How Far Do We In Britain Live In A Democracy? The definition of democracy is ‘rule by the people’, or ‘the power of the people’. The ‘demos’ comes from the ancient Greek, it is the people and ‘kratos’ is to rule. Democracy today has come to mean the decisions arrived by the majority (or a simple majority), the right of every citizen to vote and hold office, and the duty of all citizens to participate actively in the system. So in an undefined sense, political power is ultimately in the hands of the whole adult population, and no smaller group has the right to rule. But only when democracy is qualified by other words, such as liberal, representative and direct, can it take on a more useful meaning.
So to understand democracy, we must look at these different faces of it. Liberal democracy is most commonly seen in industrialised western countries. It has four main ideas: That the government should be limited (the individual should enjoy some protection from arbitrary government), and its purpose should be the removal of obstacles to individual well-being; The market should have a paramount role with minimum state interference; The state should play the role of ‘night-watchman’; the franchise should be steadily extended to encompass men with property to members of the working class. The overall idea is that there should be a limited government, the individual should enjoy some protection from arbitrary government and that the government should be in some way tied to the will of the people. The central existence of liberal democracy is the existence of civil liberties – the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the freedom to dissent. In Britain these civil liberties and guaranteed by the ‘rule of law’ and the separation of powers.
The rule of law guarantees us equality before the law. And the separation of power maintains a separate executive and jury, so that laws enforceable in courts can curtail the powers of rulers. But a criticism of liberal democracy is that our rights and freedoms are not all that free. So although we, as British citizens have freedom from arbitrary arrest, we can be arrested on suspicion; although we have freedom of expression, we are not free of libel; although we have the right to be free from surveillance without due process, it can be given by a judge, and although we have the right to the freedom of movement, we are still controlled by passports. It has been thought that liberal democracy has come to embody the limited claim that the working class has the right to compete with the established state institutions and society.
This is because no one voice is louder than another, liberal democracies are representative, political authority is based on popular consent, the wishes of the masses. Today liberal democracy has become very closely linked with representative democracies. The idea for representative democracies, is that the citizens elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf. This works in Britain by voters electing Members of Parliament, the person that they think will best represent their views. These MPs meet in an assembly, the House of Commons, which is responsible for making laws.
Every MP has the right to speak and vote on proposed laws, either for or against. Proposals become law if a majority of MPs vote in favour of tem. By voting for a representative, the voting citizen is handing over the responsibility for decision making to someone else. Although voters hand over the responsibility for decision making to their elected representatives, they still have a further part to play in the system. There is accountability; the representatives are accountable to the electorate, so the electorate in someway exercises power over its representative.
For, unless the representative acts in a way that meets the approval of their electorate, they will not be reselected and so will lose their seat. This fear will affect their behaviour in favour of the electorate, but the electorate has had to hand over its personal power and the personal contribution to the formation of legislation. The role of the representative is therefore very important. Some representatives argue that their duty is only to do what their party or electors have instructed, others argue that once they have been voted in and have been handed the power, it is their duty to act according to their conscience. Edward Burke put this view forward, and the Burkian representation has often been called in to justify the behaviours of MPs.
There are both points for and against representative democracy. On the one hand, we lose the influence of a direct democracy, it is difficult to know the publics opinion individually on every topic that will come up in government. Since the people’s individual views cannot be taken into consideration, some people feel that Luke’s third face of power could come into play. This is the manipulating of desires by those in power. People with power can persuade others that what is on offer is actually desired. So the power can be misused to create an element of elite oligarchy. As the representatives cannot refer back on every issue, they will have to use their own opinions.
As these representatives will be educated, they may hold different views and opinions to the average person from the masses, so there is an element of exclusiveness again. This elitism goes further back, as parliament is not a microcosm; it is predominantly white, male, middle class educated men. Other races, sexes, and classes are greatly underrepresented, so their views cannot be out forward as well. Our system also means that we do not have delegates, who have to put forward our views specifically. The system only had free votes occasionally, the rest of the time the representatives are expected to toe the party line, so again it may not be possible for our representatives to put forward the views of the people the represent.
The system of ‘first past the post’ does not represent the majority; the party with the greatest proportion does not necessarily have the majority of votes. So the people in power do so sometimes without the backing of the people. And those in power belong to parties that have their own issues and certain interests. And above all, the power relationship between the electorate and the representative has to be questioned by the fact that it is the European Union that has sovereignty over our laws. Although there are many reasons against representative democracy, it is felt that the reasons for are of greater importance. All MPs know of the Burkian theory, when they put themselves up as a representative they know the responsibility they have when using their digression.
They also know that how th …