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British Values: What is Democracy and Why is it Important?

Posted on 7 June, 2017 at 17:15

Suitable for CEFR intermediate (B2) + 

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The UK is a democratic societyDemocracy is listed as one of the fundamental British Values and Principles, and on the 8th June 2017 millions of British citizens will vote at polling stations across the country as part of the General Election.

But what exactly is democracy and why is it important?

“Democracy is the most valued and also the vaguest of political terms in the modern world.”

- Robertson (1986)

Democracy is based on the right of every citizen over a certain age to attend political meetings and to vote on important issues that affect people in society. In a democracy, majority decisions can lead to new laws being passed that could change the way society works or the way it is organised.

In the UK all citizens that have the right to vote in local and general elections are encouraged to do so, so that the democratic process represents all communities, and so that the Prime Minister (the country’s political leader), and any new laws really do have the majority support of the people of the UK.

There are two main political parties in the UK - the Conservatives (Tories) and Labour, and several smaller parties – the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party etc. In the General Election 2017 citizens of the UK will decide who will lead the country for the next 5 years by voting for one of these political parties, and the leader of the party with the most votes will become the Prime Minister.

Each party has a manifesto containing information about their opinions and beliefs about important issues such as tax and public services (like education and the NHS), and voters must decide which party they believe will do a better job of looking after the country and make it stronger for future generations.

All citizens in the UK have the right to participate in democracy regardless of their religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or physical well-being. Only citizens that have committed crime and are in prison are excluded from democracy. Once a person has been released from prison they once again have the right to take part in the democratic process.

Sound good, right?

Well yes, in theory democracy is a very attractive system, but there can also be some challenges in practice. For example, in our busy society how many people have time to research important issues that affect society on a local and national level? How many people really understand the complexities of important issues and the consequences of new laws? How can ordinary people be informed of these issues, and how can we make sure that information is not biased?

It’s important to consider these questions when reading about political issues in the news or on social media, and to develop critical thinking skills as part of engaging in the democratic process and discussing important issues that affect society.

Who are the two people in the picture at the top of this article? Do you know their names and which party they belong to?

Categories: Life in the UK, Intermediate (B2) +, Everyday English

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