To What Extent Is Britain a Democracy? Assignment

To What Extent Is Britain a Democracy? Assignment Words: 3498

It can be argued that Britain is both democratic and undemocratic; this can be shown via a range of issues relating to British politics and the society in which we live. Democracy is a form of government in which supreme power is held completely by the people under a free electoral system. It states that all citizens have equal access to power and that all people enjoy the right to universally recognised freedoms. It is also the freedom of expression, speech and other civil liberties. The selection of Prime Minister remains undemocratic in the UK.

Although society has the power to vote for a political party to govern the country in a general election, citizens cannot choose their Prime Minister. The leader of each party is elected by MPs, and if only one candidate stands for leadership they are elected by acclamation (a simple vote without ballot ??? usually by voice, those for or against). In general elections, electors vote on the party they wish to govern the country, a voter’s decision should be made on the announced policies and beliefs of the party. Many people feel that electors vote for the qualities and personality of the party leader instead of the party itself.

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This can change opinion polls greatly and therefore affect the final outcomes of elections. In 2007 Labour leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair stood down as PM. Tony Blair was elected in 1997 with a landslide majority over the Conservatives. No election was called when Blair stood down, so Labour continued to govern the country and the party members elected a new leader to immediately take over. Gordon Brown was successful in the leadership contest and became Prime Minister in 2007. In 1997 the British people chose Labour and Blair as PM to govern the country, but last year Brown was brought in by the party with no vote taken by the public.

This is argued to be undemocratic as it defeats the use of the electoral system and electors did not chose Brown to be Prime Minister. The global economy is the status of the world’s financial situation and its stock markets. This incorporates world trading, shares, business and industry. All countries trade with each other in imports and exports, this adds to the global economy. There are some set regulations by institutions such as the European Union, but these cannot control the economy of the whole world. This is why the global economy is an undemocratic system.

Individual citizens have no say in the economy of the country, let alone the global economy. Governments can have a dramatic effect in the economy of their own country, but cannot be held responsible for the economic state of the rest of the world. Larger countries with developed economies such as the USA can have an effect on global economies as a result of changes implemented in their own country. In recent news, the USA wishes to intervene with their economy which is currently suffering, and inject a phenomenal $700 billion in a bid to rescue banks and businesses.

Being such an influential super-power, this scheme is likely to have an impact on economies across the world. This adds to the belief that there is a poor state of democracy in the global economy. The electoral system is an example of an undemocratic political system; some believe that it is the best form of government although undemocratic. The phrase related to the electoral system is called “First Past the Post” or “Winner Takes All”. In a majority rules system present in elections today, the person/party with the most votes wins.

The combined total votes of the other parties (those who did not want the eventual winning party to win) usually out numbers the votes for the winner. This shows that a larger number of people preferred another party. A majority of votes determines the winner in an election. The winner could only by a matter of a few votes. This is seen as undemocratic as the other party/person was very nearly as popular. The alternative to this system is proportional representation; this uses percentages to determine the number of seats awarded to each party.

For example; if the Labour party gain 35% of the vote (as they did in 2005 general elections) they would be awarded 35% of seats. Conservatives won 32% of the vote (came a close second) would then be awarded 32% of seats. In the previous electoral system, conservatives would be left with nothing and the views supported by 32% of voters would be ignored. Proportional representation allows smaller, less popular parties to gain a few seats in parliament which would allow their opinions to be represented, rather than ignored as they are in the current system. This mixed government would create a coalition.

Parties would have to work together in order to reach agreement and decision, this could be a timely process and cause heated debate, resulting in a weaker, less productive government. For this reason, many believe that a simple majority rules system is more manageable and suitable for British politics although sometimes undemocratic. Voting age is currently restricted at 18. Once a British resident has reached this age they are eligible to vote in local, general and European elections. It is thought that at this age a person has reached a stable maturity and has an educated view about politics.

Many believe that the age should be lowered to 16. There are criticisms and supporting statements to this idea that are being discussed nationwide. Many believe it is not fair that under the age of 18 you can legally; get married, have a child, and drive. A majority of the UK population are aged 18 and above, so it is democratic to most residents of the country. Those approaching the voting age and have an interest in politics and the governing of the country feel that this is undemocratic. General elections have to be held every five years. An election can be called at any time, and the decision to take one is made by the Prime Minister.

Local elections take place every year, so that the elected councillor representing the ward is most suited to the needs and wants of the residents. In1974 two elections took place; this is an example of undemocratic timing of general elections. When popularity polls are in favour of the current governing party it is common for an election to be held as they will be predicting a positive outcome, and therefore will continue to govern Britain. This is a good way of extending a party’s term in office, as they will not need to call another election for another 5 years.

There is no set limit in which a Prime Minister can hold office, if they won an election every five years they could technically govern for the rest of their life! The European Union is joined by 27 countries situated around and within the continent of Europe. Countries signed up to the EU agree to guarantee the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital. MEPs from each country are elected on to the EU. The EU combined represents 30% of the world’s global product, making it a significant factor in the role of world politics.

Each country is responsible for electing a member to become a MEP, in the United Kingdom this is done regionally, using the same system as other elections. The size and population of the country is taken into account when allocating the number of MEPs per country. Although the EU as a whole has a powerful voice in the countries it represents and the rest of the world. MEPs have little power singularly, and therefore cannot fully represent their country. The EU is responsible for many things, for example; 80% of British law is made from European parliament.

British citizens cannot have a direct input to European parliament, neither can MPs and the voice of MEPs is limited, so it is argued that the EU is undemocratic. “Two party politics” is an example of both democratic and undemocratic politics. There are currently two main political parties in Britain. Both parties have shared lengthy periods governing the country throughout the last century. A result of this means less attention is brought to the other parties including, Lib Dems, the Green party, BNP and UKIP. Any individual holds a right to begin a political party of their own and to express their views.

There are many political parties in Britain, this shows that this democratic right is being exercised by citizens. Any new/small party has limited funding and limited following from the public. Larger parties have sizeable funding to promote their policies to the public throughout the year and more importantly the weeks running up to an election. This increases membership and potential votes in forthcoming elections. Lack of funding for smaller, unknown parties signifies a low impact in parliament and little support. This results in few or no MPs wanting to represent the party, its policies and beliefs.

This could be seen as undemocratic because the right to power is therefore not equal and biased towards the two main parties. The two leading parties are often shown in the media to accept large donations from companies and businesses that support the party. In the media, such donations are sometimes described as scandals; these often have generous incentives for the donators. 90% of Labour’s funding comes from donations, without these the party would have very limited funds, resulting in less advertisements and propaganda which attracts votes.

As stated before, smaller parties do not receive such offering which leaves them in a poor financial state ??? again, lessening their chances in elections. This makes party funding undemocratic. The media have a large role in British politics; they provide information to the public in a variety of ways. The main types are newspaper and television (the news). The media are individual businesses; their priority is to make profits my attracting potential readers to interesting and catching headlines. The stories can range from sports, to international issues, but a common theme in newspapers is politics.

Many well known papers are biased to certain parties, for example; The Daily Mail, Express and Telegraph tend to be pro-conservative, whereas the Daily Mirror and Guardian are generally in favour of Labour. When reporting on stories relating to political parties, they are often persuasively written to make the reader agree with their views and therefore increase popularity of the party in discussion. The BBC is a state run corporation and is therefore marginally pro-labour as they are the governing party. Smaller parties are rarely mentioned, as a result of this they need to voice themselves to the public in similar ways.

This usually has little impact. The media has a strong influence in politics but in undemocratic in the way it is often biased and smaller parties are ignored. Scandals can cause political turmoil, as the fight between parties is extremely competitive. Previous scandals have resulted in massive drops in opinions polls, resignations, and humiliation. Scandals are usually leaked to the press via rival MPs, ministers and parties in an effort to try to ruin plans and reputations. Scandals are often linked with donations, many of which are thought to be dodgy and involve extensive plans and deals benefiting the donators in the future.

Nearly every party has been accused of this and consequently torn at in the media. Pressure groups can have a major affect on the government. They present the views of the public in such a way that forms pressure on political officials and causes them to take action. Pressure groups are sometimes used by parliament to create legislation incorporating expert knowledge and advice; such pressure groups are called insiders. Outsider groups are not granted this privilege and are usually ignored, this is undemocratic as some groups are listened to whilst others are not.

Any person can set up a pressure group on any subject, this is a democratic right to freedom of speech. Race and gender is described to be equal in the 21st century. Around 20% of MPs are female, considering equality rules and regulations this is a significantly low figure. There are few racial background represented in parliament. Both race and gender can be viewed as undemocratic. There are no rules or reasons why people from different genders and races cannot become councillors, MPs, MEPs, or PM. It is just statistics that show a lack in gender and racial diversity which can be seen as undemocratic, when in fact it is a democratic system.

In recent news, there have been many resignations from the Labour party ??? these have been named rebels. These individuals have decided to leave the party and their roles as MPs or cabinet ministers due to them revolting against Gordon Brown and his policies. Blackmail is often used within politics between politicians to release information or protect reputations. It can be between parties or between members. Blackmail causes information to be hidden away from public attention. This is undemocratic to suffering politicians and to the public.

Social class affects party leaders and members. Most Prime Ministers have come from a high social background with many attending private schools. Such a background can affect a person’s opportunities, judgement and personality. Many people feel that politicians from a higher class don’t have the same experiences of those from lower, deprived backgrounds who make up a large quantity of Britain’s population and therefore feel that their opinions are not listened to making it undemocratic. Anti-terror legislation is a recent topic that affects nations world-wide.

Since the 9/11 attacks, governments have had to make drastic changes to defence plans and prepare for the worst. The vital reason for this is to protect the individual. In order to do this, the police need to carry out extensive investigations which lead to questionings, raids and arrests. Tony Blair wanted to increase the maximum imprisonment of suspected terrorists to 90 days without evidence, Gordon Brown wanted to do similar and raise it to 42 days. People feel that Labour are being too authoritarian and are clamping down on civil liberties.

Liberal Democrats and Conservatives also feel that this is against personal freedoms. The USA operates Guantanamo Bay, which contains hundreds of suspected terrorists who are imprisoned without trial. Although not as extreme, this is what Britain is doing, people are being accused and in some cases being injured or killed because of assumptions. This is definitely seen to be undemocratic and an infringement or human rights. People are free to support and follow any political party or none at all. A party needs a large number of followers and supporters to give it a good chance of winning in a general election.

The larger the volume of supporters, the more votes received in elections. This again, pushes out the smaller parties. Until a party has reached a high backing, they are generally ignored in elections. Party membership is therefore a democratic system, although it can appear undemocratic. Further analysis shows this larger backing in parties, such as Tory and Labour means that small parties such as UKIP do not get many votes in elections both national and local because of the difference in support from the voting public.

Members of each party will generally vote for the party to which they are a member of. This means there are less people available to vote for other parties who are looking to engage new members. Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have been a part of British politics for decades. This time has allowed more and more people to turn to one of the parties through the excessive media attention and party advertising. People are free to support and become a member of any party they chose, this an example of a democratic right.

Elections are designed to be democratic, but are in fact undemocratic to certain individuals in society, for example; those without a fixed home address and those seen as mentally unstable. It is a fundamental democratic right to vote, yet some social groups are excluded. Other than this small minority, the system of elections is democratic and offers the opportunity for most citizens to have their say in the governing of the country. Voting is a sign of social inclusion, or a belief that you belong to society and alter how it works by exercising your democratic right.

In recent years voter turnout has decreased, in 2005, a dismal 61% of the population participated in the general election. Although people are encouraged to use their vote, it is not compulsory. This is an example of a democratic electoral system in British politics. Many people chose to abstain from voting, this could be because they don’t agree with any policies of a party, they dislike a leader or chose not to participate in politics. In local elections, there is not always enough candidates. Therefore few political parties are represented.

So those who wish to vote cannot vote for the candidate representing the party they wanted. This causes some residents to abstain or refuse their right to vote. Not all local candidates have to be from a political party, a local candidate can stand independently; this can encourage voters who want a councillor who is passionate about their local area rather than adopting national policy. Choice is a strong factor of a democracy. Any citizen is eligible to start their own party or political campaign, this right extends to supporting which ever party you wish.

In electoral votes, those registered to vote can chose for any party they wish. In Britain secret ballot is exercised, which means votes are kept a private and are only known by the voter. In polling stations there are booths to conceal your ballot paper whilst voting. This makes people feel free to vote for the party they wish, without fear of intimidation or abuse from others. People are invited to vote in a general election, local election, regional parliament/assembly and election to European Parliament. In London, citizens are eligible to vote for the London Mayor.

The public have many opportunities have their say in the form of these votes. Residents of Britain can also vote on referendums, these are votes made on issues, rather than appointing a person to a title or post. An example of this could be a vote on whether UK should convert to the Euro. If this was to occur, an election would be set up similar to that of a general election. The whole country would be invited to take part and vote. The difference between a referendum and an election is that a referendum votes on one pecific topic and is created as and when it is felt necessary. Similar to choice, is freedoms. Human rights are well exercised throughout the world, and certainly in Britain. All citizens are given basic rights to freedoms in which all human are entitled to, This includes; civil and political rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law; and social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education.

Although these rights are a basis to basic living, there are many things that we do not have the freedom to do without punishment. The United Kingdom is a democracy and therefore allows it’s residents to exercise these rights, and are free to express political interest in a party, stand as a candidate for local council and as a member of parliament or to start their own political party. Citizens also have the freedom to vote.

In some countries, it is compulsory to vote! In conclusion, I think that Britain tries to be a democratic society in every way possible. It tries to extend the right of the individual, taking in to consideration their needs and wants. Government recognises the importance of citizens having an input into the running of the country, and this is done in a variety of ways. As with many things, there are always negatives.

Some social groups are excluded from voting which leaves them with no democratic rights, and small parties that are less known of are often pushed out and ignored. The disadvantages and advantages of the systems currently exercised are weighed up, and those that benefit a majority of society the most are used to govern Britain. There will never be a government that will please everyone or one that will always make the right decisions so I feel that current issues are dealt with in a fair and democratic way.

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