Great Britain - Democratic or not?

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Great Britain has several times been called ‘A democratic dictatorship’, and yet it is considered to belong to the modern western democracies in the world. How come? Can it really be that one of the forerunning, big powers of the world cannot be considered a true democracy, or what does the quote mean?

What is democracy? And how is it defined?
These are important questions if you are going to write about democracy in Britain or in any other country. The word ‘democracy’ descend from the ancient Greek words ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’, meaning ‘people’ and ‘rule’ or people-rule; people should be the ones to rule a country. Traditionally, a democracy means that the government represents the will of the people as it appears through general, free and secret elections, and civil rights, such as freedom of speech and religious freedom, are guaranteed. (NE online 2007, http://www.ne.se/jsp/search/article.jsp?i_art_id=O133787&i_word=Demokrati)
The people should be able to hold the government responsible for its actions and replace a government not working for the best of the people and country.
On the other hand, a dictatorship is a political system where the ruler has unlimited power and rules without restrictions or influence from the people. (NE online 2007, http://www.ne.se/jsp/search/article.jsp?i_art_id=O135135&i_word=Diktatur)

According to the definitions above, the British political system does indeed fulfil the qualifications of a democracy. Free and secret elections are held at least every fifth year and the people can show their discontent with the Government by electing another one.
However, some states that the British political system is non-democratic and that the Prime Minister has almost dictatorial powers.

The head of the leading party is appointed Prime Minister by the Queen, and he forms his government. The leading party almost always has a majority of seats in Parliament, which in theory means the Government can rule as they like, because they can put through every bill. This gives the Prime Minister a significant amount of power, because he chooses his own government and has also the power to dismiss any minister, should he wish to.
Nonetheless his power is restricted by certain factors. For instance, he still has to call for an election within five years, and if he doesn’t act on the behalf of the people they will choose a new Prime Minister. Also, if the Prime Minister should cause a major political crisis, the Queen has the right to dismiss him.

The Queen is not an elected figure, and many people find her considerable influence on the politics a very non-democratic institution. She has the power to veto a new law, and she also acts as an advisor for the Prime Minister and the government, but her powers are to great lengths only symbolic, for instance she has only vetoed laws suggested by the Parliament a few times and only in matters of the monarchy or the royal family. Parliament also has the right to remove her from office.

The electoral system has also been criticized as unfair to smaller parties. Each Member of Parliament is elected in his or her constituency. Every constituency has only one place in Parliament and the candidate with most number of votes wins the place, even if the difference to the runner-up would in theory only be one single vote. This means that representation in Parliament is not proportionate to the actual percentage of votes for every party, and the two major parties benefit on the account of smaller ones.
This is true, but on the other hand a true representation is very hard to reach and this system means that the major party in most cases has a majority in Parliament, and could be considered a stronger government. This also prevents small parties from holding the balance of power.

The British political system is indeed a democratic one. It has free, secret elections within reasonable time-periods and power is undeniably controlled at many instances. This control is to great extend only traditional and could, in theory, be put aside. But in reality that is almost impossible and the system is in fact working. There are of course many flaws in British politics and it could be greatly improved, but no governing system is perfect. As Winston Churchill once said:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others…”

References:

Books:
Oakland, John 1989. British Civ...

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Inactive member [2007-10-21]   Great Britain - Democratic or not?
Mimers Brunn [Online]. https://mimersbrunn.se/article?id=8658 [2024-07-22]

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