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The UK Political System

Not entirely. Democracy in its
purest form involves everyone
having their say. In ancient Athens
all citizens voted on every issue.
Except that women and slaves
were excluded.
Representative Democracy
We elect MPs to represent us. They
vote on matters in Parliament. MPs
usually vote according to what
their party’s policy is, unless they
disagree with it and rebel. THE
WHIP is a ‘tough’, ‘persuasive’ MP
who will try to pull his party’s MPs
into line.
A Referendum
These are rare in the UK. When a
very important decision on the
future of the country is required, a
special vote called a referendum is
called and every voter can choose.
Decisions like joining the European
Union or the Euro currency may be
examples of these.
‘Free vote’
Sometimes MPs don’t have to vote
with their party. These usually
involve matters of conscience like
abortion or fox hunting.
This is the UPPER CHAMBER of
parliament. They will check,
challenge, and approve decisions
made by the House of Commons.
Until recently all the Lords were
hereditary peers. This means that
they are ‘Lords’ because of their
family. It has been reformed and
these Lords were replaced with
appointed ones, called LIFE PEERS.

‘People’s Peers’
The House of Lords is in the
process of being REFORMED
(changed) and there may be calls
for it to be filled with ELECTED
people called ‘People’s Peers’
instead of the life peers.
RECAP: hereditary/life/peoples
The Scottish Parliament (Holyrood
in Edinburgh) and the Welsh
Assembly were both set up after
REFERANDA. Devolution means
shifting power away from the
centre. Scotland can raise its own
taxes and pass laws. Wales can
only discuss issues. The North of
Ireland has an assembly at
Stormont but is very unstable due
to the ‘Troubles’. Some other
regions like Cornwall and the North-
East have growing calls for


The British way of counting votes is
This means that people have one
vote in one area (constituency).
The candidate with the most votes
there gets elected to the House of
Commons (an MP~).
All the MPs in every party are
added up to see which has the
MAJORITY. Sometimes the winning
party actually has less votes than
the losing one!
Many people want a different
system. P.R. stands for
Every vote counts, and the party
with the most votes gets a number
of seats IN PROPORTION to its
Both Labour and Conservative
oppose PR because they do very
well with FPP. Smaller parties like
LIBDEMS or Greens want it though.
‘Voter apathy’?
‘Apathy’ means ‘can’t be
bothered’. At least one in four
people in Britain do not vote. There
are many reasons for this:
• some say that people are just
lazy and new ways to vote like
SMS/text, email, digital TV or
phone-ins would improve ‘turn-
out’, or having POLLING
STATIONS in Tescos or petrol
• some say it is because people
from politics. Why should they
vote for parties that don’t
represent their views?
•Some say voting should be
•Some say starting people earlier
will help, lowering the age to 16