How Democratic Is the UK? Essay

Democracy can be understood as a process of people governing their state and managing community affairs all together, based on consensus. The origins of democracy lie in Ancient Greece. The very term was constructed from two Greek words ‘demos’, which means ‘people’, and ‘cratos’, which means ‘power’. The UK is in many ways not democratic. Firstly, Britain, amongst many other countries, claims to be a democracy. This would suggest that UK citizens, have effective influence over government, and over decisions that affect them.

However, there has been much controversy over this claim, some arguing that power lies in the hands of just a few, and others standing by the allegation that power in the UK is widely distributed. Secondly, First Past The Post has had a big impact on UK democracy. The system we use to elect our MPs has a real impact on how politics works in Britain. It has a direct effect on whether politicians truly represent us and whether we can hold them to account if they let us down.

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The defeat of the 2011 Alternative Vote (AV) referendum means it is now more important than ever to discredit our failed system and we are continuing to build the case for change at Westminster. This in turn means any of our votes just don’t count. Millions of people have no chance of deciding who their MP will be. And our votes are wasted by the system. Additionally, parties continue to focus all their time, money and effort on a handful of ‘marginal seats’, so just a few thousand voters can decide who runs Britain. Thirdly, However the UK is in many other ways democratic.

Firstly, the creation in 1998 of a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and a Northern Ireland Assembly strengthened democracy. It gave constituent nations of the UK their own political voice for the first time. The representation of distinctive Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish interests through parliament was always inadequate because English MPs dominate the House of Commons. It redefined representative democracy by allowing voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland separately to express views about ‘national issues’ via devolved bodies and finally it widened the pportunities available for political participation. Secondly, referendums allow the public to make decisions directly, rather than relying on professional politicians. Since 1977 referendums have been more widely used in the UK. This is because of the prominence of the issue of constitutional reform, especially between the period of 1997-2001 and the growing acceptance that major changes to the way the UK is governed should be endorsed directly by the public rather than simply being left to parliament to decide.

An example of this was in 1975 when the Labour government under Harold Wilson held a referendum on continued membership of the European community. This shows that the UK is democratic because through referendums, the people have the chance to make decisions directly on their own behalf. Thirdly, One of they key features of a democracy is that the people have the ability to vote whoever they want, a privilege which we as citizens of the UK have. Nonetheless, there is still a large amount of dispute as to whether the voting system in the UK is truly democratic.

At UK general elections, we use an electoral system most commonly known as first past the post. This means that to become a member of parliament, all a candidate has to do is gain more votes than any rival in that constituency. Although this system has many strengths, such as the fact that it is simple to understand and that it ultimately represents the views of the people, it also faces many weaknesses. For one, the system provides a lack of choice. There is also a mass of wasted votes, as some seats are so ‘safe’, that there is no point in voting.

Liberal democrat leader, Nick Clegg, announced at a party conference meeting: “First past the post is not fit for purpose. It is a relic that deserves to be consigned to the past. ” An electoral system seen to be much fairer and much more democratic than our current system, is the single transferable vote (STV), which is currently being used in Scottish local government elections. Using the STV, parties can stand more than one candidate, who are then ranked in order of preference by the voters. Although this system is a little more complicated, it is one of the most proportionate systems.


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