WCSQM Essay - Lauryn Foster
How would you improve the democratic system in this country?
Why do the people running our country care more about being elected than the electorate?
Why do we, as young people, feel disenfranchised and deprived of our future?
Why are the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?
Why can’t we trust politicians?
Democracy plays a vital role in our developed, and predominantly forward thinking country. However, while Britain’s democracy may give everyone the right to their own opinion and choice, it also restricts us to a ballot paper box, and only once looking at these two or three boxes closely can we realise the lack of choice there truly is. Democracy is restrained in four key ways in this country: the under and overrepresentation of the electorate, the infringement of democracy on public services, media coverage of politics and the absence of trust in politicians. By acknowledging and addressing these issues, it may be possible to improve the democratic system.
One of the primary issues is that Parliament does not reflect what our country’s public looks like. Our government may be transitioning towards looking more like the electorate, but many of us are still underrepresented. Only 32% of MPs are women, although just over half our population is female. 29% of our politicians were privately educated, indicating wealthier and more privileged backgrounds, while across the country only 7% of children attend a private school. In addition, 18% have been to a grammar school, and therefore also tend to be from more affluent backgrounds, due to the advantage given by tutoring for admissions tests. Although it has improved since 2015, and there are now 52 of 650 MPs from ethnic minorities, there is still an overwhelming amount of white men, many of whom were privately educated. This is not reflective of the British public, and those from affluent backgrounds won’t have experienced the same extent of problems throughout their lives, so are less likely to understand certain aspects of financial difficulty and everyday struggles that need tending to, unlike the working class representatives. Politicians are more likely to tackle problems they as a person face, so if Parliament is not representative of the electorate, certain people will benefit more out of our democracy. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, democracy is the belief in freedom and equality between people, and if one person benefits more than another from democracy, this defeats the whole point.
Another positive change that could be made would be to ensure that public services are not suffering as a result of democracy overriding professional expertise. Figures running our public services cannot be expected to make beneficial decisions for the public without having had any experience in that particular sector. However, Justine Greening, our current education secretary, and past education secretaries like Gove, were never involved in the education system before they were appointed as secretaries, so may not understand the requirements of the education system. This can lead to many problems; for example when in 2013 Michael Gove tried to get children to start learning formally at the age of 5, while it is proven that it is best to learn more through play until the age of 6 or 7. Furthermore, in 2016, money was wasted on trying to test reception children after being persistently told by experts how damaging this could be. From looking at one of the most successful education systems – the Swedish – we can learn a lot. It is a system in which 54% of Swedes aged 25-64 have gone into higher education, and this means the public is intellectual, and well-employed. I think the main reason for this is that their ministers of education have been chosen based on their understanding of education, rather than what political party they come from. Gustav Fridolin is the current minister of education, and was a teacher formerly, so knows about children’s needs and the improvements that should be made. Heads of education, then, and other essential public services, like the NHS, should be run by experts rather than being dependent on the party in place and their varying policies on the topics. In Britain’s democracy currently our important services are chopping and changing based on the whims of each political party and individuals rather than strong evidenced based research.
Another of the of the main growing issues is lack of trust in Britain’s democracy. How can people vote if they don’t know if anything a party is saying is true? Politicians should be held to account for what they say – like UKIP saying the government would give £350 million every week to the NHS if Brexit went through, yet this was an oversimplification for the purpose of propaganda. Politicians should sign an agreement saying everything they tell people in order to be elected actually happens. This way people may start to trust our politicians, and voting percentages could increase, creating a more democratic system that represents the country as a whole.
Another reason people can be put off from politics, and feel no trust towards the people running our country is unclear political language. Unclear political language is given to us in manifestos and speeches, like “hard and soft Brexits”, which could mean anything. The electorate should be given clear, truthful facts that can be stuck to by politicians, rather than vague, empty phrases.
As a young person, I feel strongly that the voting age should be lowered to 16, although it seems many would beg to differ. I think many members of the older generation have a misguided view of the youth, as most of us are very responsible and have an interest in the world around us. Moreover, if politics was an obligatory school subject we would have the capacity to make an informed decision. We should be able to access the vote because it’s our future. Education fees are being decided upon by the older generations who have already passed through the system, and issues like Brexit could leave our country less stable for us in the future, yet we can’t have a say. The future generations would benefit more as more policies would then be aimed at them, so more people would vote in future and be more interested in politics if they realise it doesn’t just benefit the rich, white and elderly.
The majority of people's judgement on what the country needs comes from the news. Media should be unbiased as many people don’t realise the information they are getting from the press is hidden propaganda for a political party and its manifestos. I understand freedom of expression is vital, but when opinionated views are put forward in newspapers and other forms of media, it should be made clear that this is somebody’s opinion, and not complete fact. In addition, many tabloid newspapers in the past have used inaccurate information to increase the appeal of their stories. For example, on the 9th of March 2016, The Sun proclaimed that Queen Elizabeth II was ‘backing Brexit’. This is fake news that should not be shared in newspapers, because people could believe this and use it as a basis of voting, similarly to when Katie Hopkins, The Sun’s columnist called migrants to our country ‘cockroaches’, spreading hate based on her own disgusting views rather than writing real news for the people reading the paper.
The most difficult thing to improve in our democracy is our voting system, although it does have some flaws. Many people in constituencies feel their vote holds no value, as the majority will stay in favour of one party. This discourages change and gives people the impression that their vote doesn't count. This is not what democracy stands for, yet are there any other options? Proportional representation is one of the other main forms of democracy, but as we can learn from the struggles of the Weimar Republic, coalitions are inevitable and this makes it impossible for changes to be made if there is no agreement between the 7 or so parties in Parliament. We might be able to learn from modern day Germany to develop a system that works better that our current one, but for now we may have to stick with first past the post.
While I have expressed many criticisms of our democratic system and a lot needs to be changed, within Parliament and out, evidently our system is very progressive, and hopefully we can keep taking steps forward to create a more equal and fair place to live, and then we can really match the true definition of democracy.
By Lauren Foster