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Democracy and Participation

What is democracy?
Democracy means “rule by the
people.” What is a democratic country?
Democracy is based on two A democratic country is where
values: the major decisions that affect
society are made by the
I.)POLITICAL PARTICIPATION- people, whether directly or
where key decisions are made indirectly. Each person has an
by the people, reflecting the equal right to make their
notion of government by the opinion count. The more
people. In this context the popular consent or agreement
“participants” are the on a policy, law, representative
electorate. or government, the more
“legitimate” it is.
each citizen is free and has an
equal opportunity to influence
political decisions.
Types of democracy
There are two types of democracy

I.) DIRECT DEMOCRACY- where the people make the key political
decisions by themselves. This abolishes any distinction between the state
and the citizens as it is a form of self-government. The effectiveness of
this model of democracy is directly proportional to the extent of popular

II.) REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY- this is an indirect and limited form of

democracy where the people choose who shall make decisions on their
behalf. The people vote for their representative who speaks on behalf of
their constituents. The representative can be re-elected or removed
during elections. The success of this model of democracy is also directly
proportional to popular control over the government.
Direct democracy
Features of direct democracy:

I.) Popular participation is direct; citizens themselves make decisions,

they are not confined to choosing individuals who do.

II.) Popular participation is unmediated; the people are the

government, there is no separate elite or ruling-class between the
government and their people.

III.) Popular participation is continuous. Citizens engage in politics on a

regular basis as all decisions are directly made by the people.

Historic examples of direct democracy include Ancient Athens and

communal tribes, whilst modern day examples are the use of referendums
which inform a government’s decision.
Direct democracy
Benefits of direct democracy:
Drawbacks of direct democracy:
I.) It is the only form of “pure” democracy.
It ensures that people will obey the law, as
many are likely to obey the laws that they I.) Direct democracy is incredibly
personally approve. Their “general will” unworkable in the modern world.
becomes law. There is not a gulf between This form of democracy requires all
the government and the people. citizens to engage in politics and
decision-making (reflected in the
II.) Personal development; direct
idea of political equality.) All citizens
democracy leads to an educated society.
Citizens are informed and knowledgeable must be able to meet in a single
as many are encouraged to take part in place to express their opinion. This is
politics to understand how their society impossible for the entire population.
works or even should work.
II.) Also direct democracy implies
III.) Direct democracy does not allow for that politics is the only job for
the people to put their faith with elected
citizens, they cannot be expected
politicians who constantly spin doctor the
truth in order to distort public opinion. to have careers or a personal life,
citizens would not be able to
IV.) Legitimate government; direct engage in any other activities.
democracy ensures that government is
stable and 100% legitimate as citizens are
responsible for the decisions they make
and cannot blame anyone else.
Representative democracy
Benefits of representative democracy:
Features of
representative I.) Practical democracy. Representative democracy is the only form of
democracy: democracy that is effectively workable in the modern world; popular
participation is brief and limited.
I.) Popular participation is
indirect; citizens choose II.) Government by experts. Representative democracy places decision-
who make the decisions making with professional politicians, these people are generally more
through the electoral educated and experienced than the masses of the people. Therefore
vote. they are able to govern according to their superior knowledge they
possess for the national interest.
II.) Popular participation
is limited as the act of III.) Representative democracy provides mediation between the public
voting is limited to every and the government. Ordinary citizens are free to get on with their lives
few years. as they are relieved from the burden of decision-making, allowing many
citizens to have careers and social life as they only choose who gets to
III.) Popular participation govern.
is mediated; people are
linked to the government IV.) Political stability is created. Representative democracy maintains
through various stability as the public are distanced from politics; the more involved we
institutions. become the more passionate and committed we become, unwilling to
accept compromise. Political stability is maintained as citizens of the
state are likely to accept compromise.
Representative democracy
Liberal democracy
Drawbacks of representative
democracy: A liberal democracy is a form of
representative democracy, therefore
I.) Representative democracy in indirect. The right to rule and govern is
theory is a formality. This is because gained through electoral success based on
political equality (one person, one vote). It
the act of voting is when the
combines the liberal goal of limited
government decides the election. government with a commitment to
The people in theory do not hold democracy and popular participation.
any control over the government
between elections, making In a liberal democracy, the basic
representative democracy conditions must be met:
-Elections must respect the principle of
universal suffrage and are to be free and
II.) There has been a growing fair.
concern of how politicians -Civil liberties and individual rights are
represent the people, whether it is guaranteed
through the doctrine of the -The government must operate in a legal,
mandate, the delegate model, constitutional framework
trusteeship or by descriptive -A capitalist or private enterprise economy.
representation. Seems that all have
A Liberal democracy attempts to balance
failed to represent those who they the need for democracy with individual
claim to represent. freedoms and rights.
Liberal democracy
There are 2 main types of liberal democracy:

I.) There is CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY where the government operates within

clear constitutional guidelines, ensuring the protection of individual and minority
rights. Constitutional democracy is associated with countries that have a codified
constitution, USA, France and Germany.

II.) There is MAJORITARIAN DEMOCRACY where majority interests take precedence

over the minorities, as the majority speaks on behalf of the people. This majority
rule emphasizes the collective interests of society, rather than the individual
Constitutional Democracy VS Majoritarian Democracy
Protects the individual Protects society

Divides sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty

Proportional elections Majoritarian elections

Coalition government Single-party rule (usually)

Fragmented governments Centralised and stable governments

Democracy in the UK
The main features of the British democratic system

Elections in Britain are free and fair as they are based on universal suffrage and they provide
electoral choice. Also votes are cast via the secret ballot bringing an end to bribery and
intimidation which ensures that voters can freely express their views at election time.

In 1948, Parliament passed another reform which established the idea of “one person, one
vote” creating political equality. Before this reform many privileged members of society were
able to vote plurally.

In 2000, the Electoral Commission had been established aiming to restore confidence and
integrity in British democracy.

However many have questioned the “fairness” of our electoral process as

I.) Certain key political posts remain unelected, like the Head of State, the House of Lords. Both
institutions lack democratic legitimacy.

II.) The first-past-the-post method has been criticised as many votes are wasted as the winner
needs to achieve a simple plurality of votes. Incredibly tight elections distort the real
preferences of the public.
Democracy in the UK
Universal Suffrage

In 1928 the vote was extended to females, ending gender discrimination,

whilst in 1968 the voting age was lowered to 18. In this country all 18 year
olds regardless of their sex are eligible to vote.


I.) There are requirements for the electoral register, resulting in the
homeless, the Lords, prisoners and the mentally ill’s right to vote being

II.) Although a right to vote is guaranteed, this does not ensure that all
eligible members of society do vote. There have been growing levels of
voter apathy especially in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections. Furthermore,
non-voting is common amongst the poor and the most disadvantaged in
Democracy in the UK
Electoral Choice

This element is vital to democracy as voters must have a choice on the

ballot paper. This is ensured by party and candidate competition. Initially
we have had the Conservative Party and the Whigs, and then followed by
the formation of the Liberal, Labour and Social Democratic Parties. Electoral
choice in Britain has constantly evolved. As a result multiparty systems have
emerged from election results.


I.) The two-party system still remains in Westminster as Labour and the
Conservatives remain the dominant parties, despite the Liberal Democrats.

II.) Electoral choice seems to be an apparent illusion with growing consensus

politics. Both New Labour and the Tories have advocated free market
economics. Voters have little choice on key issues. Elections are mainly won
based on party’s position on the EU and Crime. Contrasting policies are
incredibly narrow.
Democracy in the UK
Pressure Groups

Pressure groups add to the democratic process as they give a voice to those who are
ignored by the majoritarian system. By joining pressure groups citizens exert influence
over the government through elections as they provide a vehicle for participation
beyond the act of voting. Thus pressure groups supplements democracy as it
promotes pluralist democracy leading to real developments in political equality.


I.) Some pressure groups concentrate power rather than distribute it. Financially
powerful groups are able to buy influence through donation to political parties. Many
argue that business groups have an unfair advantage as the government relies on
their cooperation for the economic proposals.

II.) Pressure groups seem to undermine Parliament as an elected body. They

undermine the representative process, weakening the role of elected officials.
Pressure groups are not popularly elected and unaccountable to the public.
Democracy in the UK

In 1998 after successful referendums, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish

regional assemblies were created. These nations were given a distinctive
political voice to run local affairs. Parliament would always be dominated
by English Mps likely to ignore other nations. Voters in the respective
regions can express their concerns about their regional issues. Devolution
has also widened participation, strengthening political education.


I.) Devolution has fallen short as many powers are in reality limited and
can be overturned by Westminster. Major economic decisions and foreign
policy lies with the cabinet and Whitehall.

II.) Devolution has raised the West Lothian Question. Devolution has failed
to advance English democracy. Tam Dayell has called for a separate
English assembly as most British people in England.
Democracy in the UK
The European Union
Britons are able to exercise their influence through the European Union. This is
done via the proportional, fixed term elections to the EU. The proportional
voting system has strengthened the democratic process as parties gain a fair
share of seats from their votes, for example the Green Party, UKIP and the BNP
have done well in the EU elections.


I.) Many eurosceptics have argued that the growth in EU power has come at
the expense of Westminster’s. The sovereignty of Parliament has been
undermined and threatened.

II.) In reality the EU has very little influence and control over the European
Commission with little policy-making powers, suffering from an internal
democratic deficit.
A democratic deficit?
Is the UK a truly democratic nation?
British democracy has come under attack by the conflicting ideas of popular
democracy and parliamentary democracy. For example the majority of Britons
opposed the Iraq invasion, yet Parliament declared war. The UK conforms to a
majoritarian democracy. The executive is accountable to Parliament; however
public interest is determined by the executive, not by the public themselves? If the
UK ensures majority rule, civil liberties are likely to be threatened or curtailed.

The Participation Crisis.

Due to increasing voter apathy, many claim that the UK is suffering from a
participation crisis.

In 1997 only 71% of the electorate actually voted, New Labour’s “landslide” victory
was won by more votes that the narrow result of the 1992 election! The membership of
the UK’s political parties has dramatically decreased over the years.
Party loyalty has declined. Many people do not identify themselves with a party or a
set of values. This leads to more marginal seats and more “floating voters.”
However the growth of pressure group membership and activism has increased,
negating the notion of a participation crisis. Maybe the problem lies with
disillusionment of Westminster politics. Nonetheless election turnout is vital to the
health of a representative democracy.
A democratic deficit?
There are three main factors that could explain declining turnouts at election time.

Blame the electorate- it could be argued that society in general has become more materialistic
in this current consumerist society. Thatcher asserted that “there is no such thing as society.” have
we become individuals concerned with our self-welfare. The declining turnout can be seen as an
epidemic with union membership and church attendance also are at an all time low.

Blame the media- the media have caused immense problems for the public to trust and put their
faith into politics. The media have moved away from political analysis to scandalous allegations
to sell papers. Examples include the expenses scandal, cash for honours and the Tory Sleaze
during the 1990s.

Blame the politicians- politicians have done nothing to improve and restore faith back into
 Politicians seem to care about nothing other than getting elected, thus lacking a sense of
direction and moral values. “Bigotgate” proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Labour’s 2010
defeat. This claim is also supported by the transition from programmatic parties to catch all ones.

 There has been a growth in spin-doctoring. Parties distort the truth to establish a favourable
response in order to gain support. Politics has become “style over substance.” Politicians seem to
create the impression of being lying snakes desperate to have a career.

 Parties have distanced themselves from their grass root ideologies. The consensus politics have
explained electoral decline as parties seek to gain the support of middle England.

 During election time, parties target marginal seats, thus ignoring the majority voters in safe
Enhancing democracy
For referendums Against referendums
Many reforms have been
advocated in order to improve As referendums constitute direct Referendums only provide public
democracy in the UK. democracy, any changes based opinion at a given time. They are
on the result of a referendum unreliable guide to the public
would be democratically interest in the long term.
I.) Widening Direct Participation- legitimate Although many supported the
this reform includes the wider use entry to the EU in the 1970s,
many wish to withdraw from it
of referendums. A referendum is a today.
popular vote by which the
electorate expresses their view on Referendums promote political Referendums undermine
a particular policy. They are used education. They act as an agent parliamentary sovereignty and
to inform the government to widening participation, parliamentary democracy;
sparking debate on particular decisions are not made through
regarding public opinion. They issues, leading to an informed deliberation and government by
differ from elections as they do not and educated electorate experts but by a public who are
fill a public office. Referendums are uneducated on policy matters in
a device of direct democracy. depth.
However referendums are only
used when decided by the
government. Citizens cannot Referendums are a check on the Referendums also lead to
initiate them. Government only call government’s power as irresponsible government
referendums that they are likely to Parliament has little control over neglecting their purpose.
the outcome. Governments are elected to
win. Examples include entry to the govern; they make policy
EU and the issue of devolution. proposals and implement them
and are called to account for
their decisions.
Enhancing democracy

II.) Compulsory Voting- electoral choice depends on the electorate choosing to

vote as well. The participation crisis may be resolved by introducing compulsory
For compulsory voting Against compulsory voting
Politicians may engage with other electorates in The notion of compulsory voting goes against the
order in win office as they need to recognise other idea of democracy; it is a violation of individual
concerns than “middle England.” This also promotes freedom. People may choose not to vote as they
the notion of healthy citizenship, strengthening civic may be disaffected by the lack of choice between
duty. The more participants in politics, the more they parties and the current political system.
will think and act as full citizens of the community
and the state.

Compulsory voting will lead to greater legitimacy. Compulsory voting may lead to further wasted votes.
Governments that are formed based on compulsory Those who do not vote usually are those who are the
voting would depend on a popular majority, thus least interested and uneducated in these matters.
strengthening legitimacy of governments. Popular Forcing those that fit this description to vote would
support must be widespread for the government’s inevitably lead to irrational votes being cast. People
right to rule. may choose to vote based on artificial reasons,
which may disaffect regular voters.

By default compulsory voting would lead to greater Compulsory voting may lead to parties changing
turnout rates. As electoral turnout is vital to their strategies by developing policies to fit marginal
representative democracy, in theory the voters rather than the mass of the electorate, thus
participation crisis would be resolved. Genuine distorting the ideological mood of the nation.
political equality requires that not only do we have a
right to vote, but all do vote.
Enhancing democracy

For digital democracy Against digital democracy

III.) Digital Democracy- Digital democracy allows for Digital democracy may lead to
maybe the cause of the easier participation. Electronic electoral malpractice, the main
democracy would allow the problem is that it would be hard
participation crisis lies with electorate to express their views to control and scrutinize. Postal
the physical act of voting easily without having a major voting has led to alleged
distraction in their everyday life, malpractice. The dangers of the
being out of touch with the having a positive affect on internet results in corruption;
participation. The “democratic power will end up in the wrong
public. Many of us are tied deficit” may be explained as hands. The present method of
with jobs, families and social former democratic processes physical voting allows it to be
have failed to be modern. If policed and checked properly.
lives to find time to vote. citizens have the chance to
Voting essentially becomes participate in different forms of
democracy they may well do.
a burden. Many call for a
modern form of democracy.
Maybe we could
incorporate democracy with Digital democracy is relatively Digital democracy poses a
easy to organise, other forms of threat to the “integrity” of
the digital age; interactive democracy such as referendums democracy. It would erode and
screening, e-mails etc. requires significant time, demean politics into more of a
resources and cost to set up. reality show and citizens’ rights
are nothing more than consumer
Enhancing democracy
IV.) Reducing the voting age- Today’s youth are incredibly disaffected due to the tabloid press
labelling us as a bunch of “juvenile delinquents” who carry knifes and post their crimes on youtube.
Maybe lowering the voting age will improve maturity in young people and they may not get such a
hard time from the media. Even the age of the majority is inconsistent. At 16 we can gamble and join
the army but at 18 we can purchase alcohol and violent video games. Many minor parties have
backed the call for votes at sixteen. Independent commissions have also backed this call. With the
growth of a number of youth democratic organisations, lowering the voting age seems to be the next
For lowering the voting age Against lowering the voting age
By addressing; youth interests, hopeful It may lead to immature voters. Most young
politicians would actually have to bring cause people still live with their parents and remain
to issues which young people face, drugs, in full-time education. They are not yet full
alcohol, exams etc. youth interests are citizens. Most young people would not be
increasingly ignored leading to a forgotten interested in politics. They would resort to
generation. voting whoever their friends choose to vote

It does seems extremely unfair that mature 16 By lowering the voting age, it seems that we
year olds are denied the right to vote yet are forcing children to accept adult
uneducated, ignorant adults have this right responsibilities. It is not a question of their
and in fact choose not to. maturity, but during the difficult time of
adolescence, that state expects them to
make political judgements?

By lowering the voting age the youth maybe The belief that young people suffer from
strengthen their interests in politics making the political injustice is absurd. Their votes are only
matter more meaningful. This leads to stronger delayed; their representation is deferred. 18
political engagement as another section of year old are likely to be in touch with in
society participate in politics. interests of 16 and 17 year olds.

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