Crisis in Democracy

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According to Hewitt (2011) “the European Union's finest hour was when it stood as a beacon for democracy, the rule of law and a civil society and enticed the peoples of Eastern Europe to embrace freedom.” Despite such a rich tradition of democracy, the burning question which has been recurrently on the lips of renowned academics and political thinkers/actors is whether or not Britain is facing a crisis in democracy, with some responding to this question in the affirmative. It has therefore been argued by critics such as Willy Brandt who is reported to have declared that “Western Europe [had] only 20 to 30 more years of democracy left in it, after that it will slide, engineless and rudderless under the surrounding sea of dictatorship” (as cited by Crozier, Huntington and Watanuki,1975, pg. 2 ). Thus, after more than thirty years since this assertion, it has been contended that in the United Kingdom, democracy has deteriorated so much so that it has elapsed into a state of crisis. The term democratic crisis connotes the break down or deterioration of Britain’s political system as we know it. It therefore suggests a state of affairs in which Britain’s parliamentary democracy is on the brink of collapse which presages a context where the state dangles precariously on the edge of authoritarianism, which by its very nature is the extreme opposite of democracy. However, in order to definitively state that Britain is experiencing a crisis in democracy, the state of their political affairs will have to exhibit patterns which are antithetical to the tenants of democracy; essentially it has to fundamentally contradict most, if not all of the acknowledged core principles of democracy and proponents of this supposition will have to demonstrate that these contradictions are unique to democracies themselves and not merely a residual effect of governance in general. It is upon these bases that it will be argued that what Britain is experiencing is merely challenges to its democratic political system which includes both internal and external changes in the socio political climate and certainly not a crisis of democracy in of itself.

“Democracy is a political system for choosing and replacing a government through free and fair elections” (Stanford University, 2004). It is characterized by citizen’s active participation or engagement in the political life which though often times narrowly confined to elections, includes unconventional political participation such as strikes and riots. The protection of human right and minority groups is also a central principle of democracy. Therefore, as Woods (2012) purport democracies are on “no account mobbed ruled by the majority” as equality is the order of the day. The preservation of the rule of law is also paramount especially with regards to those elected to represent the citizenry as they too sit below the law.

Trust and confidence are essential ingredients in any democratic society and is seen as a necessary precondition which legitimizes the regime. The increasingly skeptic views of citizens with regards to the government and essentially the erosion of political trust has been one of the central arguments in support of the notion that Britain is experiencing a crisis in democracy. As a result of this lack of trust, it is argued that citizens have become disengaged from the political process as voter turnout, one of the key indicators of political participation has been on the decline from as early as 1974 until a small upsurge during the 1990’s which fizzled with slight fluctuations up until to present. It is in fact true that the United Kingdom has “experienced the sharpest significant net drop in the proportion trusting government during the last decade (down by 20 percentage points or more)” ( Norris, 2011, pg9). However, the small variance or fluctuation in trust in the government as revealed in the 1974 Political Action Study and the British Social Attitudes Survey during the last...
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