4 Does the Westminster Parliament demonstrate a democratic process?
The make-up of the Westminster Parliament is part of a democratic process but if a governing party has a large majority of seats (MPs) in the House of Commons this means that a political party with the majority of voting power will be in a dominant position. If this happens the legislative process will be controlled by those with the majority of votes. In such circumstances where the majority voting power is with one political party it can be argued that democracy is reduced as the wishes of the opposition parties, and the electorate who voted for them, might be ignored. An example of this is when a government’s proposed legislation has little opposition due to the large majority of the controlling party.
Activity 3 Proportioning democracy
Watch this film, which deals with the general election in the UK. It outlines the democratic process and how political parties persuade voters (the electorate) to vote for them. Make some short notes while watching the film.
Now write a short explanation of no more than 400 words explaining the following:
- a.the purpose of the UK general election
- b.how the laws made in the Westminster Parliament may be said to reflect the will of the people in the UK
- c.the difference between first-past-the-post and proportional representation.
You may have selected a number of points from this film but some of the salient points are as follows:
- The UK has created a first-past-the-post electoral system, which means that within each constituency in the UK the candidate who has received the most votes takes the parliamentary seat in the Westminster Parliament.
- The political party with the most seats will win the general election and form the next government.
- The alternative system, which has been argued for by some political parties, is proportional representation (PR). PR does not ignore the votes cast by the electorate for those MPs who did not gain a seat in Parliament. Rather, PR would reflect these votes by ensuring the distribution of seats in Parliament would reflect the proportion of the total votes cast for each party. PR would benefit small parties by increasing their likelihood of gaining a seat but may also lead to a situation where there is no one party with a majority of seats. In this case, two or more political parties would need to join together in order to form a government, which is referred to as a coalition. For example, no single party had a majority in the 2010 election, which led to a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government.
- On 5 May 2011 the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act 2011 allowed for a referendum to take place on whether or not to change the way Members of Parliament are elected to the House of Commons. The following question was placed on the ballot paper: ‘At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?’ (Parliament, n.d.). The outcome of the referendum was: 32% voted yes and 68% voted no. The first-past-the-post system was to remain.
- The legislation introduced and debated in the Westminster Parliament is undertaken by MPs who were elected by the British public. The MPs should act on behalf of the people in the UK by introducing and passing legislation which reflects the wishes of the citizens in the UK. However, as the UK uses a first-past-the-post electoral system, there is an argument that not all the views of citizens in the UK are being reflected in the current legislation that is produced and brought into force.