOC and HOL.
- The govt can only survive with the support of the HOC.
However, the effectiveness of Parliament has been debated because:
- The HOL are unelected.
- Party discpline prevents some MPs using their own judgements..
- The govts of the day usually have a large majority, meaning the scrutiny of the executive is weak.
Pressure groups are democratic because:
- They give voices to minorities.
- They represent more views and interests of the people, preventing partisan dealignment. (Sectional, promotional groups).
- They provide a way in which citizens can exert influence between elections.
- PGs increase political participation, beyond voting.
- It is argued that the UK is a pluralist democracy, where multiple organised groups can flourish and challenge the govt.
- The membership of these groups have increased.
- In addition, PGs raise public awareness of current issues, that need to be solved by the govt, especially insider groups.
However, the effectiveness of the PGs have been questioned because:
- Elections can sometimes bypass Parliament and undermine the representative process.
- Leaders of PGs are not elected so they are not democratically accountable.
- In addition, Outsider groups, especially, have no influence in making the govt introduce, change or repeal legislation.
Referendums are democratic because:
- They are a vote, that allows the people to express their views and opinions on a particular issue of public policy.
- It provides their consent for it.
- Referendums raises issues for discussion, as they can be advisory or binding.
- It increases political participation.
- They determine the decision for changes to the constitution.
- E.g. The AV referendum in 2011.
- E,g, The Scottish Independence 2014.
However, the effectiveness of referendums has been debated because:
- Referendums could cause voter fatigue, especially if they are over used.
- As a result of this, they may decrease political participation.
- The result of the referendum could be ignored.
- Many govts call referendums at times that are benefitial to them.
- People's vote may be based on popularity, instead of the political issue.
Devolution is where the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly were created. These enhance democracy because:
- It gave individuals in these parts of the UK, a voice for the first time, in 1998.
- It also widened the opportunities, and allows them to make decisions for their citizens.
- It increases political participation.
- It strengthens civic engagement.
- Major policy making power remains in Westminster.
European Parliament is democratic because:
- UK citizens take party in democracy with the EU, through elections to its Parliament.
- This was introduced in 1979.
- There is growing influence of the EU over the UK politics.
- This threatens the sovereign power of Parliamwent.
- Therefore the capacity to function as an indepedent democratic state.