• Edexcel AS Level Politics Unit 1

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Unit 1

Democracy and Political Participation

What is Politics?

  • Derived from the Greek word polis
  • This meant of the city or of the state but over the centuries it became to be known as to refer to the activity of managing the affairs of the state
  • This is where issues can be discussed to represent the different views on a topic e.g Tax Credit Cuts 2015
  • Politics is:
    • The struggle for power
    • The conflict between ideas and ideology
    • The activity of mediating between competing demands and interests in society

What is democracy?

  • From the Greek - means "Rule by the people"
  • Freedom of speech to voice opinions
  • Voice opinions of oneself or other groups that conventionally aren't voiced e.g. Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

Why does democracy matter?

Controls the government's power

  • Protects minority groups
  • Encourages popular participation

→ a political principle or practice, and may also be recognised as a right

  • Widely disperses power
  • Establishes and protects freedom

Abraham Lincoln and Democracy

Lincoln said:

  • "Government of the people"
  • "Government by the people"
  • "Government for the people"
  • "Government of the people" - This is participatory democracy where people get involved with politics whether it being over a cold one at your local, by joining a party and being politically active or being a part or even active in a pressure group e.g Greenpeace
  • "Government by the people" - This is direct democracy where the people make the important decisions. the Scottish referendum and the Irish Gay marriage are both examples of this where it has affected the people's lives for the better
  • "Government for the people" - This is representative democracy this means that whoever governs us does so in the interests of society

Participatory Democracy

How can citizens participate in politics in the UK?

  • Citizens can be a part of the referendum
  • Vote in local, regional and national elections
  • Watch political programs
  • Be a part of a pressure group
  • Join a political party
  • Can get in touch with their MP or another representative

How can political participation be increased in the UK?

  • Like Australia, the state can impose a fine against individuals who don't vote
    • This makes voting compulsory in Australia
    • However, this goes against the people's civil liberties
    • This is countered by the suggestion of an option to vote for none of the candidates. The electorate can write "Refusal to vote" or "No opinion"
  • Reducing the voting age from 18 to 16 as proposed the Scottish government
    • The idea may "politicise" young people
    • However, it has been said that few 16-17 year olds will bother to go to the voting booth or because they are too inexperienced to vote
    • However, 16-17 year olds are old enough to pay taxes therefore the argument should be made that they should have the right to vote for their government
    • In 2005, Stephen Williams MP made the point that 16 year olds are twice as likely to vote
  • Extensive use of referendums to stimulate more interest by regular voting to make the nation not only politically aware but also politically active
  • Big society plans are designed to encourage political awareness

In what ways has political participation fallen in the UK?

  • Voting turnout has fallen by 10.8% since 1980
    • It is important that citizens vote because it determines how the country is run
    • Russell Brand makes the point that political parties are too similar therefore it confuses the voter therefore the voter may vote tactically or to a party that makes their policy clear such as UKIP who although are far right, they make their policy clear for the voter whereas the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats are all centralised
  • Party membership has fallen by 3.32% from 4.12%
    • This is also because the parties are too similar which removes the individuality of the party and the party member's political individuality
    • Less support for a party, therefore it's leader, can change the way the country progresses economically and socially
  • Partisan dealignment has increased - people identify much less closely to a party
    • Fewer people identify to a party because of where the party stands
    • Main parties such as Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have all centralised over the year not only breaking conservative pragmatism but also the way their mandate behaves in the party
    • The conservatives were always to the right but not extreme right which let the voter know that they didn't want change but instead keep something the way it is if it is functioning well such. In 2015 the conservatives wanted to break this in tax credit because they wanted to cut them to make a more modern system. This failed to get the nations blessing as well as the lords therefore this infuriated the people because people voted for the party that would leave things be because they were working so well

How has political participation grown

  • The extensive use of online forums and social networking has politicised many people
    • 38 Degrees has claimed 4.6 million political actions
  • E-Petitions - a government website where people can start petitions such as banning Donald J Trump from the UK which has been one of the most popular petitions the site has seen. Although the government won't block an individual, they will debate about debating for blocking certain individuals who can radicalise the British people whether it being in Islam or by banning the religion itself. Both being radical

How can political participation be increased?

  • E-Petitions - The technological era is about us and people are most likely to sign something that is online because it is so easy to find whereas trying to go out and physically sign a vote just means having to take a chunk out of your day to find
  • Make voting compulsory - Australia have made voting compulsory by enforcing it by imposing a fine. This make people more politically aware
  • 'Bring the voting age down - 16 year olds are the future of Britain. This is our generation and we are the future of Britain so why can't we start calling the shots? The argument to be made is that we can join the army, a job, leave home and pay taxes yet we still can't vote in general elections. Why can't we choose where our money goes? 16 year olds are also twice as likely to vote (According to Stephen Williams in 2005) than an adult.
    • However, to counter this argument you can say that are 16 and 17 year olds properly informed on politics and would we just waste our vote on parties such as "Cannabis is safer than alcohol". Also, apparently we're too inexperienced therefore 16 year olds shouldn't get the vote. To counter this argument you can also say that we would still be inexperienced on our first vote therefore, somehow, we need to get the proper experience to vote therefore vote as soon as possible to gain the experience needed
  • More referendums need to be introduced - By introducing more referendums it will increase political awareness therefore more interest in voting in the GE
    • However, to counter this argument you can say that this has a high risk of voter fatigue which will lead to a grand fall in votes in the general election and it costs millions → Scottish referendum
  • Making voting easier by introducing technology - In the U.S. some state have introduced electronic voting
    • This saves money and (for some) make voting easier
    • However, you can say that this may panic some people who are unfamiliar with technology. They may be unsure whether their vote went though
  • Change voting to make it more meaningful - 2/3rds of Britain didn't vote the conservative party therefore their votes being meaningless
    • By introducing proportional representation it would give a representative government which make it further democratic and meaningful to the people
  • Use internet to engage with audience - instagram, facebook and twitter are all used by politicians to raise awareness of themselves and their party such as the Instagram page for Jeremy Corbyn, Cameron and Tim Farron all of which raise awareness for their party via social media to get in touch with the younger generation

Direct Democracy

"A term that describes the political system or circumstances were the people themselves make key political decisions. It flourished briefly, for example, Ancient Athens."

  • This kind of activity isn't feasible today
  • The population is larger therefore the need of direct democracy has to be used less because in Ancient Athens the electorate was most likely below 10,000 whereas today's electorate in just the General Election is approx 66.1% of population able to vote (approx 47 million people)
  • Therefore to an extent, Britain is becoming a consultative democracy → a limited kind of direct system
  • The true meaning of democracy is that the citizens themselves make all the important decisions
    • Therefore the device by which this done by is the referendum

Why is Direct Democracy not viable today?

  • Direct Democracy isn't feasible to use today because of the population of Britain. Out of the 66 million citizens the UK has, 44 million actively voters in the GE whereas in referendums the amount of votes goes up by at least 10%
  • Ancient Athens could use this form of democracy quite extensively because of its population size. There were only 10,000 people voting which therefore meant that it was a feasible method of democracy


  • The true meaning of direct democracy - the citizens themselves make all the decisions through the use of referendums which is a yes or no vote to an unbiased question
  • Referendums are used less and less now because of the size of the electorate but still still used when a question of constitutional change is in question
    • Scottish referendum is a prime example of this because it offered a yes or no question which was unbiased and easy to read

How can the UK government respond to a referendum?

  • Because parliament is the sovereign body, it therefore reserves the right to go against the public decision but because of convention, the people's decision is final. It becomes legitimate and in a sense "entrenched"

What is an Initiative

  • An initiative is where the people decide whether there will be a referendum on a certain topic
  • The people design the question and it is up to them to get enough signatures to get the referendum
    • Enough signatures will show popular support then the state will give a referendum
    • Washington State legalised Marijuana for recreational use through the initiative of the public
  • Initiatives aren't used in the UK because sovereignty still resides in Parliament. Even if a referendum takes place in the UK, Parliament can ignore the decision

To what extent was the Scottish Referendum process fit for purpose?

  • Direct democracy
    • People make the decisions
  • Single issue with a single answer
    • No ambiguity
  • People were educated on the issue
    • Also participatory democracy
  • Decision can be entrenched
    • This ends the debate because people gather the fact that the majority of the citizens wanted the outcome to be what it is
    • Citizens accept the decision made
  • solves political issues by the people


  • There were concerns on the voters by the:
    • Media
    • Internet
    • Politicians

→How ever, this would be purdah - illegal for politicians to influence citizens pre-election →You can counter argue against this by saying they are exercising their right to freedom of speech

Representative Democracy

There is currently a widespread disillusionment with representative institutions

    • Party membership dramatically fallen
    • Voter turnout dramatically fallen
    • Party dealignment has risen

Nevertheless there is a variety of of ways in which the people continue to feel represented

  • MPs represent their constituencies
    • They represent their constituency as a whole and the constituents as individuals - may conflict with party policy
    • MPs take up grievances with members of government institutions and possibly public bodies
    • It is imperative to democracy that each individual feels as if there is a representative that will listen to their problem and possibly even try to resolve it
  • Both House of Parliament to an extent both houses are expected to act as a cross section to society. In debates MPs will express their concerns for the views and interests of the various areas of the community (Pluralist Democracy comes into play here see page 141 of Edexcel Government and Politics for AS)
  • However, neither House can claim to be truly socially representative of the nation as a whole
  • 29% HoC MPs are female
    • Sweden has 45% Female Parliament
    • Belgium has 41% Female Parliament
    • Iceland has 39.7% Female Parliament
    • Argentina has 36.6% Female Parliament
    • Burundi has 30.5% Female Parliament

However, this number has tripled since Thatcher's last term (1992 = 9.2% to 29% in 2015) therefore it was the Labour party that modernised British politics to produce a modern Parliament. However, it is arguable that the system still calls for serious reforms to produce a more representative Parliament. Not only because of the inequality for gender but also for the representation of ethnic minorities and the working class (15 PMs had been "made" in eton)

  • 31% of the House of Commons has been educated in Cambridge or oxford - 34% of statistic belongs to the Torys and *17% belongs to Labour
  • 54% Conservatives have been privately educated
  • 6.6% of Parliament is of an ethnic minority (this number has multiplied by 10 time since 1987)

What is Active Citizenship?

  • It is a philosophy developed by Tony Blair
  • It expresses the idea that it is the citizen's job to be politically active

→ Citizens should engage in politics whether local, regional and/or nationally

What is Big Society

  • A philosophy developed by David Cameron that is very similar to active citizenship
  • Suggests that many of the functions of the state, largely in local government, should be replaced by local activism

→ Free schools

   → [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_school_(England)
A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, independent, State-funded school which is free to attend but which is not controlled by a Local Authority]

Russell Brand

  • Marxist ideaology
  • Against voting
  • Parties are all the same
    • All elitist
    • All went to Eton, Oxford, upper class school

→Exception of Ed Miliband went to local comp in north London

    • White males

→They don't represent the people because they don't know what middle class or working class life is like which is one of Brand's issues with modern day politics

  • Parties are far too similar and this confuses voters because labour and conservatives are too similar (2015 GE)
    • UKIP are far right wing but are clear of this. They have a clear manifesto which pleases the electorate because it clearly shows them what they want whereas the other don't show them clearly because during centralisation they have new and old policies that contradict each other.
  • The political system is there for businesses and co-operations which capitalise and gain profit and how all this has created an underclass
  • Jeremy Corbyn, labour leader, used UKIP's technique to gain supporters of all ages predominantly 18-28 year olds because he made it clear what his policy is and where he stands which differentiates himself from other party leaders because other parties are central whereas he steered labour back to the left which caught the surprise of millions because of the media coverage.

Pressure Groups

A pressure group is an organisation or movement that seek to influence the decision making and public policy. Pressure groups do not seek to become the executive or a part of the legislative but only to influence them.

  • The book's definition An association that may be formal or informal, whose purpose is to further the interests of a specific section of society or to promote a particular cause by influencing the government, the public or both

Examples of pressure groups

  • Plane Stupid - est 2005, they campaign for:
    • End to short haul flights and airport expansion
    • A significant reduction in the number of planes flying to help address the threat of climate change
    • Stop aviation advertising
    • A just transition to sustainable jobs and transport
  • In 2007 PS formed a peaceful protest, as a democratic right, in Manchester to raise awareness of plane travel and their effects on the environment
  • In 2009 PS Illegally occupied Westminster to get support from the public, because this was an illegal movement, the government therefore ended all relationships with the pressure group therefore making it an outsider group
  • pressure groups are structured through websites, social media, membership and leaflets
  • some pressure groups are just a social movement and do not compose any of the above
    • The Anti Iraq War movement
  • The Gurkha Justice Campaign (2009)
    • Headed by Joanna Lumly
    • Wanted Gurkha's to be allowed to continue living in the UK because of their war efforts in WWII
    • Targeted a minister - Philip Woolas
    • Used media (BBC)

What do Pressure Groups do?

Pressure groups are distinguishable from Political parties because parties seek to become the executive (UKIP is an exception in this case, they were a pressure group)

Pressure groups:

  • Represent the views of the public
  • Inform the government of public view - e-petitions may have shadowed this effect
  • Improves government making policy - NFU
  • Helps MPs promote private members issues
  • Educates public over certain issues
  • Narrow focus of groups increases public participation and interest in democratic process
  • Free to form
  • Provides a voice - reduces need for radical protest
  • Makes government accountable
  • Scrutiny of policy leads to improvement


  • Government may have their own agenda
  • Unbalanced
    • The BAA outbalances Plane Stupid by a tonne
  • Powerful insider group
    • BAA - This point relates to unbalance
    • BMA (British Medical Association) Represents medical staff because not a single MP knows what a doctors life is like
  • Elitism
    • BAA, BMA, Institute of Directors

Written by Mr.ItsJustMe - Information taken from Wikipedia, Edexcel Government and Politics for AS and my own knowledge.

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