Government and Politics: People and Politics

Politics: unit 1 and 4 revision cards.

  • Created by: caroline
  • Created on: 12-01-13 15:43

Why is democracy important?

* establishes and protects freedom - today, democracy ensures that no government can threaten freedom unless it is with consent from the people e.g. when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 and the sattelite states declared their freedom and most new g/ments adopted democratic systems so it didn't happen again.

* protects minorities - for an effection democratic system, the interests and demands of minority groups must be taken into account. Ensures all groups have access to the political process. Guarantees minorities have a free voice and are free from discrimination. Democracy sometimes argued as a poltical system where minorites rule.

* controls g'ment power - belief that power tends to corrupt those who wield it. if those who govern us left to own devices, danger they'll claim increasing amounts of power and being to abuse their position. democracy vital in preventing this. (holds g'ment accountable to the people - people can choose not to re-elect party)

* encourages popular participation - in a free democracy the people have the opportunity to become informed and be directly involved in influencing decision making

*disperses power more widely - when power becomes concentrated to a small few, it's almost inevitable it becomes denied to other people e.g. China where approx 12 people decide who is in power.

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What is democracy?

* People power

* Abe Lincoln gave us the best description of democracy "democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the people" - Gettysburg Address, 1864

* general statement about various political systems organised on the basis that government should serve the interests of the people

* liberal democracies - expected that citizens should influence decisions/make decisions themselves

* expected that the government should be accountable to the people

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What is legitimacy?

* term connected to the rightfulness and correctness

* gives a political action justified authority - presents notion that the action is acceptable

* contrast: if a political action is deemed to be illegitimate, then it is seen as unfair and lacking in authority - may be viewed as wrong

* can be exampled in a democratic system through elections - g/ment can claim that actions  are legitimate as their electorate has given support.

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What is direct democracy? (incl. referenda)

A type/style of democracy where the people make important political deciosn or are consulted before key decisions are made.

e.g. referendum

occurs when an important poltical decision is put to the people rather than determined by g'ment / representable aseemblies. involves question where the answer is either yes or no.

may be national, regional or local

* in some countries, refernda are legally binding on g'ment

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Four examples of direct democracy

1. Referenda 

most common form. occurs when an important decision is put to the people, rather than being put to the g'ment and representative assemblies. single question - yes or no

2. Initiatives

most famously used in the USA. rarely used in the UK. when a group of interested local citizens sign a petition on a particular issue - if enough sign, g'ment forced to hold referendum. key point: people take intitative rather than g'ment itself

3. Public consultations

e.g. local authorities asking local people how they wish to see the budget spent - central g'ment too increasingly using this device.

4. Petitions

not binding, but are influential. in UK parliament, such petitions not usually discussed or influential. in Scot Parliament, special unit who consider such petitions. 

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Advantages of direct democracy

purest form of democracy

disperses power widely among the population, and thus prevents power being held in the hands of the few

*decisions may be more acceptable to the population

*prevent desicion makers from making mistakes

*referenda a source of education for the public

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Disadvantages of direct democracy

g'ment elected by simple of majority (tyranny of the majority)

decisions too complex for public to understand

*often creates emotional rather than rational response

*if required to participate too much, the public may become 'politcially fatigued' and an apathy will grow

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What is representative democracy?

Where most decisions are made by reprentative bodies which are appointed or elected. Strong representative institutions accountable to the people. This type of democracy is in contrast to direct democracy.

People choose to elect someone to act on their behalf. 

*Elected rep's are held accountable to the public 

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How is rep. democracy used in the UK?

*UK considered to be a rep. democracy

*regular free elections

*elected rep. assemblies at every level - national, regional and local

*parties are free to operate and represent various political opinions

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Advantages of repr. democracy

*rep's more likely to make rational decisions and not swayed by emotion, like the public

*ususally accountable, helps make them act responsibly

*people cannot continuoulsy be involved in politics, and so delegate their power to rep's

*have specific knowledge

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Disadvantages of rep democracy

*may not accurately rep. the opinions/demands of the wider population

*party rep can prevent elected rep's from acting independantly 

*can turn into 'rule of the elites' rather than disperesed power (which happens with direct dem.)

*only 'fair' if elections 'fair'

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How can referenda's legitimacy been questioned?

If there is a low turnout then the repsonse isn't necessarily representative of the nation's views.

e.g. 1997 Scottish ref. "Should scotland have its own parliament with significant powers?" a large 'yes' majority with a good turnout. This response would be seen as more legitimate than the national 2011 "should AV be adopted for westminster elections?" a large 'no' vote with a low turnout. 

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Why has the use of ref. increased since 1997?

*greater interest in constiutional reform - important that any such reform recieves the direct consent of the people

*most constitutional reforms introduced by the Labour party

*believed that the electorate is now better informed about politics than ever before. able to make informed judgements. internet helped.

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Reasons for the future use of ref in the UK

people accustomed to being consulted on key issues

easier to inform people about key issues - internet and social media

less public confidence in politicians than there used to be

involve people politically - been a general fall in traditional forms of participation in politics.

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Reasons against the future use of ref. in the UK

*may worsen the already low level of respect people have for rep. institutions

*if too many votes - 'voter fatigue' - turnouts low - less legitimate results

*highly politically motivated tabloid press in Britain may reduce rational arguments to emotional appeals

*ref can be a public opinion poll on the g'ment rather than the issue at hand - e.g. 'no' vote on the AV referenda

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What is liberal democracy?

response to fears of the 'tyranny of the majority'

*normally incorparates a 'Bill of Rights' to protect interests of the people

power normally divided in a liberal democracy - prevents power falling into the hands of the few

*cherishes rights of the individual and organisations

*implies tolerant society - where diverse groups are allowed to flourish as long as they don't threaten the security of the state or the freedom of others

*e.g. The USA

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What is a pluralist democracy?

*generally conform to the criteria of a liberal democracy

*tends to be large no. of political parties

*wide variety of pressure groups and political associations which may participate in political processes

*generally speaking, in a plur. democracy, power is widely dispersed - means the people have a great deal of influence and power is not concentrated in the hands of the few ('tyranny of the majority')

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What is parliamentary democracy?

*unique to the UK

*to a large (though not total) extent the UK conforms to liberal democracy

*also has special characteristics: parliament is sovereign and has ultimate political power, law will only be enforced 

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How can UK people participate in politics?

shallow participation:

making oneself informed about political issues and events through social media

making one's views know about political issues in consultation meetings, often via internet

voting regularly in elections/referenda

*making one's views known through social media

deeper participation:

joining a political party

joining a pressure group

*becoming active in a political party/pressure group

stand for office at local/regional/national level

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What are the strengths of UK democracy?

strong representation of individuals and constituencies by MP's

*parliament represents constituency, regional and national interests

free political parties and pressure groups

*g'ment has a clear mandate to govern against which it can be held accountable

*judiciary politically independant

rule of law applies - ensuring equality under law and that the g'ment acts within legal constraints 

*elections free and held regularly 

*pressure groups have access to various levels of pressure groups

*referendum's are held to determine imprortant cositutional change

*increasing variety of pressure groups

*all competent adults are permitted to participate in elections

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What are the criticisms of UK democracy?

*remains some 'undemocratic' elements, e.g. house of lords and monarchy are both unelected

*powers of PM are only conventional and not subject to law

*argued that too much power has been surrendered to the EU and this isn't accountable enough

*elections considered unfair and undemocratic - FPTP system distorts party representation

*small parties un-represented

*turnout at elections is low - legitimacy is questionable

*at general elections, turnout typically 60-65% - pre-1990 75%

*widespread disillusionment - lack of identification with parties

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Is the UK a liberal democracy?


regular free elections

*g'ment accountable to parliament

*parties/pressure groups tolerated


*House of Lords not elected, unelected head of state (monarch)

*no codified and entrenched constitution


elections by FPTP are seen as unfair

*no separation between the legislature and executive (g'ment)

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How can you improve democracy in the UK?

introduce new elected chamber to replace the house of lords - new chamber may suffer same problems as existing chamber, not be independent of g'ment, may have too much legitimacy and challenge the power of g'ment

introduce codified constitution - may reduce power of g'ment

take UK out of EU or take back some surrendered powers - UK would lose benefits of being an EU member, EU wouldn't allow the UK to reclaim any of its national sovereignity 

introduce systems for recalling MP's would are doing an unsatisfactory job - slow process that might fall into disuse because it's so difficult, could be done for trivial reasons

introduce compulsory voting - seen as infringment of individual liability, force people with little or no political knowledge to vote (influenced by uninformed voters)

use more referenda - could result in 'voter fatigue'

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