What is direct democracy?
- Athenian in origin.
- Government by the people.
- Considered to be the purest form of democracy.
- Views of every person allowed to vote are directly translated into policy/law.
Problems with direct democracy
- People may not understand complex questions.
- Majority might discriminate against minority.
- Impractible in a large state.
- Costly in time and money.
- People can be swayed by emotion rather than thinking rationally.
- May result in public apathy (boredom).
Arguements FOR representative democracy
- Practical and less time consuming.
- Politicians act more rationally than people.
- Ensure public participation through elections e.g. joining pressure groups.
- Representatives are always held to account by the people.
Arguements AGAINST representative democracy
- Irregular participation- General Elections only.
- Politicians can lost touch with 'ordinary' people.
- Women and ethnic minorities are under-represented; only 18% of MPs are women and only 3% are black.
- Government often ignores its mandate (manifesto commitment)
- Voting systems are not always fair.
- Representatives can ignore public opinion.
- Basic freedoms enjoyed by all, for example, freedom of worship.
- Democracy- free and fair electons in which two or more parties compete.
Features of Liberal Democracy
- Free and fair elections.
- Elected representatives and government accountable to the people.
- Competitve elections.
- Civil liberties are protected.
- Variety of beliefs are tolerated.
- Peaceful transition of power.
- A referendum is a popular vote on a particular policy issue of importance by the electorate.
- It asks for a 'yes' or 'no' answer - i.e. 2011: Should the electoral system be changed from FPTP to AV? NO- Electoral system remains FPTP.
- In the UK, the vote is not binding on the goverment as it is only a constitution convention.
- This is because Parliament is sovereign (holds ultimate power).
- Referenda is a form of direct democracy.
Arguements FOR the use of referenda
- Consulting the people is more democratic e.g. referenda are a form of direct democracy.
- They promote public participation in politics, which is declining (61% turnout in 2005 election).
- They foster public debate and educate about important issues e.g. the Euro.
- They limit the power of the government's elective dictatorship.
- No government since 1935 has had a majority vote, so the governments mandate to legislate without referenda is questionable.
- They demonstrate public support for issues such as devolution, there is little point in it otherwise.
- The electorate have a say on contentious issues.
Arguements AGAINST the use of referenda
- Parliament is supposed to be sovereign and should not abdicate its responsibilty like this.
- The public is ill informed about complex issues like the Euro; better to leave it to the experts.
- Public opinion changes e.g. the Welsh voted against devolution in 1979 but for it in 1997.
- Governments hold referenda for party political advantage e.g. Wilson on the Common Market in 1975.
- Only hold referenda when they think they can win them; that is why Labour have not held one on the Euro.
- Questions in a referenda are difficult to frame and bound to oversimplify complex issues and government can also manipulate the wording of the question.
What is a pressure group?
- An organisation which seeks to influence a comparatively small range of public policy without itself seeking to govern.
- Members have some shared interests and objectives.
- Pressure groups vary widely from large groups like the CBI- Confederation of British Industry (represents 150,000 businesses) to MOVE which represents a very small number.
Sectional/ Interest Groups
- Sectional groups seek to represent the common interest of a particular section of society. (Want to protect their own interests).
- Members are directly concerned with the outcome of campaigns as they usually stand to gain.
- Membership is restricted.
- Aim to get as many eligible people to join - more power.
- NUT- National Union of Teachers.
- BMA- British Medical Association.
- FBU- Fire Brigade Union.
Cause/ Issue/ Promotional Groups
- Cause groups represent some belief or principle. They seek to act in the interest of that cause,
- Anyone can join.
- By doing so, you accept the beliefs and principles.
- Achievements are not necessarily of direct professional or economic benefit to the member.
- Amnesty Internation for human rights.
- These are groups that are regarded as legitimate by government and are consulted on a regular basis.
- Most sectional groups are insider groups (because most public sector professions are employed by the Govt).
- They have direct access to ministers without having to go through Parliament or the media.
- E.g. NFU consulted about the foot and mouth crisis in 2001.
- Either do not wish to become involved in regular consultation with the government or would like to gain recognition by the government but are unable to do so.
- IPPR were aiming for insider status, and eventually became insider with a change of government in 1997.
- Earth First oppose the political system and therefore do not want insider status.
- A political system/ democracy, where a wide range of beliefs, ideologies and ideas is tolerated and allowed to flourish. It also implies a society where many different groups are active and free to operate.
- Representatives are chosen infrequently and by the majority. Pluralist theory argues that there are other ways to influence politics between elections and to represent the views of the majority.
How do pressure groups help democracy?
- They widen participation and are especially attractive to young people and women.
- They promote debate and raise public awareness of issues e.g. human rights and the environment.
- They keep the government in line with public opinion between elections, e.g. the fuel protests in 2000.
- They defend disadvantaged groups whose interests might otherwise be ignored, e.g. Shelter for the Homeless.
- They maintain political stamina, e.g. Friends of the Earth on recycling.
How do pressure groups hinder democracy?
- Self interested groups like Formula 1 bypass public debate and use financial muscle to get what they want.
- Unelected groups have no right to influence a democratically elected government.
- No justification in a democracy for pressure groups to use illegal methods, e.g. Reclaim the Streets or violence, e.g. the ALF.
- Pressure group influence isn't level.
- Well organised groups can get their way even if a public opinion is against them e.g. the Countryside Alliance on hunting.
Is pressure group influence increasing? - YES.
- Pressure group membership is rising while party membership and voter turnout (51% in 2001) are declining; the RSPB has more members than all 3 main political parties combined.
- Women and young people are more attracted to pressure groups than parties.
- It could be argued that in a global economy big business has more power than parties.
- Pressure groups campaign on issues like animal welfare and GM food which interest the public but parties tend to neglect.
- The lack of difference between the parties makes pressure groups seem more relevant to them.
Is pressure group influence increasing? - NO.
- Most pressure group campaigns, e.g. against the Iraq War or in defence of hunting, fail.
- It could be argued that what we are seeing is a crisis in party politics rather than a rise in pressure group influence.
- Only parties can form government and official opposition and offer electoral choice.
- Labour's reduced majority since 2005 has made Parliament more relevant, e.g. gambling, Trident.
- Pressure groups often have to work through parties, e.g. the League Against Cruel Sports lobbied Labour against hunting.
- Elitism is the theory that power is concentrated and not evenly distributed.
- Some pressure groups have more power and influence than others.
- Economic groups are commonly seen as more powerful than other groups.
What is a political party?
- A political party is an organised body seeking to win government power by putting candidates up for election and gaining for public support.
- Parties hold a range of views based on shared ideology, e.g. Conservatism.
- They have a wide range of policies which they put together in a coherent form (manifesto) at election time.
- They have members and activists as well as fielding candidates for public office.
Functions of a Political Party
- Representing the people.
- Formulating policies and presenting them to voters in a manifesto.
- Giving voters electoral choice.
- Providing opportunites for participation, membership, activism, standing for public office.
- Forming a government and managing political change in such a way to ensure stability.
- Refers to the parties agreeing about fundamental issues, like Blair and Cameron.
- Parties disagreeing and reversing each others policies, as Thatcher did after 1979.