Politics A-Level essay feedback needed!!!Watch
This is my very first essay on politics. I would much much much appreciate any feedback! Thank you for your time in advance!
Question: Evaluate the view that the UK is facing a participation crisis. (30 marks)
Political participation is one of the key aspects of democracy as it allows citizens to participate in the process of influencing the structure of government, selecting government officials, or the policies of the government. One of the key concerns however over the last few decades with the UK’s democracy is the extent to which citizens have been getting involved in decision-making. I partially agree that the UK is facing a participation crisis. It can be strongly argued that that is the case as the turnout in general elections has been falling since 1979 (it was 76% in 1979 but only 59% in 2001), party membership has fallen since the 1980s and a decline in referenda votes. However, people are increasingly participating through other means such as pressure groups and social media. (Unite Union which protects the interests and rights of workers has over 1,000,000 members)
One argument why the UK may be facing a participation crisis is because of low turnout at elections. European, local and other elections have seen increasingly low turnout. For example, 35.2% voted in the 2014 European Union elections; 36% participated in the 2018 local elections and 15.1% for police commissioner elections in 2012 which undermined the notion of elected and accountable police officials. This demonstrates political apathy from the electorate due to perhaps people feeling they are being taken for granted and turning away from political elites who seek power and break promises with impunity, leading to voters not being committed to any party. This may also suggest that a lot of people may not be well informed about politics which drives them away from voting.*As a representative democracy, turnout must be high so that the resulting government can claim to have a legitimate mandate to enact the policies in their manifesto. However, some may argue that even if the traditional way of participating in politics may be decreasing, others are taking advantage of the internet and social media which provide a means for people to participate in campaigns and share information. Protesting and campaigning via Facebook and other platforms has become a popular way of participating. Moreover, some people utilise Twitter to engage with MPs, commentators and journalists. This demonstrates how people are making use of social media to voice their opinions, raise public awareness and campaign about issues that matter to them. In the past, getting people to sign a petition or raising awareness took time and effort. Nowadays, people can sign government petitions online by just clicking. For example, there have been over 26,000 e-petitions on the government’s website on topics such as exam cancellation and Covid-19 showing high levels of interest and engagement. Campaigns such as the ‘Justice for the 96’ campaign was able to promote and encourage people to participate by signing an online petition to reopen the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster. Thus, even though low turnout in elections may be caused by political apathy, many people use the internet and social media where they try to raise awareness on issues that matter to them and express their opinions.*
Another argument why the UK may be facing a participation crisis is due to a decline in party memberships. Party memberships have fallen since the 1980s. There are fewer party activists which mean there are difficulties in recruiting candidates locally. In 2015, only 1.0% of the electorate was a member of the Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties (compared with 3.8% in 1983). The Conservative Party had almost 3 million members in the 1950s, but this had dropped to around 130,000-150,000 by 2010. This suggests that people are disillusioned with the main parties in the UK and are not engaged by them. It is also a problem because there is a much more limited choice of candidates to put up for election at all levels. For the public, it means there is a smaller group of people influencing the direction of party policy which has an impact on everyone. On the contrary, some may argue that even though party membership is declining, membership of pressure groups has increased markedly since the 1980s. People will often be members of a variety of groups and participate through these, rather than the traditional party system. The RSPB for instance has over a million members including 195,000 youth members. This growth suggests that many people are politically engaged, and they are willing to participate when some parties or groups reflect their particular political views. Hence, the fact that people have disassociated themselves from political parties doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a participation crisis as they are finding alternatives ways to participate such as pressure groups where they are supporting causes that matter to them.
Lastly, another argument why the UK may be facing a participation crisis is due to low voter turnout in recent referenda. It is often asserted that referendums are a way of encouraging political participation as it allows a citizen to vote for something where their voices will be heard on a particular issue. However, many referendums have had a turnout that is far below that of recent general elections. Some examples include: 34.6% of eligible voters participated in the 1998 referendum on whether to create a London mayor and London Assembly. And only 50.2% of the Welsh electorate participate in the 1997 Welsh Assembly referendum. The low voter participation in these major constitutional reforms magnifies the lack of political participation the UK is facing. Having said that, other referenda have attracted a higher turnout. The Scottish Independence referendum (2014) saw turnout at 85%; 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds voted for the first time. 97% of 16-17 years olds who voted said that they would vote again in future referendums. The EU referendum experienced 72.2% turnout, a record high for a UK-wide referendum, suggesting that the public does want the chance to have their say. Hence, although sometimes citizens may not bother voting on referenda, at other times they will depend on the popularity of the issue or if the outcome of the decision will directly impact them.
To conclude, I partially agree that there is a participation crisis in the UK. Participating in traditional forms of politics such as joining a political party or voting in the election may be declining but that does not mean that people are apathetic. There are alternative forms of participating which are becoming increasingly prevalent suggesting that citizens care about voicing their opinions, expressing their concerns and about major decisions that the government makes as it may in one way or another impact them. However, citizens need to start participating in the traditional forms of participation too because if they don’t, it will undermine the whole purpose of representative democracy, resulting in no parties gaining overall control.*