1.1 Current systems of representative democracy and direct democracy

Key Concepts:

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There are other, less formal ways in which people can get involved in politics. Membership of pressure groups, particularly those concerned with single issues such as the environment, has been increasing. The last two decades have seen numerous well-attended demonstrations on issues as diverse as fuel prices, the Iraq War, fox hunting and student tuition fees. Direct action has become a recognised feature of modern politics, indicating that people may be turning to new methods
of expression because they feel that conventional politics has let them down. Society has become more consumerist - people make up their minds more on an individual basis and are used to making choices between different options. Link: For more on pressure
groups, see Section 1.3. In the last decade the emergence of social media has enabled people, especially the young, to exchange political views and participate in online campaigns on particular issues, without engaging in the real world. An example of e-democracy is support for e-petitions, which allow people to
register a viewpoint online. An e-petition on the Downing Street website in 2007, against proposals for road-charging, was signed by 1.8 million people. The rise of new forms of political engagement may be seen as a positive development, but it is still a cause for concern that so many people are uninvolved in traditional politics. One explanation is political apathy: a lack of interest or awareness of contemporary events and political issues that
affect society. An alternative version of this is known as 'hapathy' - a blend of the words 'happiness' and 'apathy', meaning that people are generally contented and see no need to push for political change. This may possibly help to account for the unusually low levels of voter turnout in 2001 and 2005 (the economy was booming and presumably levels of contentment were higher) but not for the 2010 election (which took place against a much less optimistic economic background). To some extent levels of participation depend on the type of issue at stake. Turnout for the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014 was 84.6 per cent, while 72.2 per cent of people took part in the June 2016 EU referendum across the UK. These figures suggest that on critical issues affecting the way that the country is governed, people will still express a view. A factor that helps explain both declining voter turnout and increasing interest in alternative types
of political activity is the generally negative public perception of politicians in recent decades. Examples of dishonest behaviour by MPs and broken electoral promises, together with a general sense that voting does not change anything, have reduced levels of trust in democratic politics.