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Is England a Polyarchy, Research Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1457

Research Paper

Abstract

In Democracy and its Critics, Robert Dahl offers some praise for a form of government which he calls a”Polyarchy.” A Polyarchy is a sort of government in which Democratic ideas thrive. The first of these, according to Dahl, was The United States. Many nation states, particularly in Europe, have tried to build themselves around a similar model. Perhaps the most successful of these is England. But is England truly a Polyarchy?

The Criteria of a Polyarchy

In order for a nation state to be called a polyarchy, says Dahl, it must meet specific criteria. First, control over governmental decisions must be “constitutionally vested in elected officials.” Second, these officials must be elected through frequent, fair and free elections with little coercion.  Third most adults must have the rights to vote in the elections. Fourth, they must also be allowed to run for public office. Fifth, citizens must have a right to free expression, especially political expression. Sixth, the citizens of the nation state must have access to information sources that are not all run by the government or any one group. Seventh, the must have the right to join organizations of their choosing – particularly political groups (Dahl, 1989, p. 233).

The English Constitution

The first of these criterion is the one on which England seems the weakest. While it is true that England does grant its power to elected officials, the country has no written constitution and is governed, instead, primarily by common law and case rulings (Stubbs, 2009). But if the effect of unwritten laws and written laws outside a constitution is the same as that of written constitution than perhaps it can be rightly said that England meets this criteria. Still, because England lacks such a document, it may fall short in this regard.

English Elections

England does much better in matching the second criterion. England does indeed have relatively frequent, fair and free elections, and although one party (Labour) stayed in power for well over a decade. Still, in the 2010 elections, the opposing party (The Conservative) and the third-party (Liberal Democrats) now have wrested control away from Labour and have formed a coalition government. This shows that while one party can dominate the political sphere because of its popularity, England’s elections are free and fair. Even fair enough to allow a third-party to gain a great deal of ground (The Telegraph, 2007).

Furthermore, most adults do have the right to vote in the English elections. Indeed, according to The Electoral commission, voting requirements are quite basic. To be able to vote in a UK election, says the commission, a person must be registered to vote. Additionally he or she must be 18 or older and reside or be a British citizen or the citizen of The Republic Ireland or a “qualifying Commonwealth.” Citizens must also not have “any legal incapacity to vote.” Interestingly enough, members of The House of Lords are not allowed to vote. Neither, according to the commission, can convicted criminals who await sentencing (however, certain prisoners do have the right to vote). Finally, anyone who was found tampering with an election cannot vote in elections until five years after their conviction. Still, most adults in England do have the right to vote. Therefore, on this issue, England seems to pass the test. (The Electoral Commission)

English Government

In order for a nation-state to have a Polyarchy, Dahl says that almost all adults must be able to run for office (Dahl, 1989, p. 233). At first glance, England seems to fail this test. After all, the members of The House of Lords are not democratically elected. But The House of Lords has almost no political power. It can suggest amendments to The House of Commons, but the amendments it suggests do not have to be accepted and are frequently rejected. The members of the House of Commons, which wields most of the political power in England, are elected by individual constituencies (Weir, 1999, p. 394). Most adults in England can run for office, though candidates must meet all the requirements that voters must meet and then some. Those who are Bankrupt (House of Commons Standing Committee, 2002) cannot run for office, neither can “lunatics.” (Thorne, 1986, p. 329) One common law suggests that “the deaf and dumb” cannot run for a seat in the House of Commons either (Williams, 1816). This may be contrary to the spirit of Dahl’s requirements, but because almost all adults do have the right to run for office, England seems to meet this criterion as well.

Expression and Association

Dahl’s next requirement was that the citizens of the nation state must have the freedom of expression. Dahl was primarily concerned with the right to free political expression. Here, England certainly seems to pass the test. The English do have the right to freedom of expression, and, indeed political expression. Currently, students and others are rioting in the streets because they are upset about the rising price of tuition. Some have even grown violent and protestors have begun to vandalize property and injure police officers – but those who have not engaged in these behaviors have largely been allowed to protest (UKPA, 2010). Dahl also stipulates that the citizens of a Polyarchy must have the right to the freedom of association. Here too, England seems to measure up. The English do have the right to associate freely – especially when it comes to politics. Indeed, Great Britain is the host of an extremely diverse collection of political and non-political associations. The people of England are able to selected “Jedi” as their religion on their census forms and they have political parties of all stripes, including the “Animals Count,” “Pirate,” and “No Candidate Deserves My Vote” parties (The British Broadcasting Corporation, 2001).

The Government and the Media

Finally, in order to qualify as a “Polyarchy” according to Dahl, citizens must be able to obtain information from a variety of sources which are not run solely by the government or any one company (Dahl, 1989, p. 233). The English do have access to many sources of information, although the British Broadcasting Corporation once had a Monopoly on UK television channels, several alternatives now exist (The British Broadcasting Corporation). Sky and Virgin both offer alternative TV channels. Meanwhile, alternative newspapers and magazines abound. Among the most prominent are The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Daily Mirror and The Economist. Furthermore, English residents enjoy relatively unrestricted access to the internet and can access information from across England and abroad.

Conclusion

England falls short of the requirements for a Polyarchy in a few minor areas. It is true that the country lacks a constitution and that some adults (even some adults who ought to be allowed in the spirit of equal rights) are not allowed to run for office. Meanwhile, the government run BBC does have the upper hand when it comes to news and the dispersal of information. But if England is not quite a Polyarchy, it is something very much like one. It is committed to Democratic principles, especially free speech and the freedom of expression. Indeed, it is so committed to these things that it has allowed protestors to speak out, even though their protests have resulted in property damage and political unrest. The country holds fair and free elections in which almost every adult can vote. Voting requirements are very basic and extend even to some criminals.  While members of The House of Lords are still appointed largely by appointment and because of inheritance, The House of Lords has no real political power. Most adults, however, can run for a seat in the House of Commons. England, then, seems to be a Polyarchy or something very close to it.

Works Cited

Dahl, R. (1989). Democracy and its Critics. New Haven: Yale University.

House of Commons Standing Committee. (2002, May 14). Enterprise Bill. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from The Parliament Web Site: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmstand/b/st020514/pm/20514s06.htm

Stubbs, W. (2009). The constitutional history of England. Ithaca: Cornell University Library.

The British Broadcasting Corporation. (n.d.). 1955: New TV channel ends BBC monopoly. Retrieved 25 November, 2010, from BBC On This Day: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/22/newsid_3131000/3131477.stm

The British Broadcasting Corporation. (2001, October 9). Jedi Makes the Census List. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1589133.stm

The Electoral Commission. (n.d.). Who is eligible to vote at a UK general Election? Retrieved November 25, 2010, from The Electoral Commision: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/faq/voting-and-registration/who-is-eligible-to-vote-at-a-general-election

The Labour Party’s decade in power reviewed. (2007, September 23). Retrieved November 25, 2010, from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1563934/The-Labour-Partys-decade-in-power-reviewed.html

Thorne, R. (1986). The House of Commons, 1790-1820. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Limited.

UKPA. (2010, November 25). Met boss prepares for more disorder over fees. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from Press Association: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5hd02UPwyz-J_IXWJQgNQvB1VOiuA?docId=B35489551290707235A00

Weir, S. a. (1999). Political power and democratic control in Britain: the democratic audit of the United Kingdom. London: Routledge.

Williams, T. W. (1816). A compendious and comprehensive law dictionary: elucidating the terms, and general principles of law and equity. London: Gale and Fenner.

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