How Democratic is the UK?
Britain, amongst many other countries, claims to be a democracy. Such a claim would suggest that as UK citizens, we have effective influence over government, and over decisions that effect us. However, there has been much controversy over this claim, some arguing that power lies in the hands of just a few, and others standing by the allegation that power in the UK is widely distributed. In this essay, I will be discussing matters such as elections and the influence of the media to clarify just how democratic the UK really is.
One of they key features of a democracy is that the people have the ability to vote whoever they want, a privilege which we as citizens of the UK have. Nonetheless, there is still a large amount of dispute as to whether the voting system in the UK is truly democratic. At UK general elections, we use an electoral system most commonly known as first past the post. This means that to become a member of parliament, all a candidate has to do is gain more votes than any rival in that constituency. Although this system has many strengths, such as the fact that it is simple to understand and that it ultimately represents the views of the people, it also faces many weaknesses. For one, the system provides a lack of choice. There is also a mass of wasted votes, as some seats are so ‘safe’, that there is no point in voting. Liberal democrat leader, Nick Clegg, announced at a party conference meeting: “First past the post is not fit for purpose. It is a relic that deserves to be consigned to the past.”
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An electoral system seen to be much fairer and much more democratic than our current system, is the single transferable vote (STV), which is currently being used in Scottish local government elections. Using the STV, parties can stand more than one candidate, who are then ranked in order of preference by the voters. Although this system is a little more complicated, it is one of the most proportionate systems, delivering a result which closely reflects the amount of votes a party gets. As well as giving smaller parties a better chance at being represented, there are also fewer votes wasted. Although turnout at UK general elections has increased over the last decade from 59.4% in 2001 to 65.1% in 2010, statistics show that turnout at Scottish local government elections is even higher, proving that UK citizens clearly find the STV a more democratic system. As a supposedly democratic government, this should be taken into consideration and the initiative to move from FPTP to STV at UK general elections should be fully acknowledged.
The distribution of power is something else which contributes to a country’s democratic state. In the UK, there are many that argue that power is narrowly concentrated, so much so that groups such as ethnic minorities and the unemployed are effectively excluded from power. It is also said that power lies only in the hands of the ruling class. Journalist Anthony Sampson suggests that trade unions and universities have lost power, whereas the media is more influential than ever. This claim can be supported by the idea that ‘The Sun’ newspaper ultimately influences who is successful in UK general elections. Surely, if the UK was a truly democratic, each individual would have as much chance at gaining power and exerting influence as the next.
“On account of being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only country in the world that has to keep a government for four years, no matter what it does.” (Will Rogers) One sentence, 33 words, the democratic state of the UK, proven.