Democracy is viewed by many people as a positive political system. Many also believe that Britain upholds our democracy. But what exactly is democracy? And is Britain really up to the high standards that democracy demands?
Democracy is most commonly seen as a government in which the people have the supreme power. This is usually applied through their elected agents, otherwise known as MPs, under a free electoral system. But this definition is vague and questionable, despite being highly praised with positive connotations. Indeed, it has been speculated that democracy is not bound to any one definition. This was pointed out by George Orwell, who was quoted as saying, “The defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning.”
It can even be argued that ‘democracy’ is just used in place of ‘free’ when describing a country’s status; countries which aren’t free are ‘undemocratic’, although ‘undemocratic’ is vague in itself as something which is undemocratic could simply be another political system. The question of whether these ‘undemocratic’ countries have a fair political system never comes into play. After all, how could it possibly be fair when it’s not democratic?
This stems from the idea that democracy is having a vote, not whether your vote makes a difference. In other words, an elected dictatorship. Walter Winchell agreed with this, saying, “too many people expect wonders from democracy, when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it”. If holding elections were what constituted a working democracy, then Britain would be just that. But this can be compared to China’s political system in which there are eight parties (other than the CPC) that you can vote for but, essentially, they all stand for the same points.
But if democracy is more about the freedom of the people and whether their vote matters at all in the long-run, then it can be argued that the UK is falling below the democratic standards with almost four in ten voters choosing to abstain as they feel they don’t have a say.
Democracies, in theory at least, should have parties which represent groups of people who stand for different ideas. At the moment, there exists only the three main parties; the Labour party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. If you were to vote for any of the smaller, more obscure parties, it’s highly likely that nothing will come of your vote.
We will forget for a moment what each of the leaders of these three parties say what they stand for and instead look at what they have actually stood for. The Liberal Democrats, during the 2010 elections, promised that they would scrap University fees across Britain. In fact, that was one of their biggest points on their manifesto. But they didn’t do that. They did the opposite and agreed with the Conservative policy of raising tuition fees. Another example would be the Conservative cuts to public spending. This is an expected Conservative move (they have done so on numerous occasions during past recessions, including the Wall Street Crash) but Ed Balls, Shadow Chancellor, stated, “We cannot make any commitments now that the next labour government will reverse rises or spending cuts.” Ed Miliband, leader for the Labour Party, agreed, saying the Labour government would continue to make cuts. Elections which lack any competing agenda are pointless.
Leading on from this is one of the biggest moves from the coalition government when they first came into power in 2010. They set up the Your Freedom website in the hopes that people would vote on controversial topics and hear what they wanted directly, rather than through their elected agents. But this proved to be useless as the public decided they wanted a review of the smoking ban and were ignored entirely. The Coalition stated they “had no plans” to review it.
If there is no real difference between the ideologies of the main political parties, no difference as to what party you vote for, can Britain really call itself a democracy?