Features of UK democracy along with counter arguments

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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
  • Parliament
  • Pressure groups
  • Referendums
  • Devolution
  • European Parliament
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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.
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Universal Suffrage

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. 
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Electoral choice

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. 
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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.
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Pressure Groups

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. 
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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. 
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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. 
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European Parliament

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.
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