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Principle: Responsible Government

Revision Note | Degree

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  • responsible government is core principle of UK constitution
  • requires disucssion of the idea that a Government is representative of the people in a democracy

History of Democracy in the UK

  • assumption that democracy underpins UK constitution
  • not a requirement of traditional doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty
  • mass democracy came relatively late to UK, not until the mid nineteenth century
  • unelected House of Lords retaining significant powers, universal male suffrage only granted in 1918 (50 years after US and France), women did not gain the vote until 1928

Representation and Democracy

  • democracy can be seen as a development from the political decision to extend suffrage not constitutional principle
  • CB Macpherson: ...the electorate did not need to be a democratic one, and as a general rule was not; all that was needed was an electorate consisting of the men of substance, so that the government would be responsive to their choices.. (Real World of Democracy (1966))
  • Parliament retained legal supremacy but gradually increased democratic element- Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 and Representation of the People Acts 1918 and 1928
  • Dicey: ... true that in a political sense the electors are.. actually the sovereign power, since their will is under the present constitution sure to obtain ultimate obedience..
  • role of non legal rules (constitutional conventions) as political practice not legally enforceable
  • purpose of conventions Dicey: [to encourage] .. obedience by all persons to the deliberately expressed will of the House of Commons in the first instance, and ultimately to the will of the nation as expressed through Parliament...

Democratic Theory

  • theories provide a framework for constitutional interpretation

FF Ridley

  • Ridley contrasts constitutions
  • UK constitution does not provide for the people being an ultimate authority in constitutional change
  • .. Britain never developed this idea of popular sovereignty in constitutional terms, even if we sometimes talk of the sovereignty of the electorate in political terms...
  • .. if we ask where that power comes from, the answer is broadly that Parliament claimed it and the courts recognised it. The people never came into the picture... (There is no British Constitution: a Dangerous Case of the Emperor’s New Clothes (1988) Parliamentary Affairs)
  • compared to use of referendum in some constitutional decisions, eg remaining in EC (1975), devolution (1997) and Alternative Vote (2011)

David Beetham

  • Beetham believes possible to carry out a democratic audit
  • two principles of .. popular control and political equality, form the guiding thread...
  • ... Democracy is a political concept, concerning the collectively binding decisions about the rules and policies of a group, association or society. Such decision making can be said to be democratic to the extent that it is subject to the controlling influence of all members of the collectivity considered as equals..(Assessing the Quality of Democracy (2008))
  • defines popular control as requiring: popular election of the legislature and head of the government, open and accountable government, guaranteed political liberties and civil society
  • civil society:.. the nexus of associations through which people organize independently to manage their own affairs, and which can also act as a channel of influence upon government and a check on its powers... (Defining and Measuring Democracy (1994))
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