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Democracy and Referendums Revision. Legitimacy The acceptance of the legal right of a government to rule. Often based on the consensus of the people (in.

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Presentation on theme: "Democracy and Referendums Revision. Legitimacy The acceptance of the legal right of a government to rule. Often based on the consensus of the people (in."— Presentation transcript:

1 Democracy and Referendums Revision

2 Legitimacy The acceptance of the legal right of a government to rule. Often based on the consensus of the people (in a democratic state) and the constitutional endorsement of its position. Legitimacy is distinct from Authority, but can often be an endorsing factor for this.

3 What is democracy? Term that originates in ancient Greece, meaning rule by the many, or rule on behalf of all the people. It can be exercised in different ways – direct, representative – and in different societies – liberal, totalitarian.

4 What is direct democracy? A system where all citizens are involved in the decision making process through a direct vote. The best historical example is that of the city state of Athens. Direct democracy today tends to be exercised through the use of referendums on specific issues. It also refers, more broadly, to the ability of a state to engage its citizens in the exercise of political power on a regular and direct basis, not just through the representative process of elections. This could be through the use of state-wide consultation exercises or polling, which might be made easier in a large, modern state through digital means.

5 What is representative democracy? A system that involves electing individuals (or representatives) to govern on behalf of citizens. It seeks to ensure that government and parliament reflect and respect the opinions of ordinary people, with legitimacy given to representatives by elections. It is the prevalent system of democracy in the world today.

6 Liberal Democracy A democratic state which operates according to the liberal values of freedom, tolerance and rights. The particular type of democratic state may vary, but is usually representative. Key features include the protection of individual liberties and the existence of a strong constitution (it does not need to be codified) which limits and checks the power of government.

7 Liberal Democracy – Key Features Has free and fair elections Operates a pluralist system (anyone may stand for election) Has freedom of expression (free press; free speech) Impartial justice Limited Government (by constitutional means)

8 Parliamentary Democracy A democratic state in which representation occurs through parliament. Parliament is the source of all political authority and where the sovereignty of a state lies In Britain in practice, ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ is meant to be a representation of the sovereignty of the people, which is exercised through elections to the House of Commons.

9 Political Participation Opportunities for people to become involved in the political process; Includes voting, participation in political parties or pressure groups and standing for public office

10 Referendum A form of direct democracy, where people are directly asked to determine an important political or constitutional issue through their own vote rather than via their representatives.

11 Representation Representation can have several meanings In Edmund Burke’s (‘Burkean’) definition it referred to the need for representatives to exercise their own judgement in determining the best interests of their constituents. Delegative representation is the requirement for representatives to follow the wishes of those who have elected them – delegation in effect Party representation concerns the requirement for representatives, elected on a party label, to follow the dictates of their party. The British system is a mix of Burkean and party representation; the theory is Burkean, the practise that of party.

12 Democracy in the UK - FOR We have free and fair elections We have representative institutions Free press and media The rule of law, impartially administered Freely operating parties and pressure groups (pluralist society) Impartial, anonymous, permanent civil service

13 Democracy in the UK - AGAINST Unfair ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system Existence of powerful, non-elected people (Monarch, peers, Quango members) An over-mighty executive Royal prerogative provides significant powers to the Prime Minister Uncodified constitution Unchecked capitalism giving rise to economic elite

14 REFERENDUMS A form of direct democracy allowing citizens a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on public issues Referendums can have more than one question In the UK they have been rarely held, usually on constitutional issues (devolution and Europe)

15 Referendums - FOR Introduces Direct Democracy Encourages political participation Checks an ‘elective dictatorship’ Provides clear answer to specific question Unites divided parties Provides mandate for controversial issues Legitimise important decisions regarding the constitution

16 Referendums - AGAINST Undermines parliamentary sovereignty Most issues too complex for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question (the EU referendum may fall into this bracket) Most people lack knowledge to make informed decision Regular use could create voter apathy (or even irregular use – the last UK referendum on AV produced a 42% turnout) Results may not be decisive (the devolution referendums of 1979 were too indecisive to produce any change at all) Funding differences may affect result Possible bias in questions asked Could result in ‘tyranny of the majority’ (examples here from abroad – Switzerland 2009, rejection of minaret construction, 2008 California proposition rejected civil partnerships – the US has several examples)

17 Current Issues Participation ‘Crisis’? – low voter turnout in elections (65% in 2010 was a slight lift from elections since 1997; before 1997 turnout was in the 70%+ region) Democratic ‘deficit’ of FPTP remains – referendum clearly rejected alternative (May 2011) but on low turnout (42%, two thirds of whom rejected the proposal) 15.1% turnout for police commissioner elections

18 Current Issues Tories like MP Douglas Carswell and MEP Daniel Hannan are campaigning for greater ‘direct democracy’ in the UK They want more referendums (they applauded the rejection of AV); more power devolved to local communities; and campaign for ‘powers of recall’ to make MPs more accountable between elections.

19 Improving Participation - Initiatives E-democracy – there is a willingness in parliament and government to improve access to ‘e- democracy’. Of several initiatives trailed, the most successful – in terms of participation – has been the No. 10 e- petitions. Over 29,000 petitions have been posted, with over 5.8 million ‘signatures’; the most popular, on road pricing in 2007, received over 1.8 million signatures However, it did not affect government policy.

20 Improving Participation - Initiatives There is a campaign to lower the voting age to 16, supported by the Liberal Democrats. Notably, the Scottish Independence referendum has reduced the voting age to 16. Gordon Brown, as PM, introduced “citizens’ juries” – groups of citizen representatives set up to advise officials. He claimed in 2007 that these changed his mind on the issues of cannabis and casinos. Some would argue that they simply replicate the job of local and national representatives, and David Cameron has not pursued them to date.

21 Democracy Audit Time to consider issues raised by the immensely useful and valuable Democracy Audit blog –


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