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What is Democracy?

Democracy means that the power to do things is held by the people themselves or through the actions of the people they elect to represent them. It also means things such as free speech, freedom of movement, a free press and freedom to protest. 

Some of the principles of democracy are being tested in today’s Britain. For example, debate over the freedom of the press. This follows the Royal charter drawn up after the recent Leveson Inquiry into some media practices. And also the powers within the European Union which has led some to question ‘Who really governs Britain’ the people we send to parliament or unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. The strength of this area has led the Prime Minister David Cameron to promise a referendum to the British people on whether they wish to stay in the European Union in 2017.

Voter turnouts are decreasing in British elections, this has become particularly visible during by-elections, local elections and bespoke elections such as Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012. On the whole results are higher for General Elections but there has still been steady declines in other types of elections.

Who Can Vote?

From 1950 all adults 21 and over. This excludes those detained under certain sections of the Mental Health Act, those in prisons and Peers (because they sat in the House of Lords). It also includes hereditary Peers even though they are no longer there. 

Irish and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK can vote in general elections because of past British citizenship obligations. 

In 1969, the voting age was lowered to 18 and the Labour Party now supports votes at 16 and 17. 

In the 1980s, the vote was extended to those living abroad if they have previously been registered in a British constituency. European Union citizens and peers can vote in local elections. The decision of the European Court of Human Rights to question the blanket ban on prisoners in the UK voting has led to a major debate on the issue. Postal votes had previously been available only for those too incapacitated to vote, as verified by a nurse or doctor, and those working away from home but are now available to anyone on demand.

People have to register to be able to vote and this has been by someone in each household filling in a form, delivered to each address by the local council, on everyone’s behalf.  The Government changed this system in October 2014 to require each individual to register with their National Insurance number and date of birth (and then to provide other information if they do not have a number). 

Laws that have shaped the Vote


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