Unit 1 Government & Politics AS democracy and participation questions

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Is representative democracy desirable? Yes because

  • Elected representatives are often better educated and more articulate than the general public
  • They have access to relevent research and are able to educate themselves on the merits and demerits of a particular course of action before casting their vote in parliamant
  • Representative democracy allows parliament to impliment policies that are necessary but unpopular - the kinds of things that would not secure support if put to a public ballot
  • It also allows for joined-up government where individual policies are decided not in isolation but with full consideration of potential knock-on effects for other areas of policy
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Is representative democracy desirable? No because

  • Elected representatives often enjoy lengthy terms in office, meaning that they cannot easily be held publicly accountable for the decisions they make
  • Many MPs simply toe the party line and do as the whips tell them, rather than thinking for themselves and/or representing the interests of their constituents 
  • Representative democracy limits the opportunities for popular participation between elections and contributes to political apathy 
  • Representative democracy has a tendency towards elitism - members of the legislature are drawn from a narrow range of social backgrounds and those from different backgrounds, or with less centrist views, are not properly heard
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Is direct democracy compatible with representative

  • Elected representatives often enjoy lengthy terms in office. Referendums and recalls make them more directly accountable between elections, thereby enhancing representative democracy 
  • Many MPs simply yoe the party line and do as the whips tell them - incorporating elements of direct democracy would remind representatives of who they were elected to serve 
  • Conventional representative democracy limits the opportunities for meaningful participation between elections and contributes to political apathy
  • Traditional representative democracy has a tendency towards elitism. Direct democracy has the potential to allow people to participate on a level playing field
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Is direct democracy compatible with representative

  • Those elected to office are given a mandate to act on behalf of voters. Representatives should not feel pressured into going back to the people in order to seek approval for specific policies
  • Elected representatives are often better informed than the general public - it is nonsensical to leave key decisions to the broader public
  • Representative democracy allows parliament to impliment policies that are necessary but unpopular - the kinds of things that would not secure support if put to a public ballot
  • Representative governent also allows for joined-up government where individual policies are decided not in isolation but with full consideration of potential knock-on effects for other areas of policy
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Do referendums enhance democracy? Yes because

  • Referendums encourage participation by allowing citizens to have a real input into key decisions that matter to them
  • They provide a way of focusing or renewing the mandate on a particular issue or legitimising major constitutional changes
  • They can prevent dangerous divisions within political parties over controversial issues, which prevents gtovernments from collapsing and thereby provides for greater continuity in government
  • They can be used to provide a clear and final answer there parliament is deadlocked
  • They can provide a means by which tricky moral questions are resolved
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Do referendums enhance democracy? No because

  • Referendums are inconsistent with representative democracy and undermine the doctrine of parliamentary soverignty
  • They can result in a tyrnny of the majority or even a tyranny of an organised minority, where turnout is low
  • Excessive use of referendums can result in voter fatigue and declining turnout
  • Most issues are too complicated to be condensed into a simple yes/no question
  • Different levels of funding and media access between the yes and no camps might mean that the referendum is not played out on a level plying field
  • Governments can schedule referendums and phrase questions in a way that makes a favourable result more likely
  • Decisions are not always final: governments sometimes go back again and again until they get the result that they want
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What three characteristics define political cultur

  • Homogeneity: the belief that citizens shared a common heritage and identity; a sense of togetherness that transcended what divided them
  • Consensus: where UK citizens accepted the basic rules of the game
  • Deference: the idea that people deferred to an elite that was regarded as being born to rule
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What is electoral participation?

This is a measure of the willingness of those eligible to vote to register and then actually go out and do so.

  • Uk voters are legally required to register to vote, but probably only 90% do
  • Turnout at general elections fell from 83.9% in 1950 to 59.4% in 2001, before recovering to 65.1% in 2010
  • Turnout at other, second order, elections is lower still
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What is non-electoral participation?

This is concerned with participation in political activity other than voting, for example:

  • Canvassing and leafleting
  • Organising election events and fundraising activities
  • Staffing campaign offices
  • Writing to, or meeting, your elected representatives
  • Membership and/or involvement in a political party
  • Engaging in political protest or organised pressure group activity
  • Engaging with, discussing or debating political issues 
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Is there a participation crisis in the UK? Yes bec

  • We now have historically low levels of electoral turnout
  • And falling party membership
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Is there a participation crisis in the UK? No beca

  • Increased membership of mainstream pressure groups
  • Increased support for involvement in protest movements, consumer campaigns and direct action
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What are the solutions to a participation crisis?

  • Encourage greater use of postal voting
  • Trial SMS text voting and web based voting
  • Make voting compulaory
  • Lower the voting age from 18 to 16
  • Take power away from the executive and unaccountable bodies and give it to parliament and local governments
  • Allow citizens a much more direct and focused say over political decisions and policies
  • Try to get to the root of the problem by addressing some deeper problems affecting democracy in the UK
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Should voting be made compulsory? Yes because

  • Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform, e.g. paying taxes, compleating jury service
  • It fits in with the government's commitment to encouraging wider participation
  • Parliament reflects more accurately the will of the electorate
  • Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management rather than simply focusing on those who are likely to turn out
  • Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues, rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll through get out the vote activies
  • The voter isn't actually compelled to vote for any single canididate because voting is by secret ballot; they can choose to leave their ballot paper blank or spoil their ballot
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Should voting be made compulsory? No because

  • It is undermocratic to force people to do so
  • The ill informed and those with little intrest in politics are forced to the polls
  • It may increase the number of donkey votes ( votes which are simply numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. in order vertically down the list of available candidates under a preferential voting system) when used alongside a preferential voting system
  • It may increase the number of informal votes (i.e. ballots which are compleated incorrectly under a system of compulsory voting)
  • It can serve to increase the number of safe, single member constituencies- encouraging political parties to concentrate on the more marginal seats
  • It takes time and money to determine if those who have failed to case a ballot have done so for valid reasons
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Is the UK democratic? Yes because

  • Multi level government where policies can be developed and implemented by those best placed to understand the needs of the people
  • A system of free and fair elections, incorporating a wide franchise and operating under a secret ballot
  • Protection of basic rights and liberties under the rule of law
  • A wide range of political parties and pressure groups, providing numerous avenues for political participation and representation
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Is the UK democratic? No because

  • The unfairness of the FPTP system
  • The failure properly to reform parliament
  • Low levels of voter turnout and widespread disillusionment with other traditional forms of participation
  • The rise of (often extreme) single issue pressure groups and groups that seek to destabilise or even overthrow the state
  • The absence of a proper seperation of powers and the tendancy towards executive dominance 
  • The transfer of government power away from elected bodies towards unelected quangos and free standing agencies
  • The absence of a properly drafted bill or rights incorporated within a codified and entrenched constitution
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Is the UK more democratic than it was? Yes because

  • All but 92 of the hereditary peers have been removed from the House of Lords
  • There is a better seperation of powers following the creation of the UK supreme Court and changes to the role of Lord Chancellor
  • We now have a Human Rights Act and a freedom of information act
  • Devolution, and the introduction of directly elected local mayors in many areas have brought government closer to the people, enhancing local democracy and local accountability
  • The increased use of referendums from 1997 has enhanced democracy by giving those changes approved greater legitimacy
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Is the UK more democratic than it was? No because

  • The FPTP system remains in place for elections of Westminster, in the wake of the decisive no vote in the 2011 AV referndum
  • The UK is still experiencing historically low levels of turnout at elections
  • Lords Reform stalled after 1999 and significant reforms to the House of Commons have failed to materialise
  • There has been an erosion of civil liberties since the attacks in the USA in 9/11 and in London on 7/7
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