Is the UK a representative democracy?

The UK claims to be a democracy which is based on representation. assesses whether this claim is true, or if it is a myth

Photo credit: The Killer Biscuit

Photo credit: The Killer Biscuit

The recent news that Chris Huhne, the former Energy Secretary, had admitted to perverting the course of justice by coercing his now ex-wife to take a speeding ticket he had incurred, allowed me to reflect upon the by-election that will take place in his constituency, Eastleigh, in the coming months.

This, a Liberal Democrat seat before the former Energy Secretary resigned, will now be contested by the Conservative Party who will be looking for a win and Labour possibly seeking to make a point and put the Lib Dems firmly back in their place; third place that is.

But what about Respect, the Green Party, UKIP, BNP and other smaller parties that represent a select group? Why do they have no chance of gaining this seat in Parliament, but then also struggle on a national basis in the general election?

The answer is of course the use of the First Past the Post system used general elections in the UK, which has allowed the party system that is in place here to manifest and dominate.

It has managed to undermine the whole notion of representation, by hazing over what it is to actually have someone voting on your behalf on national matters, someone who would act on the same principles as you, if we were to live and vote in a direct democracy.

The use of party politics in Parliament itself is a major perpetrator of stealing representation away from the public. MPs who are voted in are expected to ‘tow the party line’ and the use of whips effectively blackmails the representative to vote on behalf of the party, even if their constituents are against it. They are practically puppets being controlled by the upper reaches of their party.

The public are effectively, indirectly voting for their next Prime Minister by voting for the MP with the same logo in a general election. Most voters usually know little about, or even who actually represents them, and only know about their leader.

Thus, the majority of elections are just the granting of a mandate for the Prime Minister to push through their manifesto and act in the nation’s interests, the majority of them anyway.

Surely it should not be a case of choosing the party who you have to make the least compromises with, but actually the one that represents you entirely. A political party cannot represent both students and retirees; these two groups are unequivocally different and are only two of many with their own unique circumstances and interests. A multiplicity of small parties is what’s needed for the UK to ever come close to being a representative democracy.

This article is not calling for the creation of a ludicrous amount of political parties for every single sector of society to gain effective representation, but instead a realisation that the UK is not a true representative democracy. Your MP is not representing you at all, but is ensuring that the country remains stable by forming a collective, strong government.

A foundation is needed for a decisive and responsive government that aids the country in times of crisis. What we have to work out is whether we want a truly representative state or one that can respond adequately in times of despair. The two, unfortunately, cannot be combined.


  1. I wouldn’t agree that a political party cannot represent students and retirees. Obviously their needs are different but one party can have a perfectly good policy for both groups. Their interests are not necessarily in direct conflict. In fact they’re usually both short on cash. A lot of us will fall into both groups throughout our lives. Are you saying a person has to alter their vote as they age?

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  2. Of course a political party can represent people of different ages. This was just an example to try to show the different sectors of society whom are having to choose between only three parties… If you agree entirely with one parties ideology, policies and outlook on international matters and will do for the entirety of your life then you’re one of the lucky few who have effective representation; although these do actually change over time. Just look at Labour over the last 50 years.
    Thanks for your response, greatly appreciated!

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  3. In agreeance. Clearly British politics is fairly shamelessly undemocratic. Executive power is dominates and there is unquestionably a significant lack of public consulation on policy. At the crux of the democraticisation issue is the notion of transparency and accountability. More referendums or legislation to pin manifesto commitments to governments could offer a solution?

    Inherent within a representative democracy is the notion that each individual has an identity that is being represented by their MP. Logically then, more powers are needed to allow constituants to express their dissatisfaction with their MP. Politics in the UK is unfortunately still predisposed to archaic, antiquated and draconian political paradigms. In essence, a complete upheaval is necessary within the political sphere, emplacing power within the hands of the people.

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  4. @Adam: regarding “Are you saying a person has to alter their vote as they age?”. People don’t have to alter the way they vote as they age, but the reality is that many do. The old adage that “anyone who isn’t liberal in their 20s hasn’t a heart; anyone who isn’t conservative by their 30s hasn’t a brain” is overly simplistic, but does reflect trends such as people:

    – Focusing on access to education issues while in education themselves, or having young children who shortly will be;
    – Having a vested interest in minimising their tax burden when they are paying a high marginal rate of tax;
    – Focusing on issues such as pensions, healthcare and transport when they reach old(er) age;
    – Becoming more and more aware of what’s within the ‘art of the possible’ to change within their lifetimes. People often want to change the world when they’re students; but as time goes on and other (normally work and family based) commitments take up ever more and more time, people tend to be more selective in what ethical/moral causes they actively pursue, making these issues less of a differentiator in elections.

    I was probably quite idealistic as a York Student 10 years ago, and that steered both the way I voted and the way I spent my time. The reality is, like for many professionals, these days I spend most of my time at work and most of my income on taxes and essential living costs. Perhaps understandably, I’m now more inclined in changing that which tangibly, significantly and personally affects me than I am in changing the world. I suspect readers on this board may find the same in time.

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