Chapter 1.1 Current Systems of representative & direct democracy Flashcards Preview

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What is a direct democracy?

A form of government in which citizens directly express their own opinions and not through representatives


What is the origin of a direct democracy?

Direct democracy originated in Ancient Athens, where adult male citizens had the right to take part in decision-making at public meetings.


What is a representative democracy?

A form of government in which citizens elect representatives to govern on their behalf. These representatives can exercise their own judgement.


How does direct democracy differ from representative democracy?

Direct Democracy is:

• Not elective

• Individuals express opinions themselves

• Citizens are more active in decision-making


How does representative democracy differ from direct democracy?

In representative democracy:

• Citizens elect representatives

• Citizens pass authority to representatives

• Elections for representatives are free and fair


What are some examples of direct democracy?

• Referendums

• Petitions


Case Study. What is the democratic system like in Switzerland?

Switzerland is a direct democracy. There are many referendums.

• MPs merely advise the country on how they should vote

• The referendums are legally-binding


What are the advantages of a direct democracy?

• Stimulates voter participation and engagement by highlighting civic duty

• Develops a sense of community and encourages debate

• Each person is responsible for making decisions that influence their quality of life


What are the disadvantages of a direct democracy?

• Impractical in a heavily-populated state

• Time consuming, especially in complex situations that demand rapid response e.g. deployment of troops

• Most decisions in a direct democracy are based on self-interest


What are the advantages of a representative democracy?

• Reduces chances of minority rights being undermined by 'tyranny of the majority'. (e.g. Minaret ban in Switzerland)

• MPs are better informed in theory about political affairs

• Representatives can be held accountable through elections


What are the disadvantages of a representative democracy?

• May lead to reduced voter participation

• Politicians may betray election promises, putting loyalty to their party before electorate

• Minorities may still be underrepresented as politicians are more likely to follow the views of the majority to secure re-election


What are some examples of a representative democracy?

• Parliamentary democracy: practised in the UK & Canada

• Presidential Democracy: practised in the USA


What is a parliamentary democracy?

A system of government whereby all power is vested in an assembly of elected representatives who represent regions of people


What is a presidential democracy?

A system of government where the head of state is also the head of government and leads an executive branch that is separate from a legislative branch


How does a presidential democracy differ from a parliamentary democracy?

• Congress (parliament) does not hold all the power

• Presidents can block and pass laws outside of congress, this is called an executive order


What is a referendum?

It is the practise of voting directly for proposed laws


What are the advantages of petitions?

• In the UK, 10, 000 petitions means the government writes back. 100,000 signatures means topic will be discussed in parliament.

• They bring awareness to important social issues


What are the disadvantages of petitions?

Just like referendums in the UK, they are not legally-binding, so can be ignored by parliament.


What is the 2015 Recall of MPs Act?

An Act that enables a petition to be triggered if an MP is sentenced or suspended from the House of Commons for more than 21 days.


When is a by-election called through the 2015 Recall of MPs Act?

If 10% of the constituency sign the petition, a by-election is called


What are three nationwide referendums that have occurred in the UK?

1. On Britain's membership of the EU in 1975

2. On whether to change the system of voting for Westminister parliament in 2011

3. On Britain's membership of the EU in 2016


When has the 2015 Recall of MPs Act come into effect?

It came into effect in 2019 when former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya lied about her speeding offences. She lost her seat after the recall petition.


What are the advantages of referendums?

• Referendums take power away from selfish politicians who often vote against the interest of the people they represent

• Referendums usually have high turnouts due to motivation to vote


Which referendums have had particularly high turnouts?

• The 2016 Referendum had a turnout of 72%

• The 2014 Scottish Independence referendum had a turnout of 84%


What are the disadvantages of referendums?

• There is an issue of "neverendums", where politicians may keep calling for or holding referendums until they exhaust the general public and get the result they want

• Referendums are not legally-binding in the UK, so can be overlooked.


Case Study. Who is Kate Hoey?

Kate Hoey was a Labour MP for Vauxhall. She’s in favour of leaving the EU, but 77.5% of her constituency voted to Remain. She resigned as Labour MP for Vauxhall in 2019.


Case Study. Who is Chuka Umunna?

Chuka Umunna was a Labour MP for Streatham. He's a popular MP and received 68.5% of the vote in the 2017 general election. His constituency elected him as a representative of Labour, but he switched to the Change UK Party in 2019, then again to Liberal Democrat’s.


What are the main features of direct democracy?

• Popular Initiative

• Mandatory/Legally-binding referendums

• Representatives do not act on people's behalf

• People voice their opinions themselves


What are the main features of a representative democracy?

• Elective

• Representatives make decisions on behalf of constituency

• Office holders held to account through future elections

• Relies on regular elections held under rules, which provides legitimacy


What is popular iniative?

A form of direct democracy whereby voters can trigger debates and referendums through signing petitions


What is a by-election?

When people in one constituency vote to elect a representative to replace someone who had resigned or died


How can direct demoracy be used within a representative democracy?

• National Referendums

• Recall of MPs Act


What is a pluralist democracy?

A form of liberal democracy in which power is widely dispersed, as people are represented through membership of various groups e.g. pressure groups


What is a liberal/Western democracy?

A democratic system whereby the right to vote is widespread and representatives act in the interests of everyone in society


What is a majoritarian democracy?

A system of government whereby the desire of the majority population are the prime considerations of the government


Where is a majoritarian democracy practised?

In Pakistan


What type of democracy is the UK?

The UK is a liberal democracy, a parliamentary democracy and a representative democracy.


Why is it important to ensure the democratic system in the UK functions?

The government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the people. Democracy validates the policies of those in power.


What positive democratic features does the UK possess?

• Free media: challenges government policy + exposes misdeeds of politicians

• Free + fair elections: elections are regulated by rules in place to ensure they are fair and free or corruption

• Independent Judiciary: separate from other branches of government, uphold the rule of law and ensure personal freedom

• Prime Minister Question Time: takes place every Friday for 30minutes, PM is questioned by MPs about his work

• Devolved government: Across the UK there are four different legislatures and executives, each with a different range of powers.


What is legitimacy?

The legal right to exercise power e.g. government right to rule following election


What is a democratic deficit?

When democratic bodies fail to have:

• Lack of accessibility

• Lack of representation of an ordinary citizen

• Lack of accountability


Why do some people argue that the UK is undemocratic?

•Under-representation of minority viewpoints due to the voting system

• House of Lords lacks democratic legitimacy

• Lack of protection for citizens' rights

• Control of sections of the media by wealthy, unaccountable business interests


Why is the under-representation of minority viewpoints due to the voting system seen as undemocratic?

The House of Commons is elected by the first-past-the-post system, which produces a mismatch between the votes cast for political parties and seats each party wins in parliament


Why is the lack of democratic legitimacy in the House of Lords seen as undemocratic?

• Members of the House of Lords are unelected. A greater part of its membership has been appointed by prime ministers.

• People have been nominated since 2000 by an independent House of Lords Appointment Commission.


Why is lack of protection for citizens' right seen as undemocratic?

• The Human Rights Act 1998 provides inadequate guarantees for the rights of citizens in their relationship with the state.

• Governments can opt out from certain articles, meaning parts of the act no longer have legal authority in some situations.


Why is the control of sections of the media by wealthy, unaccountable business interests seen as undemocratic?

• The news can be manipulated on a greater scale

• For example, the powerful Murdoch group owned a number of British newspapers simultaneously: The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun.


What is participation crisis?

A lack of engagement with the political system e.g. low voting turnouts


Why is falling turnout at voting polls important?

Governments are elected on a reduced share of popular vote, calling the strength of mandate into question.


What was the average turnout at general elections from 1945 to 1997?



What are second-order elections?

Elections for constituents, local MPs, etc


Why are turnouts at voting polls low?

• Consensus among the main political parties

• Value of the issue to the electorate e.g. at referendums

• Lack of engagement in politics

• Disenfranchisement

• Disconnect from people in power


Why does consensus among the main political parties caused turnout at voting polls to be low?

Consensus among political parties means that their policies are too similar. Voters can't differentiate between parties, ending up confused and leading them not to vote.


What are the statistics of the 2017 General Election in the stratifications of age, race and gender?

According to UK Parliament:

• The average age of MPs elected was 50.

• Only 52 non-white MPs were elected

• 208 female MPs were elected, compared to 442 male MPs


Why does disconnect from people in power cause turnout at voting polls to be low?

• Most MPs and recent prime ministers have come from wealthy, privileged backgrounds, are white, male and old.

• Women, POC and young people may therefore feel underrepresented and see no reason to vote.


Why does value of the issue to the electorate cause turnout at voting polls to be low?

Some elections do not attract high turnouts because people are not interested in the issue being voted on.

• 2011 Alternative vote referendum had a turnout of 42.2

• However, in 2016 the BREXIT referendum had a turnout of 72% because the issue was more complex and had major consequences.


Why does lack of knowledge in politics cause turnout at voting polls to be low?

Lack of knowledge on Politics and the importance of voting could cause disinterest, leading to a low turnout.

• Many students leave school at 18 with little to no knowledge of the British political system. In 2013, fewer than 7,000 boys and 5,990 girls chose to study A-level Politics. (Ofsted)


Why does Disenfranchisement cause turnout at voting polls to be low?

Groups of people who are not eligible to vote include:

• Members of the House of Lords
• Most prisoners
• Foreign citizens from outside the UK, Ireland, or the Commonwealth.


Why does distrust of political parties cause turnout at voting polls to be low?

Main political parties have a track record of breaking manifesto pledges, causing frustration.

• In line with their manifesto, Liberal Democrat candidates signed a NUS pledge to abolish tuition fees in 2010. However, they increased them instead.


What is the percentage of electorate belonging to a main political party?

1.6%, compared to 3.8% in 1983.


What has the number of members of the Conservative party decreased?

Just under 150,000 members by 2016 compared to an estimated 400,000 in the 1990s.


What is the number of members in the Labour party?

About 515,000 members by 2016 compared to around 190,000 in the 1990s.


What is the number of members in the Liberal Democrat party?

• They had 70,000 members in early 2000s, but fell to 49,000 during coalition with conservatives

• In 2016, recovered to about 76,000 members


What was the percentage of votes in the 2015 general election that went to smaller parties?

A record of 24.8% went to parties other than Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats


What is the trend of membership with smaller parties?

There has been an increase in the membership of smaller parties.

For example, the SNP in 2013 had 25, 000 members compared to 120, 000 in 2016.


What is the evidence against a 'crisis of participation' in politics?

• Increase in membership of pressure groups

• Emergence of social media enable people to create e-petitions, exchange political views and join online campaigns

• A 2007 e-petition on Downing Street website against proposals for road-charging was signed by 1.8million


What is political apathy?

A lack of interest or awareness of political issues that affect society


What is political hapathy?

When people are genuinely contented and see no need to push for political change


Case Study. What was the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal?

In 2009, the Daily Telegraph published evidence of widespread abuse of the system that allowed MPs to claim expenses for living costs. This led to apologies, repayments, etc.


What should be done to reform the franchise?

• Changing the day of elections from Thursday to the weekend

• Allowing people to vote anywhere in their constituency instead of allocating specific poll stations

• Allow voting to take place over several days

• Allow use of postal voting or e-voting


What problems may arise from postal voting?

Questionable security. When all-postal ballots were trialled at the 2004 European parliament elections, there were complaints of increase in electoral fraud, multiple voting and intimidation.


What problems may arise from e-voting?

• Threat of cyberattack and online impersonation of voters

• May discriminate against older people who are less familiar with technology or poorer voters who can't afford computers


What other radical proposals have there been to reform the franchise?

• Reduce the voting age from 18 to 16

• Make voting compulsory


Which countries have made voting compulsory?

Belgium and Australia, failure to turn up at polling stations leads to a small fine


What are the arguments for making voting compulsory?

• Voting is a social issue as well as right: people should engage in processes that affects their lives

• It would produce a more representative parliament

• Governments would have to consider the whole electorate when framing policies


What are the arguments against making voting compulsory?

• It is undemocratic to force people to take part in something that should be a choice

• Compulsory voting does not address the deeper reasons why people choose not to vote

• Creates a greater inclination for people to vote based on influence


What are the broader reforms of the UK democratic system that could be considered?

• Reform Parliament: Make it more transparent, democratic + enable it to bring governments more effectively to account

• The transfer of more government powers and functions to local bodies