Britain is a representative democracy. This is where citizens within a country elect representatives to make decisions for them. Every 5 years in Britain the people have the chance to vote into power those they wish to represent us in Parliament. These MP’s meet in the House of Commons to discuss matters and pass acts which then become British law.
Within the House of Commons, each elected MP represents an area called a constituency.
The voters in this constituency passed on the responsibility of participating in law making to this MP who, if successful within the Commons, could be re-elected by that constituency at the next general election. However, in stark comparison to direct democracy, the people hand over the responsibility of decision making to someone else who wishes to be in that position.
For five years, MP’s are responsible to their electorate. In this way they are held accountable to them. If they fail to perform (or if the party has done badly during its time in office) they can be removed by the people of their constituency. In this way, the people exercise control over their representatives.
However, by handing to their MP’s the right to participate in decision making within the Commons, the electorate is removing itself from the process of decision making. Though MP’s have constituency clinics where the people can voice an opinion on an issue, the electorate play no part in the mechanism of decision making – that process has been handed to MP’s and the government.
Within representative democracy, usually two types of MP’s emerge. There are those who believe that they should act and react to what the party and electorate wish – they believe that they have been elected to represent both; though an argument would be that the party wants the best for the electorate so the two are entirely compatible.
The other MP’s are the ones who believes that they should act in accordance to their conscience regardless of party and electorate stance. This gives such a MP the flexibility to ignore the wishes of both his party leadership and his constituency – therefore allowing himself to do as he/she sees fit. Is this democratic in any form?
However, is it realistic for a MP to do what his/her constituency electorate wishes all the time? If he/she always follows the wishes of the majority within his/her constituency, what happens to those in the minority? Are they condemned to five years in which their views may be heard but are not acted on? Does a representative within the boundaries of “representative democracy”, only represent the majority view and thus state that the wishes of a democratic society have been fulfilled?
The “Tyranny of the Minority” is something that pure democracy is meant to prevent.
One way of expanding the participation of the electorate and therefore the whole ethos of democracy would be to initiate more mechanisms whereby the public can participate, should they wish, in the decision making process. Such mechanisms could be the greater use of public enquiries and referendums. Both would allow the public the ability to participate in the complete process of examining an issue, but they would not guarantee that the public would have any say in the final decision made by government.