Representative Democracy

Theories of representation.mp3

Theories of Represenation Podcast 

Representative democracy is the 'normal' model in modern states. In essence, it means that the people elect, and sometimes appoint, individuals to act on their behalf, to be their political representatives. Representative democracies normally have the following features:

According to the Russian anarchist thinker Mikhail Bakunin (1814–76), representative democracy is a sham since it seeks to falsely legitimise the rule of the ‘intellectual governing minority, who, while claiming to represent the people, unfailingly exploits them’. The anarchist political activist Emma Goldman (1869–1940) is also reputed to have said, ‘If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal.’ In 2014, the comedian and activist Russell Brand echoed these arguments at the Cambridge Union when he stated that UK parliamentary democracy is ‘designed to sustain the current power structure. . .be under no illusions. . .that is its primary objective’.


In the UK :

·    There are elected representative assemblies at every level — national (the UK Parliament's House  of Commons), regional (the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies)  and local (councils). These assemblies debate and discuss issues. The House of Commons is the nation's debating chamber- therefore we can be said to have 'Deliberative Democracy'

·    Parties are free to operate and represent various political opinions.

·    Political associations and pressure groups are free to operate and campaign and have access to government. Therefore the UK can be described as a 'Pluralist Democracy'

    Governments at all levels are accountable to representative assemblies.

 Every individual is represented by an MP, a regional assembly member and a local Councillor, who may take up an individual's grievances in government.

·    Every locality is also represented through the constituency responsibilities of MPs. e.g responding to correspondence, meeting constituents in constituency 'surgeries' 

BUT-Remember- MPs have no 'power' in their constituency- they do not run local services or make decisions locally- that's the local authority, but they have influence and the ability to raise local issues in Parliament or with ministers. They can also try to influence local issues through the media. e.g Zak Goldsmith resigned as MP for Richmond Park after the government decided to go ahead with the new runway at Heathrow (so he was being a delegate! see below)

How MPs represent is problematic. Do they represent their party; their constituents or their personal beliefs. ??

The answer is all three. But these days mostly party - Why??

There four theoretical models of representation

The resemblance model: representative assemblies (Parliaments, Congresses) should reflect or resemble the society they represent in terms of class, age, gender, region and ethnicity. ( 2017 election =208 women (32% of the total up from 29% 2015 and 22% 2010) were elected – the greatest number ever. According to the British Future7 think-tank a total of 12 MPs from a black and minority ethnic background were newly-elected, taking the total to 52 (8% of all MPs). The oldest elected MP was Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), aged 85. The youngest, at age 22, was Mhairi Black (SNP, Paisley and Renfrewshire South). However, The ‘average’ MP is male, aged 51 and went to state school then to university (but not Oxbridge). He is most likely to have previously worked in politics.

The delegate model: MPs should seek to represent the wishes of their constituents. MPs will speak about local issues and raise the concerns of individuals and sometimes oppose the policy of their party as a result.

The Trustee model: MPs should represent what they believe to be in the best interests of their constituents even if this might not be popular with them e.g a tax rise or cuts to services.This model was formulated by Edmund Burke (1729–1797), an Irish MP and philosopher and also known as the Burkean Model.

The Mandate Model: MPs should represent their party's policies since the party ran on a manifesto which gives them the mandate to carry out these policies. Party Whips will remind any MP who is considering opposing a policy of their own party of this model.