How Democratic is the UK?
Democracy is a very general term used to describe various political systems that are organised on the basis that the government should serve the interests of the people. It is expected in a democracy that citizens should influence decisions, make decisions themselves and that the government is accountable to the people. It is also expected that the freedoms of citizen’s are protected, minorities are protected, governmental power is controlled and dispersed more widely. This indeed is the model of democracy many countries try to emulate today. If we are to consider the UK’s own version of democracy, it is important to see how exactly it has developed. We should start on the 15th of June 1215; King John is forced to sign the Magna Carta, a document establishing that the King would not rule with absolute power. Then on the 1st of January 1295 Edward I becomes the first Monarch to call Parliament where two representatives, along with nobles and clergy, from each area are called to air grievances against the crown. The foundations of Britain’s Parliamentary democracy have been laid. What follows are several significant events: the Peasants revolt of 1381, Acts of Union in 1536 and later in 1709 joining Scotland, Wales and England into a United Kingdom, the English Civil War of 1651 where the Parliamentarians defeat the royalists and Oliver Cromwell forever establishes that the monarch cannot rule without Parliament’s consent and finally the Representation of the People Act of 1969, making all British Citizens at the age of 18 and above eligible to vote. These are the main events that have each contributed to the development of British democracy from the old Feudal system to the modern representative, parliamentary democracy that the UK is governed by today. If we are to look at Britain’s political system now, it can be argued that the UK is democratic in the aspects of representation and accountability, however undemocratic in the aspect of participation.
During the Enlightenment of the the 18th century a new, modernised form of democracy began to spread across Europe and North America. It spoke of moving away from the old direct form of democracy which had flourished in Ancient Greece, into a new representative form of democracy. By definition a representative democracy is where people elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf and that the political institution that would carry this out should have a generally social cross-section of society. It can be argued that the establishment of Parliament in the UK meant that she already had the traits of a solid, genuine representative democracy and that she was quite democratic in this way. This is because each Member of Parliament represents a constituency, in which he or she is required to represent the interests and the people of that constituency. During the elections people of each constituency vote for the MP that they want to represent them in Parliament and take up their grievances with members of the government and other public bodies. This is an important part of Britain’s democracy because each individual feels that there is an politically legitimate representative who’s very job is to listen to their problems and injustices who will, if appropriate, try to resolve them. Furthermore, both Houses of Parliament are, to some extent, expected to act as a representative cross-section of society as a whole. This is because in theory, when debates and committee hearings take place in either the House of Commons or in the House of Lords, MPs and peers can express what they believe to be the views and interests of various sections of the community. Therefore, Parliament can serve as a legitimate representation of all citizens in the UK, representing all their interests and views which can be openly debated within public view. On the other hand Parliament cannot always claim to be socially representative of the nation as a whole. This...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document