Democracy. If such a thing does exist in the UK, I have yet to see it in practice.
In the twenty-first century, many things are subjective; fashion, music and art – to name but a few. But what constitutes a true democracy is not a subjective matter. In honesty, I don’t know what I would do if a police officer asked to search my car- how can I when I don’t know my rights? Ironically however, if a police officer asked to search the car of a citizen in the United States, they could refuse by pleading the Fourth Amendment. The US has a constitution, so intrinsic to their system of government that it allows the unquestionable protection of civil liberties.
In the UK, we have no such security and unlike the US, we cannot purchase a book that finely defines our rights. I struggle to understand how a country that claims to be a modern democracy, fails to even establish the rights of their citizens. After all, democracy comes from the ancient Greek words; “demos kratos” which literally translates to “people power.” Forming one of the most vital pillars of democracy, we appear to lack such power.
We are under the impression that UK citizens have effective influence over how they are governed. However, Parliament is sovereign and can theoretically reform or retract any law that had previously been passed, for example, Theresa May’s bid to have the Human Rights Act retracted. With this in mind, it becomes clear that the people do not have a complete say in how they are governed and this it could be argued, is undemocratic when the power and authority lies with just a few, in this case, the Prime Minister.
First Past the Post. One of the most well-known voting systems and the one that Britain uses during the General Elections. There are currently 533 constituencies in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland; however there are different amounts of people who reside in each constituency. In the UK, the Party wins the election based on having the majority of seats (one seat per constituency). This effectively means that many people’s votes become worthless as they are only required to have a plurality of votes, not a majority. For example, in 2005, only 20 percent of Britain supported the government of the day (Labour). Due to each vote weighing differently, it also means that not everyone is on an equal level. This therefore breaks one of the fundamental principles that democracy contains – each person has one vote and all votes are equal. If the manner in which we elect our government is undemocratic, how can we expect the actions of that government to be anything but undemocratic?
One of the main pillars in a democracy is choice, and more specifically, the choice of parties. Since the people are going to vote for a party to represent them for the next five years, it is important that there are a variety of parties which express the needs of the electorate. However, in recent years, the turnout at elections has been extremely low and in fact it had reached one of its lowest points in 2001 with a turnout of 59 percent. Why? The public felt that none of the parties were representing their needs, with most fighting for the ‘center ground’ that would appeal to most of the public in order to gain more votes. Further, this means that if the public are feeling that there is a lack of choice and that they are not being represented, then Britain is not upholding or expanding its democracy.
To say that we are not a democracy in any shape or form would be inaccurate. We of course have aspects within our system of government that indicate we are a democratic nation. It does exist in the UK, but the democracy we know today is not the democracy that we could and should have. Whether the UK is as democratic as it could be is an entirely different question. It is unfathomable to compare our lack of democratic features to those of other nations who barely manage to extend the franchise to all of its citizens. Democracy is not subjective. Democracy is limitless.
I don’t believe any nation can be too democratic, but some nations are certainly not democratic enough. Observing Britain alone, one can see that there are many improvements that can be made in order to enhance our democracy; a more proportional voting system or an elected second chamber are just two changes that could be made. This debate however creates an even larger question. If we cannot have a true democracy in a (geographically) small nation, what hope does the rest of the world have?