What are the advantages and disadvantages of representative democracy in the UK?
The UK has the following democratic features:
· Free and fair elections - all adults over the age of 18 may vote in a secret ballot
· Representative institutions such as parliament
· Free press and media — no government control
The rule of law
Freely operating parties and pressure groups
· Little political corruption
· An impartial, anonymous and permanent civil service
The UK has the following undemocratic features:
· a first-past-the-post electoral system for Westminster elections, which is unfair
· many powerful people who hold their positions without having to be elected
· executive domination of parliament
· no entrenched Bill of Rights
· government secrecy
· a capitalist system in which power resides with those in a dominant economic position
the prime minister's extensive powers of patronage
Representative democracy encourages people to think less about politics than they could do. Turnout in elections is falling.
Representatives are not truly accountable.
Representative government seems to be inseparable from political parties, which impose their views on their members.
Representatives tend to lose touch with voters as soon as they are elected.
'First-past-the-post' (FPTP) electoral system
Even the admires of representative democracy tend to admit that it is an imperfect system.
Opponents of this system can argue and criticize this system for the following reasons:
Firstly, representative democracy encourages people to think less about politics than they could do. Many people take an interest only at election time – and a growing number do not even do that. For example, the turnout in elections is falling with 40% of the electorate not bothering to vote during 2001 national elections.
Secondly, representatives are not truly accountable. If they vote against clear wishes of the electorate on crucial issues, citizens can do nothing but wait until next general elections to remote them. Even if MPs always vote against the will of the electorate on minor issues, they might continue to win elections because many ordinary voters might take insufficient interest in political events.
Moreover, representative government seems to be inseparable from political parties, which impose their views on their members. People tend to vote for party labels rather than on the merits of individual candidates. The system encourages people to conform to the opinions of others, rather than speaking up for themselves.
Additionally, regardless of their backgrounds, representatives tend to lose touch with voters as soon as they are elected. They spend more time with other representatives than with ordinary people, they begin to see the world differently and follow interests of their own. They also develop powers of persuasion that can cover up their failures.
The UK has a 'first-past-the-post' (FPTP) electoral system, meaning that in each constituency the winner is the person who receives the most votes. The main criticism is that under this system votes are not of equal value, as the principles of liberal democracy demand. The people who vote for losing candidates in a seat might just as well have stayed at home — whether their candidate loses by 20,000 votes or by one, the outcome is the same. Similarly, if a candidate wins by 20,000 votes, 19,999 of his or her votes are 'wasted'?
The main proposed remedy is to replace FPTP with one of the available systems of proportional representation (PR), to make sure (as far as possible) that everyone's vote has roughly equal value.
Although most politicians are elected, many powerful people hold their positions without having to face the voters. Over the years criticism has focused on the House of Lords, the civil service and judges. Recently, many civil service functions have been given to so-called quangos — 'quasi-autonomous ' non-governmental organizations', such as National Health Trusts and the BBC — which are usually headed by unelected people who are highly sympathetic to the government of the day. The most common general response to criticism of unelected officials is that certain offices must be filled by people with relevant expertise. Judges, for example, have to be experienced in the legal profession. Similarly, the fact that civil servants are not elected ensures continuity. Even when governments change, the new ministers can ask for advice from people who understand the issues from the inside. Quangos are far more difficult to defend on democratic grounds but, if pressed, ministers can argue that it makes sense to appoint people who can be trusted to implement the government's policies.