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As participation and democracy

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  • 1.  
  • 2. Is Britain democratic?
    • YES
    • Almost everyone has the right to vote
    • The rule of law exists
    • The executive is held to account by the legislature
    • There are free and fair elections
    • Civil liberties are protected by the law
    • Elements of all the different types of democracy exist
    • A choice of political parties is provided
    • Most representatives are elected
    • NO
    • Peers are unelected, as is the Head of State
    • The executive has too much power - what Lord Hailsham termed the “elected dictatorship”
    • Parliament can restrict our freedoms simply by passing an Act of Parliament (e.g. the right to silence has been removed for some middle-range offences)
    • The FPTP system is unfair to smaller parties
    • Under-representation of minorities, and women
  • 3. To what extent is the UK democratic?
    • There is no such thing as a perfect democracy
    • However, the UK is a relatively democratic country in comparison to other countries
    • We are also more democratic now than in previous generations
    • It is worth noting that “without laws, man has no freedom.” Therefore, rights and liberties can only be upheld via the rule of law. Inevitably, some laws will restrict certain freedoms in order to ensure order within society (e.g. ID cards)
  • 4. Has Britain become more democratic since 1997?
    • YES
    • Devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
    • PR now used for most elections
    • 34 referendums held
    • Reform of the Lords
    • FOIA 2000, and the HRA 1998
    • NO
    • The government remains an “elected dictatorship”
    • The Lords remains unelected
    • Electoral turnout has declined since 1997
    • The government has ignored public opinion on several occasions (e.g. Iraq war)
  • 5. What is meant by the term government ?
    • Two meanings;
      • The party that forms the executive (i.e. the Labour government)
      • The institutions of the state (i.e. the British government)
    • The government performs two functions …
      • Protects our rights
      • Limits our freedom
    • … and is made up of three branches (legislature, executive and judiciary)
  • 6. What are rights?
    • A right is an entitlement, and can be either legal or moral
    • A legal right is specified by a system of rules, and is enforceable by the law
    • A moral right exists only as a moral claim
    • In a democracy the people possess several rights and freedoms
    • There are many different types of rights such as human rights, animal rights, children’s rights, etc.
  • 7. But rights require us to accept duties
    • Right to life
    • Right to vote
    • Duty not to deprive anyone else of the right to life. If you do, you will be punished (e.g. sent to prison)
    • Duty not to prevent others from exercising their democratic rights. That is why there are laws against postal fraud
  • 8. Rights can also conflict with other rights
    • Right to life conflicts with the right of a woman to choose an abortion
    • Right to free speech conflicts with freedom from religious persecution
    • Most cases of political violence consist of the rights of one group conflicting with the rights of another. Examples include the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland
  • 9. Civil rights
    • A particular type of rights that reflect the relationship between the state, and the citizen
    • Covers a wide range of freedoms such as freedom of speech (which is defended under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act)
    • In the US, civil rights are laid down in the Bill of Rights
    • In the UK, civil rights derive from Parliament and common law
    • Civil rights can also be taken away by an Act of Parliament
    • Civil rights are linked to the concept of citizenship
  • 10. Citizenship
    • Citizenship refers to the relationship between the state and the citizen
    • The concept of citizenship defines the balance between rights and responsibilities (or duties)
    • The state protects Britain against terrorism, foreign invasion, anarchy, etc. in return for the people awarding the state with legitimacy
    • We therefore obey the law in return for the protection offered by the state (e.g. maintain an army, a police force, etc.)
  • 11. What is party government ?
    • Consists of competition between two or more political parties, and occurs where MPs owe their loyalty to the party rather than their constituents, or even the national interest
    • Party government therefore requires strong party loyalty. However, party loyalty among Labour MPs has declined since the 2001 General Election
    • In Britain the main opposition (the Tories) forms a Shadow Cabinet, and acts as a government-in-waiting
    • Britain has a long tradition of single-party government. This is primarily due to the FPTP electoral system
    • Last time a coalition was formed at Westminster was during the late 1970s
  • 12. What’s the difference between the government, and the state?
    • The state is “an organisation, usually a country, that exercises through its’ institutions power over its’ citizens”
    • Various institutions of the state (e.g. the police, the judiciary, the army, etc.) exercise power over its’ citizens
    • The term government refers to those “institutions concerned with making, implementing and enforcing laws”
    • There are 3 branches of government;
    • Law making (the legislature), implementation of the law (the executive) and enforcing the law (the judiciary)
  • 13. How does a government gain legitimacy?
    • A government needs to be legitimate in order to gain authority
    • Authority refers to the “right to govern”
    • In a democracy, legitimacy ultimately derives from… the people
  • 14. Why is the government legitimate?
    • Legitimacy was gained by the Labour party when they won a majority of seats at the 2005 General Election
    • The Labour government has also consulted with the people (e.g. Labour’s Big Conversation in 2004), held 34 referendums since 1997, and consulted with elected representatives in the House of Commons
    • If Britain went to war, then elections would probably be suspended. The government of the day would then attempt to gain legitimacy via appeals to the war effort, and patriotism
  • 15. What is the purpose of elections?
    • Elections help to form governments
    • Elections provide us with a choice of parties
    • They provide a link between the citizen and the state
    • They supply governments with legitimacy – which is the basis of all authority in a democracy
    • They also generate new ideas and direction for political parties (e.g. Since the Tories lost the 2005 election, David Cameron has focused on issues such as the environment and the work-life balance)
  • 16. What is the purpose of elections?
    • Elections reflect public opinion
    • They provide representation of the people
    • Elections ensure that elected representatives and the government are directly accountable to the people
    • They can be used to register approval / disapproval with the government of the day
    • Enables citizens to participate in the political process
    • As a means to achieve peaceful change
  • 17. What is a General Election?
    • Occurs once every four to five years
    • The next GE must occur before May 5th 2010
    • All 646 seats are up for election
    • Party with the most seats (not necessarily the most votes) forms the executive
    • A GE is democratic because it consists of a choice of parties, and provides everyone with the right to vote via secret ballot
    • Once a candidate is elected, he or she becomes an MP
    • The electoral system used is called FPTP (First Past The Post)
  • 18. The two main types of election
    • MAJORITARIAN
    • Includes FPTP (First Past the Post), SV (Supplementary Vote), AV (Alternative Vote) and Second Ballot
    • FPTP used at Westminster
    • SV used for Mayoral elections
    • The Second Ballot is used for French Presidential elections
    • PROPORTIONAL
    • Includes STV (Single Transferable Vote), and the Party list system
    • STV used in Northern Ireland, and the Party list is used for elections to the European Parliament
    • Can also have a mix of the two called a HYBRID, such as AMS (Additional Member System)
  • 19. How does the Government gain a mandate?
    • All parties issue a manifesto that outlines what they would do if they won the GE
    • The winning party can then claim a mandate in order to implement its manifesto
    • At the 2005 GE a mandate was gained by the Labour party (the party with the most seats)
  • 20. What problems exist with the idea of a mandate?
    • Extremely few people actually read any of the party’s manifestoes
    • The idea of a mandate is based upon the support of a minority. In 2005, the Labour party gained the support of just over 1 in 5 of those registered to vote
    • Events such as the Iraq war can blow a government off-course
    • Wording is often vague and rather meaningless
    • The Government often ignores its own manifesto. For example, the Labour government did a U-turn on top-up fees for Higher Education in January 2004