Democracy and Participation What is democracy? Democracy means “rule by the people.” Democracy is based on two values: I.)POLITICAL PARTICIPATION- where key decisions are made by the people, reflecting the notion of government by the people. In this context the “participants” are the electorate. II.)POLITICAL EQUALITY- where each citizen is free and has an equal opportunity to influence political decisions. What is a democratic country? A democratic country is where the major decisions that affect society are made by the people, whether directly or indirectly. Each person has an equal right to make their opinion count. The more popular consent or agreement on a policy, law, representative or government, the more “legitimate” it is.
Types of democracy 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 participation. 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: 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 personally approve. Their “general will” becomes law. There is not a gulf between the government and the people. II.) Personal development; direct democracy leads to an educated society. Citizens are informed and knowledgeable as many are encouraged to take part in politics to understand how their society works or even should work. III.) Direct democracy does not allow for the people to put their faith with elected politicians who constantly spin doctor the truth in order to distort public opinion. IV.) Legitimate government; direct democracy ensures that government is stable and 100% legitimate as citizens are responsible for the decisions they make and cannot blame anyone else. Drawbacks of direct democracy: I.) Direct democracy is incredibly unworkable in the modern world. This form of democracy requires all citizens to engage in politics and decision-making (reflected in the idea of political equality.) All citizens must be able to meet in a single place to express their opinion. This is impossible for the entire population. II.) Also direct democracy implies that politics is the only job for citizens, they cannot be expected to have careers or a personal life, citizens would not be able to engage in any other activities.
Representative democracy Benefits of representative democracy: I.) Practical democracy. Representative democracy is the only form of democracy that is effectively workable in the modern world; popular participation is brief and limited. II.) Government by experts. Representative democracy places decision-making with professional politicians, these people are generally more educated and experienced than the masses of the people. Therefore they are able to govern according to their superior knowledge they possess for the national interest. III.) Representative democracy provides mediation between the public and the government. Ordinary citizens are free to get on with their lives 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 govern. IV.) Political stability is created. Representative democracy maintains stability as the public are distanced from politics; the more involved we 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. Features of representative democracy: I.) Popular participation is indirect; citizens choose who make the decisions through the electoral vote. II.) Popular participation is limited as the act of voting is limited to every few years. III.) Popular participation is mediated; people are linked to the government through various institutions.
Representative democracy Liberal democracy A liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy, therefore indirect. The right to rule and govern is gained through electoral success based on political equality (one person, one vote). It combines the liberal goal of limited government with a commitment to democracy and popular participation. In a liberal democracy, the basic conditions must be met: -Elections must respect the principle of universal suffrage and are to be free and fair. -Civil liberties and individual rights are guaranteed -The government must operate in a legal, constitutional framework -A capitalist or private enterprise economy. A Liberal democracy attempts to balance the need for democracy with individual freedoms and rights. Drawbacks of representative democracy: I.) Representative democracy in theory is a formality. This is because the act of voting is when the government decides the election. The people in theory do not hold any control over the government between elections, making representative democracy unsuccessful. II.) There has been a growing concern of how politicians represent the people, whether it is through the doctrine of the mandate, the delegate model, trusteeship or by descriptive representation. Seems that all have failed to represent those who they claim to represent.
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 interests.
Democracy in the UK The main features of the British democratic system Elections 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. However I.) There are requirements for the electoral register, resulting in the homeless, the Lords, prisoners and the mentally ill’s right to vote being denied. 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 society.
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. BUT 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. BUT 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 Devolution 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. BUT 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. But 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 politics. 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 seats.
Enhancing democracy Many reforms have been advocated in order to improve democracy in the UK. I.) Widening Direct Participation- this reform includes the wider use of referendums. A referendum is a popular vote by which the electorate expresses their view on a particular policy. They are used to inform the government regarding public opinion. They differ from elections as they do not fill a public office. Referendums are a device of direct democracy. However referendums are only used when decided by the government. Citizens cannot initiate them. Government only call referendums that they are likely to win. Examples include entry to the EU and the issue of devolution.
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 voting.
Enhancing democracy III.) Digital Democracy- maybe the cause of the participation crisis lies with the physical act of voting being out of touch with the public. Many of us are tied with jobs, families and social lives to find time to vote. Voting essentially becomes a burden. Many call for a modern form of democracy. Maybe we could incorporate democracy with the digital age; interactive screening, e-mails etc.
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 step.
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