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Democracy and Political Participation


In some states of the USA there is a set procedure for this. ... joining political parties or pressure groups and so forth. This is known as participatory democracy. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Democracy and Political Participation

Democracy and Political Participation
A definition of Democracy
  • Abraham Lincoln defined democracy in three ways
  • Government of the People
  • Government by the people
  • Government for the people
  • But what does this mean in the modern age?

Government of the people
  • Standing for office and being elected is one way
  • Modern democracies require people to actively
    participate via voting, joining political parties
    or pressure groups and so forth.
  • This is known as participatory democracy.
  • In a modern democracy everyone has the
    opportunity to participate in politics.
  • In some societies (Australia) there are legal
    penalties for not voting and it is a legal
    requirement in there UK to return the voter
    registration forms

Government by the people
  • People engage in making decisions which directly
    affect them.
  • This would involve government consultation
    process e.g. currently concerning the Scottish
    referendum question to be put to Scots, the use
    of referendums
  • This is known as Direct democracy where people
    actively participate in making decisions which
    affect them- constitutional changes involving
    devolution, the proposed changes to the electoral
    system for Westminster, on directly elected local
    mayors and the first election of police
    commissioners (November 2012) have all been put
    to referenda- notably the AV referendum and the
    later one on Scottish independence are binding
    (plebiscite) rather than advisory.

Government for the People
  • Those who govern do so in the broad interests of
    the people rather than of themselves...
  • The interests and needs of all sections of
    society , as far as possible, should be
  • Given the impracticality of making all decisions
    via a process of direct democracy, decisions are
    made by representatives hence representative

Why democracy?
  • Origins are in C5BC Greece but disappeared until
    the 18th century. It has become the preferred
    mode of governance of the most economically
    advanced states
  • Democracy establishes and protects freedom via
    political inclusion of all classes in the
    electorate, the establishment of a codified
    constitution which limits government power and
    establishes basic individual rights
  • Democracy protects minorities All groups must
    have access to the political process, the liberal
    philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) warned
    against the tyranny of the majority
  • Democracy controls government power. Power tends
    to corrupt and there is the danger that those in
    power will accrue more power and govern in their
    own interests. Hence democracy ensures
    accountability via elections a recognised and
    legal opposition, free media etc
  • Democracy encourages political participation
    People must have the opportunity to be informed
    and be involved in influencing decision making,
    hence crucial in preventing tyranny
  • Democracy disperses power Where power is
    excessively concentrated in the hands of a narrow
    elite democracy cannot flourish. It should be
    widely dispersed among people and non
    governmental associations in what is called
    civil society

Societies where democracy appears inappropriate
  • Those governed by a strict religious code where
    there is far less room for alternative belief
  • Cultures where people do not expect or desire
    personal liberty- in some Islamic states most
    aspects of life are governed by the teachings of
    the prophet Mohammed and the Koran. Islamic
    governments see it as their duty to oversee the
    moral and social principles of the Koran.
  • In times of crisis, aspects of democracy have
    been suspended in the face of the national
    emergency- war powers of the UK government in
    two World wars. Also consider the anti terror
    legislation in the wake of 9/11 with the
    introduction of indefinite detainment of
    suspected foreign nationals and later the
    introduction of control orders.
  • In some states such as Tanzania and Zambia, one
    party states were introduced as a means of
    tackling problems of economic development
  • Many democrats however have said that democratic
    principles can never be sacrificed under any
    circumstances- Nelson Mandela said people would
    prefer to be free than well fed.

Citizenship- An individual has the right to live
within a particular state and has certain rights
but also obligations- these vary e.g. some states
require military service- Turkey, Greece, Iran
and Israel for example
  • Rights
  • Reside within that state
  • To vote in free elections
  • Stand for office
  • Equality before the law
  • Fair trial
  • Civil liberties
  • Obligations
  • Obey the law
  • Accept legitimacy of the properly constituted
  • Pay taxes

Active citizenship- concept introduced by New
Labour 1997 informed by communitarian thinking
behind Labour
  • Rights
  • Adoption of the European Convention of Human
    Rights as the first formal codification of civil
    rights in the UK (Human Rights Act)
  • Sign up to the Social Chapter of the 1993
    Maastricht treaty which guaranteed employment
  • Freedom of Information Act
  • Obligations in return
  • Active citizen should be aware of political
    issues and vote in elections
  • Be involved in promotion of issues in which they
    are interested
  • Be involved in community action- voluntary work,
    help in environmental projects, Neighbourhood
  • Join and be active in a political party

Evidence for a decline in political participation?
  • Falling turnout in elections from 76 1979 to
    65.2 2010 with 59.4 2005 (lowest since the
    Coupon Election 1918). These figures are for
    general elections, turnout for local elections
    far lower.
  • Decline in party membership from 4.12
    electorate 1980 to 0.94 2008.
  • Partisan dealignment- people identify less and
    less with a particular party
  • There is a perceived crisis of political
    participation. An inactive citizenry can lead to
    autocratic and arbitrary government
  • On the other hand
  • Pressure group membership is higher
  • Popular involvement in direct political action-
    1990 poll tax riots. 2003-4 the Countryside
    Alliance mustered 300 000 to demonstrate against
    proposed ban on Hunting with Dogs.
  • 2003 over 1m protest against Iraq War
  • The role of the internet and social media a vital
    means of mass communication and mobilisation
    (clitivists) protests following the Iranian
    presidential election

How can political participation be increased?
  • Compulsory voting- does it make citizens more
    aware and give them ownership of outcome of
    elections? Is it an infringement of civil
    liberty? An option is to include on the ballot
    options such as refusal to vote, dont know or
    none of the above
  • Lower the voting age to 16. Scottish teacher
    unions want this for the referendum on
    independence. Are they experienced or switched on
    enough? However 16 year olds can be required to
    pay tax therefore should they not have the
    right? People who join armed forces at 16 get
    the vote.
  • Making voting easier- extend the period of
    voting, placing ballot stations in more
    accessible places such as supermarkets,
    electronic voting- however this does raise
    security issues.
  • Compulsory citizenship lessons- but another form
    of PSHE. Only applies to the state sector.
  • Electoral reform- introduce alternative
    electoral system which more fairly reflects
    national mood but AV referendum was defeated in
    the 2011 referendum.
  • Use of the internet- government can involve
    people by internet polls. E petitioning- any
    proposal for a new law which has 100 000
    signatures will be debated in Parliament.
  • Greater use of referendums including the
    innovation 2011 of the binding referendum.
    However, what if turnout low e.g. 1997 Welsh
    devolution referendum passed on a low turnout.

How the UK is becoming more of a consultative
  • Coalition Government invited public participation
    in deciding how public expenditure might be
  • Many local authorities consult on how to allocate
    expenditure on services
  • After 2007 Downing street developed a system of
    e-petitions whereby the PM office respond to
    email campaigns on an issue which attract
    significant public support- 2007 1.8m signed up
    on an e-petition opposing scheme for road pricing
  • Use of referendums

Referendums and Initiatives
  • A referendum is
  • Parliament and government decide to hold one.
    Until 2011 in the UK they have always been
    advisory but a binding referendum was introduced
    for the issue of reform of the Westminster
    elections. Normally a simple Yes or No but in
    1997 Scotland a two question proposal- Scottish
    parliament and secondly with tax raising powers.
    The SNP government want a two question proposal
    for independence referendum in 2014-
    Independence or DEVOMAX.
  • In the UK until 2011, all referendums were
    advisory (Parliamentary sovereignty) and the
    government could ignore a vote for change on the
    basis that the turnout was too low. In the 1979
    devolution referendums in Scotland and Wales the
    Yes vote had to be 40 of the electorate,
    although the vote was carried in Scotland, the
    government rejected it on basis the turnout was
    very low (Scottish wet weather). However, the
    Welsh devolution referendum 1997 was carried on a
    low turnout. Increasingly, governments have
    accepted the result.
  • An initiative is
  • A referendum which is called for by the people.
    In some states of the USA there is a set
    procedure for this. A minimum number of genuine
    signatures required for the process to go ahead-
    in California, for example, an amendment to the
    state constitution signatures equivalent to 8
    of the votes in last election for state governor.
    Within the UK there are groups calling for
    referendum on the UK membership of the European
    Union e.g. Peoples Voice

Reasons for referendums are
  • In the UK referendums tend to be held on
    constitutional matters. Increasingly, there is
    the belief that such changes which affect the
    governance of the UK should be based on popular
    approval, the latter also has the effect of
    entrenching change. The first such referendum
    held in the UK was in Northern Ireland when the
    electorate was asked whether the Province should
    remain part of the UK.
  • Parties and governments may be split on an issue-
    the first nationwide referendum in the UK on
    continued membership of the EEC was because the
    Labour Government of Harold Wilson was divided
    and ministers campaigned openly either for or
    against continued membership. A similar
    situation happened in 2011 with the campaign for
    electoral reform with Liberal and Conservative
    ministers polarising on the issue along partisan
  • Political pressure- 1979 an unenthusiastic
    Labour Government (minority) dependent on Liberal
    votes in Parliament agreed to hold referendums on
    devolution, similarly 2010 the Coalition
    Agreement committed the Conservatives to passing
    legislation to establish a referendum on AV.
  • Growing belief that change in a local area should
    be based on the wishes of the local electorate.
    2004 referendum on setting up devolved assembly
    in North East (70 no vote on 29 turnout)
    caused the government to drop an unpopular policy
    of rolling devolution in England. Also the no
    vote in all but one of the referendums on
    directly elected mayors in English cities 2012.
    Interestingly, the devolution act for Scotland
    established in law the principle of Claim of
    Right by which was established the principle of
    popular sovereignty in Scotland- only the
    Scottish people via a referendum could alter the
    way in which Scotland was governed and its status
    within or outside of the UK.

For and against referendums
  • For
  • A form of direct democracy- it helps to make
    decisions legitimate and is in line with the
    principle of government by consent.
  • It secures consensus. The Good Friday Agreement
    1998 to end sectarian conflict in Northern
    Ireland was only ever likely to last if it had
    widespread support across both religious
    communities. The 1973 referendum was ineffective
    in achieving this as the majority of the
    Nationalist Community abstained and the Troubles
  • They can prevent governments making unpopular
    decisions- the massive no vote in the North East
    referendum 2004.
  • As a way of resolving an issue when the
    government or party is divided on the issue- 1975
    EEC referendum and the 2011 referendum on AV.
  • A referendum entrenches constitutional changes-
    the AV referendum and the 2014 referendum on
    Scottish independence will be binding. The claim
    of right established in 1997 (Scotland) and the
    GFA which established joint sovereignty over
    Northern Ireland (Irish Republic and
  • On some issues the proposals for change are too
    momentous not to be put to a referendum- the
    adoption or not of the European Single currency
    being the prime issue.
  • Against
  • Excessive use of referendums will lead to a loss
    of respect for elected representatives and
  • Many issues are simply too complex and the
    tendency for issues to be over simplified by the
    Yes/No campaigns in their efforts to whip up
    support- Nationalist parties which want
    devolution or in the case of Scotland
    independence exploit populist history e.g. SNP
    independence broadcast with references to Mel
    Gibsons Brave heart to the strings of
  • Referendum campaigns are massively expensive-
    according to the Daily Telegraph the AV
    referendum 80m a figure which had to be met by
    local councils. Also there can be an imbalance
    in financial support- 1975 EEC campaign had
    backing of most businesses.
  • People might use a referendum to show
    dissatisfaction with the government of the day-
    did this influence the decisive No vote in 2004
    in the North East? It would be irrational if the
    UK were to decide whether or not to adopt the
    EURO on the basis of a referendum vote largely
    reflecting the popularity of the government of
    the day.
  • Low turnouts undermine the legitimacy of the
    decision- Wales 1997 only 50.1 of the
    electorate voted on proposal for an assembly and
    the vote was split 50.3 yes and 49.9 no. In
    2011 on whether the Assembly should be granted
    primary legislative powers- the vote was carried
    on a turnout of 35.
  • The tyranny of the majority. Most issues cannot
    be resolved by a simple response yes or no.
    Elected representatives are in a position to
    modify decisions to take into account minorities

Why did representative democracy emerge
  • Democratic spirit began to spread across Europe
    and America C17-C19
  • States were larger and more complex than those of
    Ancient Greece and so direct democracy not a
    viable option.
  • Political philosophers objected to direct
    democracy on the following grounds
  • -Most people were illiterate or poorly educated.
  • -The tyranny of the majority especially as it
    would leave power in the hands of the poor.

Representative democracy is where The mass of the
people are represented by a minority of office
  • Burkean representation- C18 Whig MP but seen
    as the founding father of modern conservative
    philosophy. In his address to his constituents
    at Bristol explained his role to use his
    judgement in the best interests of his
    constituents not to merely follow instructions-
    he was not a delegate.
  • Parliamentary representation- Here
    representatives are expected to strike a balance
    between their own judgment, stated policies of
    the party and the interests of their
  • Party delegation- the growth of party discipline-
    MPs are expected to follow the party line. It
    could be argued that voters elect MPs on basis of
    party manifesto and not on qualities of a
    particular candidate. However since 1970, there
    has been a progressive loosening of such
    discipline. The present Coalition government
    experiences regular rebellions- over 50 of the
    parliamentary Liberal Democrats voting against
    increases in university tuition fees. The
    Coalition Government is based on a post election
    coalition agreement and not on a particular
    manifesto. The problem for the Liberal Democrats
    was that they had campaigned in 2010 against
    university fees in the first place.

What are the main features of Parliamentary
Democracy in the UK?
  • Parliament is the source of political authority
    government action has to be sanctioned by
  • All members of the government are also members of
    either the House of Commons or the Lords
    (Parliamentary government) this ensures face to
    face accountability to Parliament.
  • All proposals must be submitted to Parliament for
    approval and only Parliament can sanction the
    raising and spending of public funds (financial
    resolution) and ministers must account for their
    actions to Parliament.
  • All citizens are represented by an MP whose
    interests and views should be taken into account-
    constituents have the right to lobby their MP
    either in Parliament or via letter or via their
    constituency surgeries.
  • The guardian of the electoral mandate by which
    the government in power was elected into office.
    Parliament has a duty to ensure that the
    government of the day does not seek to step
    outside or beyond its mandate.. However, the
    formation of a Coalition based on a post election
    deal undermines this.

Factors which promote and undermine
representative democracy in the UK
  • Elected officials represent a constituency and
    are expected to represent the interests of the
    constituency as a whole.
  • Parliament is expected to some extent to act as a
    representative cross section of society as a
    whole- when debates and committee hearings take
    place peers and MPs express what they believe to
    be the views and interests of various sections of
    the community.
  • The days when labour represent the working class
    and the Conservatives the middle class are gone-
    all mainstream parties claim to represent the
    whole nation
  • As faith in parties declined membership in
    pressure groups has increased- they are seen as
    more effective vehicles for the demands and views
    of the electorate.
  • Media especially the newspapers represent the
    general public leaders pay far more attention to
    the press as it is widely believed that
    newspapers do have influence.
  • The Houses of Parliament are not socially
    representative. Whereas women are 51 of the
    population only 22 of the MPs and 21 of the
    peers are. Ethnic minorities are 8 of the
    population but only 4 of the membership of
    either House is one. Although less than a 1/3 of
    the population is university educated around 90
    of parliamentarians are.

Direct and representative Democracy compared
  • Representative
  • Elected representatives may use superior
    knowledge and judgement and avoids hasty and
    emotional decisions by the people.
  • Representatives mediate between the interests of
    different sections of society whereas direct
    democracy is the will of the majority and
    minorities are vulnerable.
  • Issues especially those involving conflicting
    interests are needing complex solutions whereas
    direct democracy simplifies questions and
  • Popular demands are often incoherent and
    illogical whereas representative democracy can
    make better sense of these and convert into
    practical programmes.
  • Direct
  • Purest form of democracy.
  • People are better educated and informed than in
    the past and therefore able to be involved in
    crucial decisions.
  • There is a decline in faith in parties and
    representative institutions.
  • An increasing proportion of key political issues
    is being resolved by either pressure group
    activity or via referendums.
  • It avoids decisions being made in the interests
    of the representatives.

Key features of a liberal democracy
  • Accountable government (to the people)
  • Free and fair elections
  • Peaceful orderly transfer of power from one
    government to the next
  • Information is freely available to the citizens.
  • Protection for rights and liberties
  • Toleration of diverse beliefs, opinions, cultures
    and lifestyles.

Is the UK a Liberal Democracy?
  • Yes
  • Accountability- ministers must account for
    actions to Parliament. Parliament scrutinises
    bills and via select committees the work of
    government departments.
  • Free and fair elections. Independent Electoral
    Commission to ensure honest elections which are
    free from corruption. All adults (non prisoners)
    have the right to vote and stand for office
    unless disqualified.
  • Legitimacy and the transfer of power- High degree
    of acceptance of results and little or no
    violence in the elections.
  • Information- the UK has a free press and free
    broadcasting. The Freedom of Information Act has
    extended accountability of government and public
  • Rights and Liberties- UK has signed up to the
    ECHR and the Social Chapter of the European
    Union (Maastricht Treaty). First codification of
    British rights in the HRA. An independent
    judiciary which via judicial activism has
    challenged the state for attempting to deprive
    rights of individuals. Judges can apply the
    principle of ultra vires, often in judicial
    review which overrules an action of a minister
    or the government on the grounds that they have
    exceeded their powers and abused civil liberties.
  • Limited Government- Parliament has a good record
    of restraining the executive- 2005 the House of
    Commons rejected the government from extending
    imprisonment without charge of suspected
    terrorists to 90 days without trail.
  • Tolerance- UK is known abroad as a tolerant
    nation. As long as they have not challenged the
    legitimacy of government, the law and security of
    the state they are accepted. Multiculturalist
    policies such as legal exemptions for Sikhs and
    crash helmets, Kosher and halal butchers,
    recognition of sharia and beth din courts for
    dealing with religious issues such as
    Jewish/Muslim divorce etc Also legalisation of
    homosexual acts between consenting males 1966,
    and lowering the age of homosexual sex between
    men to 16, legal recognition of same sex civil
    partnerships, the gay marriage bill. Important
    here is the public support of the Conservative
    Prime Minister to endorsing gay marriage I do
    not support gay marriage in spite of being a
    Conservative I support gay marriage because I am
    a Conservative
  • No
  • Accountability- Parliament lacks sufficient time
    to assess government bills, operation of the
    guillotine via government control of the
    parliamentary timetable, government majority on
    parliamentary cttees.
  • Free and fair elections. Concerns over
    corruption in postal voting. Also reduction in
    number of constituencies and redrawing of
    electoral boundaries will favour the
    Conservatives. Also is FPTP a fair system? The
    role of safe seats. C80 votes ineffective as a
    result. The ECHR has deemed the blanket ban on
    prisoners from voting in the UK is unacceptable
    and has rejected the UKs opposition on appeal
  • Rights and Liberties- The HRA is not entrenched.
    The principle of derogation by which the
    government with parliamentary approval may
    suspend parts of the HRA in the interests of
    national security. The use of anti terror
    measures by local authorities to spy on citizens
    on non national security matters- dog poo and on
    parents claiming to reside in the vicinity of a
    popular school.
  • Limited Government- There is no written
    constitution which sets clear limits to
    government power. Prerogative (crown prerogative
    ) powers exercised by the Prime Minister are not
    subject to parliamentary control or approval.
  • Tolerance- Growing terrorist threat, increased
    incidence of immigration and asylum seeking have
    caused strains. Note the success of BNP, albeit
    short-lived, to secure council seats. Note also
    the rise of intolerant fundamentalist groups
    opposing pluralist values of a liberal and
    increasingly secular society. Note also the
    strains within the Conservative Party over the
    same sex marriage bill. Note also that in a
    liberal democracy liberalism absolutises
    liberalism- only those cultural practices which
    are compatible with human rights can be
    tolerated- hence the commitment by the government
    to outlaw forced marriage.