Democracy and the British Voting System

Direct democracy is where the people themselves are directly involved in decision making processes, not represented by an elective for example.

One example of direct democracy is through referendums. A referendum is a simple yes or no question based on an important issue which almost all citizens can vote on. An example of a referendum is the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum.

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Direct democracy is a wholly beneficial working as it is the purest form of democracy as power is temporarily transferred to the people. Referendums, as described as an example, are also arguably very good for democracy in a number of wars. It increases voter turnout – the Scottish Independence referendum had a turnout of 84% – it prevents government from making unpopular decisions and the people are more likely to accept law if they have expressed consent – all improvements to democracy and beneficial to democratic renewal.

5/5 – no feedback

1. Explain the criticisms of representative democracy (10)

Representative democracy is where the people’s opinions are represented by an elected MP who is solely involved in decision making processes. It is argued that this is a bad form of democracy for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it is argued that MPs cannot be truly representative under current circumstances. Within the Commons, a staggering 90% of MPs are university educated in comparison to a minute 4% of ethnic minorities. With figures like these, representative democracy is commonly criticized. It is argued that this common MP stereotype may not be able to fully represent his/her constituents as he cannot totally understand their issues; for example, how could a middle aged white man be able to represent a black woman’s opinions accurately?

Another criticism of representative democracy is that it is a less legitimate form of democracy. Legitimacy is the authority and ability a body has to be representative. Is it argued that MPs are less legitimate because they cannot possibly account for every opinion within their constituency which leaves many voices unheard, whereas in various forms of direct democracy everybody gets their say and is accounted for equally. A main issue this may provoke is the “tyranny of the majority”, whereby the minority are totally overshadowed by the majority/popular vote and consequently unaccounted for.

Finally, although it is mostly unlikely, an MP can ignore his constituents and ultimately make unpopular decisions. This would involve disregarding the opinions of the constituents and ignoring their suggestions to make decisions purely of his own accord. An example of this, as sourced by The Guardian, is in 2013-2014 before the possibility of an EU referendum was decided, 438 MPs ignored the complaints and letters of constituents expressing concerns over current EU membership. This is a huge problem because MPs behaving in such a way is totally undemocratic and could ultimately even lead to an autocracy or dictatorship.

6/10 – Some good points, but make sure you are clear on your point and use examples to support it

1. Suggest ways, other than electoral reform, as to how democracy in the UK can be improved (25)

Over many decades there have been several suggestions regarding how to improve democracy in the UK. There have been lots of proposals, including electoral reform to make us better represented, and there are many more.

One suggestion to improve democracy is lowering the voting age. There are lots of arguments in favour of this; such as 16 year olds are able to pay taxes, go to war, marry and have a child. For them to be able to fight and even die for our country, or to pay money towards the governing and upkeep of the country; but not decide who runs it is completely illogical. Furthermore, it has been proved that lowering the voting age leads to a higher turnout, consequently combatting the democratic deficit. During the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, the voting age was temporarily lowered to 16 and the turnout skyrocketed to a staggering 84%. This shows that raising the voting age would be beneficial and would improve democracy.

Another proposal of improving democracy is increased use of referendums. Referendums are one of the most direct forms of democracy and would improve democracy in a number of ways. As aforementioned, referendums have raised the voting turnout; as well as this they can ensure the government doesn’t make unpopular decisions, it is more legitimate as power is temporarily transferred directly to the people which subsequently eliminates the possibility of them not being represented and people are more likely to accept law after giving expressed consent.

However, there are negative aspects that suggest perhaps referendums are not the most ideal way of improving democracy. It is argued that the questions may be too complex for citizens to fully understand – as is a growing concern regarding the upcoming 2016-17 EU referendum. Another concern is that responses may be clouded by emotional judgement and haste which could ultimately throw the final result. Finally, citizens may use the referendum as a chance to express dissatisfaction for the government of the day which, again, would skew the result and is very undemocratic in itself.

Finally, encouraging participation would improve democracy as it would lead to a higher turnout and ultimately mean government is more likely to be elected on a majority.

One way of encouraging participation would be to introduce text voting; a citizen could vote in elections using their phone – it would increase participation as it is convenient and accessible, people do not have to even leave their homes to vote. However, there may be security issues and it could be difficult to validate votes and ensure only one vote is being cast.

Placing polling stations in more accessible places – such as supermarkets – would increase participation as they may be closer to the voter meaning they would be more likely to vote.

Lastly, the voting period could be extended to several days – this would mean the voter has more tie to vote and doesn’t have potential pressure if they cannot make it to the polling station in time on the day. A concern of this is that it would draw out the time it takes to count the ballots and subsequently end the election process.

Out of all suggestions, lowering the voting age seems to be the best idea to improve democracy as it would have the greatest beneficial impact against lowest negative drawbacks.

20/25 – An excellent answer, lots of key information and examples and a detailed knowledge of the issues.

1. Explain the difference between a two-party system and a multi-party system (10)

Party systems refer to a politically comparative term in elections describing the parties running for office. It is argued that Britain is a two-party system, not a multi-party system.

A two-party system is when the electorate favours two main parties running for candidacy and practically eliminated any possibility of other parties realistically winning. It is often argued that Britain is a two-party system, as over the last 3 decades we have been run only by a Labour or Conservative government. This is an example of a two-party system because no other party has had power in more than 30 years. This is largely due to out voting system – FPTP – which, due to the way it’s plurality system functions, heavily encourages tactical voting as it is unlikely for a party to gain support if they don’t have geographically concentrated support, as Labour and Conservative do hold in Britain. It is a very unfair system as it doesn’t allow smaller parties – like Green and UKIP – a realistic chance for power and massively discriminated against the ‘Third Party’; the Liberal Democrats. Two-party systems also imply an underlying sense of lack of representation.

A multi-party system on the other hand is effectively the opposite of a two-party system and means that a wide range of parties across the political spectrum can run for candidacy and hold a relatively equal chance of gaining support and, ultimately, power. Such a working is usually present through proportionally representative electoral systems, such as AMS in Northern Ireland whereby 6 MPs are proportionally elected per constituency, so there is no need for condensed support as each candidate is allowed a relatively equal chance of support, because a multi-party system doesn’t discriminate against any party, nor does it favour any party.

6/10 – no feedback

1. Should FPTP continue to be used for elections in the Commons? (25)

For decades there has been an ongoing argument regarding our electoral system – should FPTP be used for elections to the Commons? There are many arguments in this circumstance.

In 2011, a referendum was posed to the people asking whether or not we should change our electoral system to the Alternative Vote; arguable a more complex majority system. The result came in with 69.7% of the electorate voting ‘no’. This shows that, when asked, the public seem generally satisfied with the current voting system and wouldn’t want to change it. Changing the system would be a wholly time-consuming and complex process, and it would be very confusing to many people. Where the public have specifically voted against changing FPTP, it is unnecessary to do so.

Secondly, the current electoral system produces a strong constituency link. If we had AMS as our voting system for example, there would be a much weaker link which may even lead to disillusionment. The link FPTP provides means any constituent can confidently go to their MP with any issue of problem and be guaranteed to be listened to and, most likely, have their issue resolved. If the system was changed it may prove that less people would connect with MPs and overall parties which could also lead to a lower turnout; retention of FPTP prevents these possibilities.

Finally, FPTP prevents extremist parties from gaining power. The electoral system generally requires concentrated geographical support to gain power which means extremist parties, such as the BNP – will never gain power and office. Extremist parties are awful for a country – especially its democracy. Using BNP as an example, nationalism is the idea that one country is better than another and that other countries are comparatively inferior. This ideology can lead to internal and external disagreements, and potentially even war. By retaining FPTP and ensuring extremist parties cannot gain power, we are protecting the country from nationalism and other such negativities.

On the other hand, there are many reasons why we should get rid of FPTP. Firstly, it can elect governments on a minority, this means that the majority of the public may not want the current government in power. Such minority governments are also seen as weak and unstable, and may have difficulties passing laws without the support of the majority of the electorate. Similarly, FPTP can produce coalitions which are also seen as weak, such as in 2010 when the Conservative party formed a coalition with the Lib Dems. If we adopted a PR system, government would be strong as it wouldn’t be elected on a minority.

As well as this, FPTP discriminates against smaller parties and the Lib Dems, which is unrepresentative and undemocratic; it encourages tactical voting and implies we will never truly be accurately represented, as next-to-nobody’s opinions are solely conservative or labour. Many votes are wasted through FPTP which leads to disillusionment, too.

However, overall there are more benefits to retaining FPTP; the people seem satisfies and it has proved no violent revolts or riots, thus we should keep FPTP and save ourselves the trouble of a lengthy, complex change to a system unproven to aid democracy or representation.

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