Voting and Democracy. 1. Introduction

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1 Voting and Democracy 1. Introduction On May 7th Britain will hold a general election to choose its next government. Everyone in the country over the age of 18 (apart from prisoners) will get to have their say on who will run Britain, by voting. But not everyone will use their vote. Why not? This term the Burnet News Club will think about voting: who should be allowed to vote, why people vote, and why some people do not. This topic affects everyone in the country, because voters will decide which politicians will govern Britain. That matters very much, as the government makes decisions that have a big impact on everyone s lives for example they choose what is taught in schools.

2 Facts about this news story Voter turnout means the percentage of people who use their vote in an election. For example, if the voter turnout of an election was 50%, that would mean half the people who were allowed to vote had actually voted, and the other half forgot, didn t bother, or deliberately decided not to vote. Since 1945, the turnout for British general elections has got lower it went from about 84% in 1950 to about 59% in Fewer people are using their vote. Turnout for the last general election, in 2010, was 65%. That was higher than at the two previous general elections, but it was still the third lowest turnout since Poor people and young people are least likely to vote. In 1987 there was only a small difference between how many rich people voted and how many poor people did. By 2010, the gap was much bigger many more rich people voted than poor people. In the 2010 election, only 44% of year-olds voted, but 76% of people aged 65 and over voted. That means young people and poor people are getting less of a say in who runs the country. Voting is one of the best ways that people have to tell politicians what they want, and what they think of them. Politicians know that if they don t do what people want, those people won t vote for them. Politicians usually work hardest to please the people who are most likely to vote for them. As fewer young people and poor people vote, there is a danger that politicians will not try as hard to look after those people. The politicians may do a better job of looking after richer, older people. For example, take the government that we have at the moment, which is run by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It has made decisions which made many people cross, but it has tried hard not to do anything to annoy old people. For example, it has reduced benefits for working-age people, but it has not reduced the state pension for old people. In British general elections, the minimum voting age is 18. The Labour Party, which is Britain s second biggest party, says it also wants to let 16- and 17-year-olds vote. There are various ideas for what to do to increase the voter turnout; for example, in many countries, including Australia and Brazil, it is illegal not to vote. Background context Democracy is a form of government in which all, or most, of the people living in a country are involved in making decisions about how it should be run. The word comes from the Greek demokratia, which means rule of the people and was used to describe how Greek city-states such as Athens were run 2,500 years ago. A bit more than half the world s people live in a democracy. Other ways of running a country include absolute monarchy and dictatorship, where power is held by a very small number of people. There are two basic forms of democracy. One is called direct democracy, which happens when every citizen can have their say on any important government decision. For example, last year people living in Scotland voted to decide whether Scotland should become an independent country. That was a demonstration of direct democracy. (And the Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom). The other is called representative democracy, which is when people choose politicians to make important decisions on their behalf. This is by far the most common form of democracy. Britain is one of the oldest representative democracies in the world. Some people believe that British democracy began with the Magna Carta. This was an agreement signed exactly 800 years ago between King John and a group of barons. It said the King or Queen should no longer have supreme power and be able to do whatever they wanted. For example it said that, No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or

3 possessions, or outlawed or exiled. (This would have been useful for Robin Hood, the fictional outlaw, who is said to have been living in Sherwood Forest at this time.) Until the early 19th century, only wealthy male landowners were allowed to vote. Big industrial cities like Manchester and Birmingham did not have a single MP. At the same time, some tiny places in the countryside known as rotten boroughs often had one or two MPs. Throughout the century, arguments raged over who should be allowed to vote. Eventually laws were passed to give the vote to more and more people to. By the end of the century, all male householders over the age of 21 were allowed to vote, but women were not. One of the fiercest arguments, which raged into the 20th century, was over whether women should be allowed to vote. Campaigners for women s right to vote were called suffragettes ( suffrage means the right to vote ). They launched all sorts of protests to help make their point chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to buildings and pouring horrible chemicals through their opponents letter-boxes. In 1913 a suffragette called Emily Davison was knocked over and killed by the king s horse while protesting at Epsom racecourse during the famous Derby race. The scarf she was wearing at the time is displayed in the House of Commons. In 1928 a law was passed to giving women the same voting rights as men. Elections usually take place every five years. They give the people living in each constituency the chance to give their MP another term in office (if they like him or her), or to fire their MP (if they do not like how he or she is representing the area). Every British person aged 18 or over (apart from prisoners) gets one vote in his or her constituency. He or she can use it to support any one of the candidates who want to be MP. In most places there is one candidate for each of the main parties. Where you live there will almost certainly be a candidate from the Conservative Party, one from the Labour Party, one from the Liberal Democrat party, and probably several others from smaller parties like the Green Party and the UK Independence Party. Each party uses a particular colour to identify itself. The Conservatives are blue, the Liberal Democrats are yellow and Labour is red. And the Green Party is green. One of the big arguments in this election is whether old people or young people need most help from the government. This is sometimes called an inter-generational argument. What do you think about this? The election is likely to be extremely close and exciting! Out of the two biggest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, it is very hard to predict which one is most likely to win. These two parties have very different policies. For example, the Conservatives want to reduce the national debt by spending less money on benefits; Labour is less worried about reducing debt and would spend more on benefits. Most people have quite strong views on which party is right; if they want to make a difference to which party wins, they must vote.

4 Videos To see how far women were prepared to go to fight for their right to vote, have a look at this video. It shows Emily Davidson being hit by the King s horse. https://youtu.be/kvptxmesmpox This helpful video explains the election. Should children be allowed to vote? Future Leaders for Democracy, a fictional group of young people in an episode of a TV drama called The West Wing. In this video a group of school pupils visit the White House in America and make arguments for why young people should be allowed to vote. It s worth watching a couple of times as there are many different and interesting standpoints and reasons given! https://youtu.be/hsdxg-bdw1a Quotes from the video. That argument immature logic and being easy to coerce that argument was used to prevent negroes and women from voting up until the 20th century. I m going to be drinking the water and breathing the air after you re long gone, but I can t vote to protect the environment. What do you think their standpoints were? 2. Concepts The economy / Democracy / Inequality / Poverty 3. Starter Questions Is democracy a good way to run a country? What is wrong with some of the other ways? Is it important to vote? Why do you think some people don t vote? Should it be compulsory to vote? What should the minimum voting age be?

5 4. Standpoints Democracy is the fairest way to run a country, because it gives everyone a say in decisionmaking. Dictatorship is a dangerous way to run a country, because it gives too much power to one person. Voting is a waste of time because all politicians are useless. If you don t vote, you can t complain when the government does something you don t like. People who don t vote should be fined. 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote. Prisoners should be allowed to vote. 5. Voices Susan B Anthony, an American suffragette, on votes for women. There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers. George W Bush, former US president, on how politicians should respond to voters. You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on. David Cameron, Conservative prime minister. [Elderly] people have fought wars, seen us through recessions made this the great country it is today. They brought us into the world and cared for us, and now it s our turn our fundamental duty to care for them.

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