Legitimacy; Direct democracy; Representative democracy; Pluralist democracy; Democratic deficit; Participation crisis; Franchise/suffrage; Think tanks; Lobbyists
1.1 Current systems of representative democracy and direct democracy.
• The features of direct democracy and representative democracy.
• The similarities and differences between direct democracy and representative democracy.
• Advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy and representative democracy and consideration of the case for reform.
1.2 A wider franchise and debates over suffrage.
• Key milestones in the widening of the franchise in relation to class, gender, ethnicity and age, including the 1832 Great Reform Act and the 1918, 1928 and 1969 Representation of the People Acts.
• The work of the suffragists/suffragettes to extend the franchise. The work of a current movement to extend the franchise.
1.3 Pressure groups and other influences.
• How different pressure groups exert influence and how their methods and influence vary in contemporary politics.
• Case studies of two different pressure groups, highlighting examples of how their methods and influence vary.
• Other collective organisations and groups including think tanks, lobbyists and corporations, and their influence on government and Parliament.
1.4 Rights in context.
• Major milestones in their development, including the significance of Magna Carta and more recent developments, including the Human Rights Act 1998 and Equality Act 2010.
• Debates on the extent, limits and tensions within the UK’s rights-based culture, including consideration of how individual and collective right may conflict, the contributions from civil liberties pressure groups – including the work of two contemporary civil liberties pressure groups.
The UK is a representative democracy. This means that we elect officials to represent us and make decisions on our behalf. We elect MPs to represent us in Parliament, councillors to represent us in our local councils and MEPs to represent us in the European Parliament. In Scotland and Wales citizens elect MSPs and AMs to represent them in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In many cities, Mayors are elected too.
In a direct democracy (such as the one which operated in ancient Athens) citizens voted on every issue which concerned them. This is considered unworkable in modern states and only really continues to exist in a few places, township meetings in New England for example. It does, however, remain in the form of the referendum and other forms of direct or popular democracy.
Democracy – system of government based upon consent and the will of the people. May be direct (Self governance/self rule (Athens, Paris Commune), or more often Representative (Representative bodies, fair and free regular elections, element of competition between parties and policies)
Direct Democracy – see above. Also Referenda (Devolution, AV, Elected Mayors, Scottish Independence, Brexit Referendum, June 2016 etc). Also involves recall, initiatives. Used widely in the USA at state level and Switzerland. Impractical to have genuine direct democracy in modern political systems with large population – therefore Rep. Dem may be supplemented with devices of DD. No separate class of professional politicians. Self governance.
Representative Democracy – Representative democracy is type of democracy where there are fair, free & regular elections to a range of representative bodies. (Westminster HOC, Local Authorities, Devolved Parliaments and Assembles, Directly elected Mayors, The European Parliament). Under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act (2011) elections to the Westminster Parliament (House of Commons) must take place every 5 years. The last such election took place in May 2015. Elections are Based on near universal suffrage, where there a few exceptions to the right to vote (Under 18, prisoners, Peers in General Elections). Elections also take place to other representative bodies including the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies (Last elections in 2016) or the European Parliament (Last elections in 2014). There are also a range of different electoral systems (FPTP, AMS, STV) to produce different balances of representation. Representative democracy involves participation which is Limited, infrequent and brief. Elections provide peaceful means of transition between governments.
Liberal Democracy – both LIBERAL & DEMOCRATIC FEATURES. Democratic features as per above. LIBERAL FEATURES. Distribution of power and party competition, constitutional checks and balances, rule of law, tolerance, pluralism and diversity, free press, civil liberties and freedoms. (Human Rights Act, 1998)
Parliamentary Democracy – regular fair and free elections to a representative body in this case parliament and specifically the HOC; rests upon notions of popular consent, electoral legitimacy, strong MP constituency link and provides a balance between elite professional rule and popular participation. Parliament is said to represent the balance of opinion in the country following an election. Parliament has sovereign powers but there are also checks, balances and constraints placed upon it. Government is drawn from parliament and accountable to it.
Democratic Legitimacy – lawful exercise of power based on ‘right’ to exercise power. Based on rule of law and is a crucial source of political stability. Usually conferred by election and the securing of a mandate (popular consent). Could be conferred by constitutional legitimacy. E.G. Brown replacing Blair (2007) Major replacing Thatcher (1990) or May replacing Cameron (2016). Constitutionally this is legitimate without an election in the British System of Government. Legitimacy is subject to continuous or periodic consent e.g. fixed elections and there is a debate as to whether Theresa May has a mandate (and therefore the legitimacy) to take the UK out of the single market.
Mandate – permission or legitimacy to govern. Usually secured via election and popular consent. Manifesto commitments are seen to be given a mandate when the party proposing them gains a parliamentary majority. Mandate may come into question under minority governments, coalition, confidence and supply arrangements or informal agreements between parties when their is no overall majority. Mandate is assumed through clear decisive majority in parliament and plurality of the vote. A Party does not require 50% support of the electorate to claim a mandate. (NB – no party since the war has achieved 50 of the popular vote.
Referendum – popular vote on a YES/NO basis on some binary issue such as Scottish Independence or the IN/OUT referendum on the EU. These are Single issue and require an Act of Parliament to be held – e.g, Scotland and Wales (Referendums) Act 1997 or the European Union Referendum Act 2015. Referendums are advisory rather than binding due to parliamentary sovereignty. Often low turnout (AV 41%, Wales Devolution 50.4%) but sometime high – GFPA 1998 (81%) or Scottish Independence (85%). Significant increase in the use of Referenda since 1997. Often held on issues of constitutional significance, but not always. May be used to settle internal party disputes (EEC under Wilson, 1975) (and now Cameron over Brexit 2016) or coalition differences (AV-2011) or disputes between regional government and central government (Scottish independence)
Recall – the process whereby a popular vote is held within a constituency to remove a sitting MP between elections. Recall of MPs Act 2015. This can take place where a sitting MP is imprisoned or suspended from sitting in parliament by the speaker for more than 21 days. A petition is raised in the MPs constituency and more than 10% of constituents must sign to trigger a by-election. The recalled MP can still take part in the by-election. Constituent trust over their elected representatives following the expenses scandal in 2009 appears to be the trigger for this reform. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Zac Goldsmith were particularly critical of the restrictive way in which government had enacted this legislation.
Democratic Deficit – a circumstance, or set of circumstances, in which democracy is seen to be failing. There are many aspects of the UK’s system which could be said to amount to a democratic deficit. Unelected HOL; FPTP*; Apathy and low turnout; lack of political education and understanding; remote and unaccountable EU and domestic political institutions; Absence of difference between the parties; Social representation of women and ethnic minorities in parliament and cabinet, the civil service and the judiciary; Corruption in high office; biased media/judiciary; Unelected Head of State; Insider PG dominance and corporate dominance over Government (Monbiot – Captive State – The Corporate takeover of Britain, 2000).
*Note from 2015 GE UKIP 12.4% of vote, 1 seat, SNP 4.7 % 56 seats – is this not profoundly undemocratic? Also 63.1 % did not vote Conservative, yet they obtained a majority of 12 seats on 36.9% of the vote or just 24.4% of the electorate as a whole.
Simple Plurality – the general principle for electing MPs and forming governments. An MP does not need a majority of his/her constituents votes to be elected, merely more than any other single candidate. Similarly governments are often formed on the basis of a plurality of the vote e.g Conservatives 2015 GE, 36.9% – more than any other party but NOT a majority. FPTP then often translates this into a majority of seats.
Political participation – there are a number of modes of political participation. 1. Voting in elections to elect representatives to a variety of representative bodies. 2. Voting in a referendum. 3. Joining a pressure group and taking part in a range of pressure group activities. 4. Spontaneous participation. 5 Citizen Juries. 6. focus groups. 7. joining a political party, volunteering, canvassing, attending constituency meetings, participating in leadership elections.
Main features of the UK’s Democratic System
3 Ways to Improve Democracy
3 Ways to participate in democracy
3 strengths of representative democracy
Arguments in favour of lowering the voting age
Also note 58% turnout of 18-24 Olds in 2015 General Election, compared to 44% in 2005.
3 Arguments in favour of compulsory voting:
3 Circumstances in which referenda are held – See referenda notes above
3 ways to introduce digital democracy
This needs fleshing out with detail.
3 criticisms of representative democracy
See Democratic Deficit above… also note turnout at successive general elections 2001 59.4%, 2005, 61.4%, 2010 65.1% and 2015 66.1% (slight improvement from 2001 to 2015 but below the historic levels of the 50s and 60s)
Democracy and Participation:
Democracy – derived from Demos meaning people or populace and Kratos meaning rule of; implies rule by the populace or rule by popular consent. May be either direct democracy or representative democracy.
Direct Democracy (traditional forms include Athenian democracy and the Paris Commune, 1871).
Modes of Direct Democracy
Recall, (Recall of MPs Act 2015-first attempted use against Ian Paisley MP, first successful use Fiona Onasanya in Peterborough 27.4% – well above the threshold of 10%. Deselected by Labour in May 2019.
Click on Image for Article
Initiatives, (more widely used in Switzerland and USA) – not really used in UK;
Petitions: Following the Wright reforms (2009) the Backbench Business Committee debates petitions which reach 100,000 signatures. Hillsborough document release 156,202 signatures; Trump State visit; 2.1m and Revoke article 50 – 6m signatures. Stop the Coup Petition (Against prorogation of Parliament 2019 1,722,107 signatures)
Citizen’s assemblies mooted as a way of dealing with Brexit impasse; used effectively in ROI to recommend changes to Article 8 banning abortion in ROI. Extinction Rebellion have demanded a Citizen’s Assembly on the issue of climate change.
Representative Democracy: Edmund Burke (1774).
“Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgement…and he betrays you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Representative Democracy includes fair and free regular elections, on the basis of near universal suffrage, to a range of representative bodies at local (local councils), sub-national (devolved Parliament or assemblies in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland), national (HOC) and even international elections for example to the EU parliament.
RD also implies a peaceful means of changing the government and competition between parties in a preferably multi-party system
Pluralist (Liberal) Democracy includes all of the Representative democratic features + liberal features such as separation of powers, constitutional checks and balances, diversity of parties and platforms, voter choice, tolerance, pluralism (i.e. the existence of pressure groups) rule of law (A.V. Dicey) and independence of the judiciary.
Strengths and weaknesses of UK democracy
LSE Democratic audit 2018 (Found 9 causes for concern and 4 grounds for optimism) and 2016 (examined strengths and weaknesses of FPTP);
LSE Democratic Audit 2018:
Causes for concern: Party politics in an unprecedented chaotic condition; smaller parties underrepresented; party membership over represented; austerity and limited growth/pressure on public services and local government; increasing divisions within cabinet and government and increased evidence of policy failure (Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya, NHS reorganisation, Universal Credit and Grenfell Tower; Brexit); Unelected 2nd Chamber; Dark state apparatus with limited oversight GCHQ, MI5 and MI6; Suspension of Stormont; Electoral integrity (2016 Referendum with funding irregularities and Russian interference). Obviously weaknesses of FPTP could be added. The Guardian reported that if just 533 electors had changed their vote in a mere 9 constituencies Theresa May would have had a majority.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry with supporters outside the court of session in Edinburgh. Photograph: Jane Barlow/P
Grounds for Optimism:Backbenchers have more power and have taken control of the order paper. Mass party membership increasing and diversifying forms of finance; Devolution in Scotland and Wales effective; Increased use of social media to improve participation and accountability. We can add a 5th – Parliament maintains deliberative democracy and ensures representative and responsible government. (accountability). Arguments for and against reform. Low turnouts: General Election Turnouts: 2001 59.4%; 2005 61.4: 2010; 65.1%; 2015; 66.1 2017: 68.7%. COMBINED %AGE FOR 2 MAIN PARTIES IN 2017: 82.4% – Return to two party politics? However following local council elections in 2019 Professor John Curtice told the BBC:
“This evening, even without the challenge of the Brexit Party or Change UK, the electoral hold of the Conservative and Labour parties on the British electorate is looking now as weak as it has done at any point in post-war British politics.”
Some Electoral deficits
Labour elected with 65 seat majority in 2005 with 22.4% of the available electorate.
Cameron 2015 obtained majority of 12 with 24.4 of available turnout. 63.1% did not vote Conservative.
Also low turnout in safe seats. Lewisham East by-election in 2018 just 33% turnout.
Digital Democracy - electronic platforms can engage and secure the wider and more informed participation of the public in the political process; could help address the issue of low voter turnout.
One aspect of the democratic deficit in the UK is the issue of voter turnout, particularly among the young. In 2001 the turnout was just 59.4% and turnout for the 2014 MEP elections was a mere 36%.
Research by Survation found that two thirds of non-voters in 2010 would have been significantly ‘more likely’ to vote had there been an online voting option.
Digital democracy could also be enhanced significantly with the adoption of smartphone apps or platforms which regularly survey the opinion of residents before a major council planning initiative or by-law. These would enhance the degree to which local councillors are making decisions that are informed by the advisory opinions of those they represent. An opt in/opt out function would counter any possible voter fatigue at regular consultation; our political representatives would in turn be better held to account if political representatives embraced these technologies and fostered a dialogue with the electors. There are dangers. It is clear that facebook feeds were bombarded with anti-EU adverts in the last seven days before the referendum on leaving the EU by Cambridge Analytica scandal and Aggregate IQ.
Other ways to improve democracy:
Fairclough (2014) – Sometimes called Democratic Renewal:
Encourage greater participation by simplifying voter registration;
Votes at 16;
Wider use of petitions and citizen assemblies;
fairer representation through electoral reform to ensure all votes are counted;
complete Lords reform;
modernising the commons;
reform party funding and MP’s expenses;
devolve power to local government.
Strengths and weaknesses of referendums.
Turnouts: UK Referendums:
1975 (Wilson- retain membership of the EEC: 67%/33% YES;
Scotland and Wales Referenda (1997): (60.4 and 50.4%) Scotland 73% yes and 63.4% yes for tax varying powers);
Wales 50.3% yes;
Good Friday Peace Agreement: 81% – The result was a majority (71.1%) in favour. A simultaneous referendum held in the Republic of Ireland produced an even larger majority (94.4%) in favour;
2004 North Eastern Assembly turnout 47.7% and 22% yes.
2011 Alternative Vote for Westminster. 41% turnout 70% no /30% yes;
Wales Devolution referendum 2011 – turnout 35.6% and 63.5% yes.
2014 Scottish independence referendum 84.6% turnout 55.3% No.
Brexit 23rd June 2016. Turnout 72.2% (Yes 51.9%).
Widening the franchise; Pre 1832; 1832; 1867; 1887; 1918; 1928 and 1969;
Pre 1832: 4% eligible. Rotten boroughs with as few as ten electors. Wealthy male land owning elites. Qualification varied.
1832 Reform Act: 2% added to the electoral roll. 6% of the population eligible. 800,000 electors. Abolished rotten boroughs. Created seats in the cradle of the industrial revolution – Manchester, Birmingham, etc.
1867: Added another 2%. Major move to enfranchise the male working class. Secret ballots.
1887: Third reform Act: Land worth more than £10 or paying an annual rent of £10. 5.5m could now vote (approximately 60% of male population).
1918: Representation of the People Act: All men over 21 and Women over the age of 30 with some property qualifications.
1928: All men and women over 21 (adding 5m women, completing universal suffrage).
1969 – lowered to 18.
2014 - Scottish referendum votes at 16: (75% turnout) (2014 Scottish IndyRef 16-18 y.o. Could vote- turnout 75%.)
Suffragettes and Votes@16;
Pressure Groups and Methods
Key Concepts in Pressure Group activity:
Sectional Pressure Groups – exists to advance or protect the (usually material and/ or economic) interest of its members. Sectional groups defend personal interests, have closed membership (meaning only certain individuals may join) and it benefits members only. An example is the Unite trade union or the CBI.
Promotional Pressure Groups – cause groups who are altruistic (don’t benefit themselves) and campaign on behalf of an issue. Open membership (anyone can join) – Charities (Oxfam, Save the Children) Environmental Groups (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Plane Stupid)
Welfare groups (Shelter, Child Poverty Action Group, Age Concern). Mostly but not exclusively outsiders.
Pluralism – refers to the distribution and the diversification of power within the political system in different hubs/centres – regional, local, national, international) Pluralism is characterised by a wide spread of power. In the political process, pluralism promotes a forum for debate and scrutiny between competing groups in society. In regards for citizens to participate in the political process, pluralism allows individuals to be represented by various parties, pressure groups or new social movements. In the UK there are an estimated 7000+ pressure groups, a clear expression of a diverse distribution of power. This can be seen due the reason that in an ideally pluralist democracy, groups have more or less equal access to the political process. Pluralism implies a range of groups and pressure groups are both sectional (trade unions and business groups) and promotional (environmental and welfare groups) representing a plurality of groups, causes and issues.
Insider groups – tend to have a closer relationship with the government with direct access to Ministers and therefore hold more influence over government policies and decisions. Groups that hold this Insider status rarely turn to forms of illegal or direct action as this is seen as unnecessary for achieving their aims. Instead they enjoy frequent contact and consultation with Ministers, Civil Servants and Parliament. IPGs ordinarily consist of a small and limited amount of members, most of which are hidden from the public eye. Example of this would be the BAA, BBA, CBI, NFU, BMA
Outsider Pressure Groups – little or no government contract or government accessibility resulting in outsider pressure groups resorting to methods of direct action such as demonstrations protests, lobbying, leafleting etc. some of which could be illegal. They also do not have the favour of being consulted by the government on policies and decisions which could relate to the group and its members. The groups that are excluded from the policy processes are those which try to influence the government policy from the outside like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Plane Stupid or UKUncut. Overall elitism assumes that there is a ‘power struggle’ in political activity with winners and losers. Elitism contradicts pluralist theory, where pressure groups promote a more even distribution of power
Elitism – Elitism is the theory that political power is concentrated in the hands of the few, an elite. Power is held to be narrowly concentrated in the hands of wealthy corporations, privileged social classes and professional politicians and bureaucrats who share a similar usually conservative social outlook. Power is thus exercised in the self interest of the elite. Elite groups enjoy frequent contact and consultation with Ministers, Civil Servants and Parliament. IPGs ordinarily consist of a small and limited amount of members, most of which are hidden from the public eye. Example of this would be the BAA, BBA, CBI, NFU, BMA. Former Cameron advisor Steve Hilton has criticised the lack of democracy and corporate dominance over government and parliament. Insiders commonly have access to huge financial resources and legal expertise. Corporate donations to political parties- hedge funds estimated to have donated £47m in five years to the Conservative Party.
Pressure groups and political parties – pressure groups aim to exert influence on government externally, whereas parties seek to exercise power through obtaining representation in representative bodies such as parliament. Parties do this by putting candidates up for election, in hope of gaining representation and forming, or taking part in government as occurred in the 2015 General Election. Another difference is that Pressure groups, whether sectional or promotional, have a narrow or single issue focus whereas parties put forward manifestos and a wide range of issues of public policy ranging from education, health, welfare, the economy, defence and foreign policy.
Political participation – one of the main functions of pressure groups. Pressure groups have become increasingly important agents of political participation. Mainly outsider groups seek to exert influence on the government by mobilizing popular support through movements such as; petitions, demonstrations, marches and other forms of political protest. An example of political participation was the demonstration on tuition fees in December 2012, organized by the National Union of Students. Also in December 2010 there was a sit-in in Top Shop organized by UKUncut. Pressure groups can mobilize public participation through petitions. The Hillsborough Justice campaign launched a petition through the GOVUK website which eventually obtained 154,202 signatures forcing the government to release all the documents relating to the disaster. March for Women January 2017. RMT South East Rail Strikes January 2017. Junior Doctor Strikes Autumn 2016.
Case studies (Occupy LSX and BMA);
Additional case studies: UKUncut; NUS; Plane Stupid; Extinction Rebellion;
Think Tanks, Lobbyists and Corporations; Lobbyists: Big business in UK; £2b and employing 4000 people. Completely behind closed doors and sources of funding and influence wielded are not transparent.
Rights in context; Magna Carta (1215) Habeas Corpus (1679) HRA (1998/2000) and Equality Act 2010- 9 protected characteristics including age, sex, disability, race, religion, sexuality, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnerships and pregnancy and maternity.
Essay and Stimulus Questions:
To What Extent is UK Democracy in Crisis? You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. (30 Marks)
Evaluate the view that think-tanks, lobbyists and pressure groups have little impact on government decisions. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. (30)