Definition of Democracy

  • A definition of democracy can be divided into three sub-headings: government by the people, government for the people and government with the people.
  • A government by the people: this can be described as a direct democracy and is where the people themselves make the important decisions. Government is intensely sensitive to public opinion.
  • A government for the people: the government is not governing for themselves or one section of society, but they try to take into account all sections of society as far as possible. Direct democracy is not always feasible, thus representative democracy is more common.
  • A government with the people: this is expecting that most citizens can participate in political activity. This doesn't just mean voting or standing for elected office, but participating in parties and pressure groups. This can be described as participatory democracy.
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Types of Democracy

Direct and Representative Democracy

  • A direct democracy, as we have already discovered, is one where all the people make the decisions which affect them on a daily basis. It is essentially unworkable in a modern state, however referendums give the people the opportunity to make the political decisions.
  • A representative democracy is much more workable and therefore more common. Their are many features of a representative democracy. Firstly, elections as it enables representatives to be chosen to govern on behalf of the people and should ensure the institutions of government respect the opinions of the people. Elections convey legitimacy, however in the last two elections there has been a low turnout which questions the legitimacy of politicians.
  • Secondly, the House of Commons should reflect the society it seeks to represent and should be accountable to the decisions it makes and the laws they pass.
  • Thirdly, representatives don't just represent they govern as well.

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Citizenship and Political Participation

Definition of Citizenship and Political Participation

  • Citizenship is the idea that members of the political community have certain rights with respect to political institutions. It also implies that an individual has the right to live in a particular state and thus enjoying all its rights and benefits. Citizenship implies a certain level of obligation, mainly to obey the law and to pay taxes etc.
  • Political Participation is opportunities for and tendencies of the people to become involved in the political process. At a minimum level this will involve voting and being involved in political parties or pressure groups. At maximum level this means standing in public office.
  • A democratic citizens rights include: to be a resident in the state, to vote in free elections, to stand for public office, to be treated equally under the law, to be given a fair trial, to enjoy the modern concept of civil liberties such as freedom of expression etc.
  • Their obligations include: to obey the laws, to accept the legitimacy of the constituted government, to pay taxes and to join the army if needed.
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Falling levels of political participation


  • There are three sources of evidence to suggest why political participation is falling:
  • Firstly, turnout at elections has been falling. In 1979 it was 76%, in 2005 it was 61.3%.
  • Secondly, party membership has been declining. For an example, the Conservatives had 1.2 million members in 1980 when Thatcher was about to come into power, in 2006 there was 0.27 million.
  • A third indication, is that from a great deal of research people associate themselves with political parties much less than they used to in a process known as partisan dealignment.
  • To attempt to improve these levels of political participation the government has done so through education. A subject entitled "citizenship" has been made a compulsory part of the curriculum.
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Democracy in the UK

Elements of UK democracy

Use these bullet points as prompts for essay questions.

  • Free and fair elections held at regular intervals
  • Political parties are free to air their views and campaign for their policies.
  • Politicians are accountable to the people at election time.
  • The power of politicians is legitimated by the people at election time.
  • Freedom of speech.
  • Free press.
  • Freedom of association,
  • Freedom of assembly.
  • No official discrimination against minority groups.
  • Human Rights Act
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Democracy in the UK

Limitations of UK democracy

Use these bullet points as prompts for essay questions.

  • Elections are not free financially and the government chooses when they occur.
  • Smaller political parties may suffer as a result of the electoral system.
  • Accountability is blurred: most people vote for or against a party, regardless of the sitting MP.
  • Falling turnout questions the legitimacy of the government.
  • Limitations on speech regarding race; laws on defamation.
  • Limits on issues to do with national security;libel laws
  • Some restrictions on the activity of trade unions.
  • The police can break up assemblies that they deem riotous.
  • Discrimination still persists in key areas such as employment and housing.
  • Human Rights Act is just an act - rights are not enshrined.
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Arguments for Referendums

  • They are the most direct form of democracy.
  • People may be more likely to respect and conform to decisions they have made themselves. They represent true government by consent.
  • They may prevent government making unpopular decisions.
  • They may resolve issues which cause special problems for government and parties.
  • They entrench constitutional change.

Arguments against Referendums

  • They may undermine respect for representative institutions.
  • Some issues may be too complex for people to understand.
  • They may produce an emotional rather than a rational response.
  • Wealthy groups or the tabloid press may influence the result unjustifiably.
  • People may use referendums as a verdict on the general popularity of the government rather than on the issue in question. Minorities may suffer.
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