When it comes to meeting the basic requirements for a modern democracy the UK is doing adequately. These requirements include guaranteeing basic human rights, separation of power between the institutions of state, freedom of opinion, freedom of religion, equal right to vote and good governance that lacks corruption. These are some of the key elements, there are clearly other factors that play a part in the definition of a democracy. Although the UK might seem like they meet all the requirements and abide to all the ‘rules’ and from a shallow point of view looks like an ideal democratic country, there is so much resistance that says otherwise - and it is justified.
Firstly, something that is preventing the country from being fully democratic is the First Past the Post voting system. Granted it is an easy, cheap, fast and commonly used system; but it doesn’t produce the most democratic or fair results. It’s easy because all voters have to do is mark what candidate they want, but FPTP voting will inevitably end in a two-party system as the other parties don’t have a chance at winning. The party that wins doesn’t even need to receive the majority of the votes – just more than the other parties. This means that if, for example, a party got 25 per cent of the votes, 75 per cent did NOT want them to win. So there is one of the problems: minority rule. The majority of voters are now unhappy with the outcome, and the unavoidable two-party system will make even more people unhappy as their parties will never get enough votes and will eventually not run anymore. There are also not enough choices (as the number of parties decreased), and what is democracy without a variety of fair choices? The freedom and participation that is promised by a democratic nation doesn’t count for anything if the choices available only please a small percentage of the country. A ‘government by the people’ becomes ‘a government by some of the people’.
Furthermore, this will eventually lead to voter apathy as many voters don’t think their vote matters or because they don’t approve of any of the candidates running. Voter apathy is dangerous for the state of the democracy of the country. The basis of democracy is that the people vote and participate, so how good of democracy is it if people aren’t exercising one of the biggest factors of the ideology? Obviously people in the UK do still vote, but the numbers are slowly decreasing over the years. In 1950 the election turnout was 83.9%, while in 2001 and 2010 it was at 59.4% and 65.1%, respectively (ukpolitical.info). More reasons for voter apathy are partisan dealignment and lack of political knowledge. Firstly, voters are losing that “attachment” they had to their political parties, there is a decrease in loyalty and support. This could be due to a change in opinions, poor performance by the party, the media defaming them etc. Moreover, people who are not
very interested or educated in the matter don’t vote, because they don’t know who it would be best to vote for and perhaps because it won’t affect them either way.
The most obvious and common way people learn and hear about the politicians and candidates is from the media, such as the news, TV and internet. If it weren’t for these options then we wouldn’t know much about what they’re doing or what they are planning to do, so the media helps us form an opinion on them. However, we know that the news can be very biased. Some newspapers will favour one party while another newspaper will favour the other (e.g. the Daily Mail is right-leaning while the Guardian is left-leaning), so it is very easy to get news outlets that are essentially just arguing with each other about who is the best rather than giving the reader objective news. The media will lie, distort and exaggerate so that a small share of what the public receives is actual truth. Or they report all the positive things the party they support has done, and leave out all the negatives and scandals. In addition, parties can use the media to promote themselves and attract voters. Instead of the people making educated votes based on facts and what they believe is right, they are being manipulated and their vote will be influenced.
However, the benefit with the constant media scrutiny is that the people have a lot more information than they would have otherwise. They have access to all the current and old scandals (and there are quite a few). With fewer things hidden from the public, they can form their opinions on the politicians fairer. The power of the people would diminish if they were making their choices based on the lies they get told. So in a way, the media can also sometimes help the public get a greater knowledge of what has happened and what they need to know (that others might want to conceal). The media has a controversial part and does both good and bad for the democracy in the UK.
At the end of it all, the UK is still a democracy by all means, and is also much like other countries. So if we are comparing the standard of a country’s democracy to other well-functioning countries with the same government then we can’t really complain about the UK. It fulfills all the basic elements and, despite a lot of argument, does function quite well. It’s clearly seen that the fundamental aspects of a democratic nation are a part of British society and that is a very solid point in favour of the UK being a strong democracy. There isn’t any wavering in its upholding of the human rights or any basic freedoms. But the problems discussed in this essay, and many more, are the reason the UK isn’t as democratic as it could be – and they will be the reason it only gets worse over time. As Robert Hutchin said: “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”