How representative is democracy in Britain? Essay

Submitted By shinenorris
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Pages: 5

How representative is democracy in Britain?

a) What is meant by the term ‘mandate’?
The term ‘mandate’ is when a government has the authority given by its people to pass a law or policy. For example, in an election when a party is victorious it has an official mandate to present new policies and laws to Parliament for consideration. It will claim that it has a mandate from the people to pass such laws. In this way, the party also claims legitimacy for its policies.

b) Distinguish between direct and representative democracy.
The definition of direct democracy is a form of democracy in which political power is exercised by the citizens without representatives acting on their behalf. This could be through referendums or initiatives, pressure groups, political activities such as petitions and marches. Representative democracy on the other hand is a form of democracy where all people are represented, through a Member of Parliament (MP) for a particular constituency, the Prime Minister in an international context as representative of the country. Paradoxically, pressure groups can also be viewed as an example of representative democracy.

Unlike the ancient Greek times, when the core of the country was allowed to vote, direct democracy has somewhat dissolved. This is because the population of countries has become too great. However, direct democracy can be seen as both relevant and irrelevant now. The relevance of direct democracy and the fall in representative democracy can be seen through factors such as the drop in the number of people that are members of a political party. Some figures to support this fact are: in 1980, 1,693,156 people were members of a political party; however, more recently in 2008, only 476,000 people are members of a political party. In turn, the number of people who are members of pressure groups have risen, for example the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more than a million members. This group alone has more than double the amount of people in the UK who are part of a political party. This might be because people have lost a considerable amount of faith in their government, especially with recent issues like the MPs expenses scandal. This can also be seen in recent events such as marches and protests against the Iraq war.

The participation of citizens in recent referendums also supplements the above argument. For example, in 1975, a referendum in the UK was carried out and the turnout was 65.5%. In 2004 there was a turnout of only 47.7%. This supports the argument that people have lost confidence in government and are more politically apathetic. One could also draw the inference that people want the government to make decisions themselves.

c) How representative is the UK political system?
The UK political system is based on a voting process which is commonly called the ‘First past the post’ system which is a voting system where a victory is determined by the most votes (a plurality). This could be seen as the most representative style of voting. However, factors like the tyranny of the majority come into play. This is when a majority of people win a vote simply because they have more people voting. Recently this has been criticised, especially by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats who are pressing for a referendum to introduce proportional representation (PR). Many people agree with this as minorities do not always see themselves as politically represented and PR would facilitate greater minority representation. Both the House of Commons and House of Lords fail to represent adequately minority groups in society.

Ethnic minorities make up 4% of the House of Commons while the percentages that make up the population is 8%. These exact figures apply for the House of Lords as well. Also, the percentage of women in the House of Commons is 22% and in the House of Lords is 21% while the percentage in the population is 51%. Such stark figures indicate clearly that there is also