What is Democracy?

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  • Created by: bananaaar
  • Created on: 26-03-14 14:36

Features of a Modern Democracy?

  • peaceful transition of power from one government to another (In 2010, Brown handed the power to Conservatives and Liberal Democrats instead of running a minority government). 
  • Free and fair regular elections (Independant Electoral Commission oversee the process so its free from influence and bias and fixing. Also everyone can vote freely that is over 18 every 5 years due to a fixed term Parliament) 
  • People have open access to independant information, including free press and other media (Britain enjoys a free press and free broadcasting, there is little evidence to show that gov tries to control the media. BBC news however is run by gov so may be an adgenda.) 
  • Government should be accountable to people and representitive institutions (MPs and PM have to constantly justify their actions, e.g. House of Commons PM is challenged every wednesday for Prime Ministers Question Time. 
  • High degree of freedom to individuals and groups. (Human Rights Act 1998 protects the liberties of citizens, however the Terrorism Act 2001 allowed suspected terrorists to be held for 90 days without a trial which was considered unfair, however it was later changed 
  • Different Political Ideologies are protected 
  • Rule of law applies (e.g. Chris Huhne was sentened and taken to court over a driving scandal despite being a minister).
  • Government operates in broad interests of the people. (ASH getting smoking ban for UK)
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How representation operates in the UK?

  • MP's - they represent individual constituents, whole constituencies and sectional interests. (e.g. Justine Greening standing against the extension at Heathrow Airport.) 
  • Most MPs represent their party and its electoral mandate (David Cameron's policy to raise tuition fees) 
  • Parties have a representitive function of representing sections of society as well as political views. 
  • Pressure groups represent interests/causes. 
  • HOC represent national interests (voted against Military action in Syria) 
  • HOL represent society as many peers represent sections of society and causes (Hunting Act 2004 was blocked due to many peers opposing the statute.) 
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Advantages of Representitive Democracy?

  • Most people do not have the time to be involved, so they elect representitives on their behalf 
  • Representitives have more knowledge and expertise (e.g many MP's were educated at Eton therefore have been subject to high standard of education.)
  • Representitives can be held acocuntable, whereas people cannot (e.g. James Callaghan in 1989 got kicked out) 
  • Representitves are more rational and do not react emotionally to issues (e.g. After July 2007 bombings, representitves put legislation in place to tighten security whereas a person may have reacted more emotionally/rashly) 
  • Can educate the public about issues (however pressure groups can also do this function.) 
  • Different sections of society and various political causes and beliefs can be well represneted by elected representitives (However only 147 women in parliament and 27 from ethnic minority) 
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Advantages of Direct Democracy and Referendums

  • Purest form of democracy dating back to aincient athens. 
  • Referendums give decisions legitimacy (e.g scottish devolution 60% turnout, however they lack legitimacy if low turnout like AV with 42%)
  • People can participate more directly in democracy, which improves relationship with politics and interest 
  • When there is adversary politics, they provide a clear answer to a question, e.g. the Scottish referndum in 2014 will give a clear answer to whether society wants independance. 
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Disadvantages of representitive democracy?

  • Difficult to make representitives accountable between elections 
  • Representitives may follow party line rather than people (Lib Dems in 2010 followed conservatives on tuition fees not the people) 
  • May result in too much party conflict which may only be solved by direct democracy (AV referndum caused conflict between parties and lead to a referendum.) 
  • Voters cannot present preferences in a manifesto, just accept or decline it in the form of a vote (e.g Conservative voters may have opposed the bedroom tax but may have still voted due to other policies.) 
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Disadvantage of Direct Democracy and Referendums?

  • Referendums may cause 'tyranny of the majority' which oppresses the views of minorities (e.g. a 2009 Swiss  referednum banning the construction if Islamic minarets) 
  • If there is a low turnout the result may lack legitimacy (e.g. London Mayor only got 34%.) 
  • A close referendum may result in an insatisfactory conclusion and fail to achieve acceptance (e.g. Welsh Devolution 49.5 said no and 50.5 said yes) 
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Use of referendums in the UK

  • When gov is split on an issue a referendum doesnt destroy gov (e.g. whether to adopt AV) 
  • When important constitutional change is being proposed (Scottish Independence 2014) 
  • When it is necessary to entrench an important constitutional change (e.g. whether to give scotland tax varying power) 
  • When there is special need to secure popular consent (1998 referendum to approve Good Friday to end inter-community conflict) 
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Comparing direct and representitive democracy

  • Direct Democracy is purer 
  • Direct democracy operates in connection with constitutional changes and reforms whereas representitive democracy concerns day to day running of the country. 
  • Representitive democracy considers various interests in society and is more pluralistic 
  • Representitives are accountable for their decisions
  • Referendums are more legitimate as they are direct. 
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Evidence for a decline in political participation?

  • Turnout to elections is falling (was 77.7 in 1992, then 61.4 in 2005. However is increasing as 2010 there was 65.1) 
  • Turnouts to referendums are low 
  • Party membership has declined (300,000 party members for all parties together) 
  • Political activism has fallen. 
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Methods of increasing political participation?

  • Compulsary voting (like in australia) as it encourages everyone to think about politics in order to vote. However seen as abuse of peoples freedom and there is a box where you do not vote. 
  • Votes at 16 would make people more involved and educated, however citizenship hasnt worked thus far so doesnt work. 
  • e-democracy - allows for anyone to vote and it is quick and convenient so may increase turnout however it is vulnerable to fraud and hacking. 
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Evidence of increasing political participation

  • Pressure groups are growing in membership (RSPB over 1 million members alone) 
  • Increased use of social media campaigns (Kick it Out Campaign uses lots of social media to spread the word.
  • Growth in examples of direct action (university tuition fees campaign with student march) 
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How democratic is the UK?


  • Free, regular elections
  • Free media/independent political information 
  • Freedom to vote/stand for office 
  • Independent judiciary which safeguards the rule of law. 
  • Pressure groups are allowed to flourish 


  • Unelected officialls still persist in the HOL 
  • Elections are not fair due to FPTP not representing minorities 
  • No entrenched constitution so rights are not edequately protected. 
  • Political partipation is declining. 
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Methods of improving UK democracy

  • Replacing monarchy with elected head of state. 
  • Introducing a second elected chamber
  • Reforming Electoral system 
  • Increased use of referenda
  • Introducing a codified constitution
  • Decentralising the political system 
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