As participation and democracyPresentation Transcript
Is Britain democratic?
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
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
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)
Has Britain become more democratic since 1997?
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
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)
What is meant by the term government ?
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)
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.
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
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
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
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.)
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
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)
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
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
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)
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
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)
The two main types of election
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
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)
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)
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