All About Parliament
How do voters views manifest themselves?
It is not that the other forms of expressing political views are not important, they may have some effect, some probably should have more effect, and certainly opinion polls do influence political leaders, but a general election transfers power from the voters to a particular group of politicians so that the British public do not then directly take political decisions such as:-
- Whether Value Added Tax should be increased
- The level of university fees
- Whether assisted dying is legalised
- Whether people should be able to vote at 16
They are instead decided by our Elected Representatives. By electing MPs we are entrusting someone else to take decisions on our behalf, and the same applies to members of the European, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Parliaments, local councils and the Police and Crime Commissioners. One problem is that not everyone has voted for the person who gets elected and so minorities may not feel that they are really represented. The problem is bigger because under the first past the post system that we have in Westminster elections and also when many people do not vote, the person elected to be our representative may only have got there by the support of a small proportion of the voters. There is also the question of whether MPs act for all groups in society and whether they are socially representative of these groups. Nevertheless, MPs do take up the issues that their constituents present to them.
Despite these problems the system across the democratic world is Representative Democracy. This is contrasted with Direct Democracy (sometimes called Participatory Democracy) but this type of democracy can only really operate:-
- At a very local level when people in a local area can get together and debate issues and take collective decisions
- By holding referendums on issues
But an issue such as whether to build the HS2 railway line cannot be taken at a local level and is complex with long term effects and so difficult to put to a referendum. Even in Switzerland, where there are regular referendums, the vast majority of decisions are still taken by elected representatives. In Britain we have had only a limited number of referendums and only two have been nationwide, one in 1972 on joining what is now the European Union and the second in 2011 on whether to change to the Alternative Vote electoral system.