To What Extent Is Britain a Liberal Democracy?

The balance of evidence would suggest that Britain conforms very well to the principles of a liberal democracy. Whilst there are always points of evidence that could be used against this view, it is my view that these are outweighed by the positive evidence and examples. When determining whether the country is a liberal democracy, one has to begin by discussing and defining the features of a liberal democracy. A liberal democracy is defined as one where there are free and fair elections, where the right and liberties of citizens are taken into account and protected, where the government is clearly accountable to the people and the powers of government are controlled and limited by law and conform to a written constitution.

In addition, a liberal democracy is a tolerant democracy where a variety of opinions, cultures and lifestyles are accepted and accommodated, as long as they do not threaten the security and peace of the state. In a liberal democracy, information is freely available to its citizens and the political parties all accepted the legitimacy of the election process and all commit to peaceful and orderly transfers of power. Those that argue that Britain is not a liberal democracy often argue that it cannot be because it does not have a written constitution.

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This means that there are no fundamental laws to safeguard against attempts by the government to take more power than they should. They often argue that there is clear evidence of recent terrorist and security threats that the UK culture is no longer tolerated, but is becoming overly intolerant cultures and religions that it perceives to be a threat. They would also argue that under the umbrella or indeed excuse of national security, information is increasingly kept from the public and this in turn causes damage to the public interest. They would also argue that the UK ‘first past the post’ election system is inherently unfair, as it is very rare that a party that wins the election actually wins more than 50% of the vote.

In addition, they would argue that votes for minority parties do not get the representation that they deserve. The Green Party, for example, may get 10-12% of the national vote, but only has one Member of Parliament. Finally, they would argue the government is not fully accountable or takes into account the rights and liberties of the UK citizens. They would point out that parliament acts more in the interest of the specific party in power and has neither the skills, nor the time to act in the interests of every individual.

Finally, they would claim that with elections to parliament only occurring every five years, individuals do not have sufficient ability to overthrow governments they find unattractive. Despite these solid arguments and pieces of evidence that Britain is not a liberal democracy, my belief is that it is for two main reasons. Firstly, there is a clear body of evidence which proves that it is a liberal democracy; secondly, there is a clear line of argument that demonstrates that the ‘spirit’ of UK democracy is innately liberal. Britain has an election system which is believed to be free and fair. Even the superpower that is the USA is not free from the accusation that its elections are corrupt and conducted dishonestly. The scandal of the presidential election between Bush and Gore showed that even the USA is not free from accusations of this nature.

There are many other instances where the electoral system is clearly neither free nor fair, most recently, Robert Mugabe has once again been returned to power with an overwhelming majority. Contrast these examples of the British election process, where elections are free from corruption, where an independent commission oversees all elections to check they are all honest and where all adult citizens are equally empowered to vote and to stand for office. In addition, the outcomes of elections are accepted by losing parties and there is invariably a peaceful and orderly transfer of power. There is little or no civil disruption at the end of an election process. This is a deep rooted part of the UK’s political process, and Ed Miliband’s recent intolerance of an accusation of malpractice in Scotland shows how seriously senior politicians in the UK take this so seriously.

The UK also takes very seriously the rights and liberties of its citizens. The UK has both signed and is an active advocate of the European Convention on Human Rights. Government in the UK is also clearly accountable to the people of the UK. There is full and transparent reporting of all proceedings in parliament and all the committees that help parliament manages its affairs. Most recently, select committees have been at the forefront of protecting the rights of UK citizens, in particular, in the recent debates around freedom of the press and the apparent malpractice within the BBC with regard to pay off for public sector employees. The UK’s political system has a balance between the House of Commons and the House of Lords that ensures that there is a clear control and limitation to any extremes that an individual political party may feel it can execute.

All laws have to be ratified and endorsed by the House of Lords before they ‘become statute’. This means that anything that is deemed not to be in the best interest of the UK citizens can be stopped from becoming law before it is executed. Finally, these factors all demonstrate that both by legislative process and by the attitude, the UK can truly be described as a liberal democracy. The UK is also a tolerant and multicultural society where people are free to flourish from whatever cultural background they exist, as long as they do not break the laws or challenge the security of the state. Although this belief and practice has unquestionably been challenged through the atrocities of 7/7 and other events, the response of religious leaders and the government has always been and will always continue to be that the UK’s liberal culture is something to be nurtured and encouraged, and tolerance is a key value that should be protected and enhanced.

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To What Extent Is Britain a Liberal Democracy?. (2016, Oct 27). Retrieved from