Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Why the Liberal Democrats breaking their 2010 university fees pledge is not an example of democracy failing.

Why the Liberal Democrats breaking their 2010 university fees pledge is not an example of democracy failing.

Time and time again I find “lefties”,  hippies and anarchists using the example of the Liberal Democrats failure to implement their 2010 policy on the elimination of university tuition fees as an example of democracy failing. Time and time again this infuriates me as they essentially do not appear to understand what democracy is and hence why this example does not exemplify its failure. Here I shall briefly explain what the Liberal Democrats policy was, what democracy is and show that the implementation of the Liberal Democrats policy would of been undemocratic.

Democracy for Dummies: What is Democracy?

The etymology of democracy comes from the Greek  “Demos” which translates to “the people” and the Greek “kratia” which translates to “power or rule”, thus Democracy means “power to the people” or “rule of the people”. The Oxford dictionary defines democracy as “a system of government by the whole population or all eligible members of state, typically through elected representatives.”

Democracy originated in Athens around 500 BC, the form of democracy which took place here was known as “direct democracy”.  All Athenian citizens could take to participate in the cities assembly, able to voice opinion and vote on various issues. Athenian citizenship did not include slaves, foreigners, men under 20 and all women (this was because women were deemed too emotionally unstable to vote rationally. I live with 4 women, 5 if you include my dog… I obviously disagree. Women seem like very rational, sane creatures especially during puberty and menopause). This nowadays would be practically impossible - imagine every single person in the country trying to fit into Stormont or Westminster every time a new policy is being debated and implemented; it would be chaos!

Occasionally direct democracy does take place in the form of a referendum. A referendum occurs when the entire electorate is asked to vote on a law or policy. Recent examples would be the Scottish Independence referendum 2014 and the Irish Equal Marriage referendum 2015.

Nowadays the form of democracy that takes place in the UK and the vast majority of other Western-style democracies is Representative Democracy.  In a representative democracy we vote for representatives during elections and they represent our political opinion and needs. We vote for a representative based on their or their party's manifesto. A manifesto is a “public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate.” Before an election all political parties present a manifesto and based on this is what we are meant to vote on. When a party is elected into government they have a mandate to enforce these policies.  The larger the parties vote, the stronger mandate they have to do so.

The Liberal Democrats Manifesto for the 2010 Election.

One of the major differences between the “Lib-Dems” manifesto and their opponents was the phasing out of university fees. The “Lib-Dems” aimed to abolish tuition fees within 6 years of coming to power.   This policy was one of the main reasons why a segment of the public choose to vote for them.

The 2010 Election: The Results

There are 650 seats “up for grabs” in the UK parliament and 326 seats are needed in order for a political party to form a majority government.

Seats Won
Election Year
Liberal Democrats

As illustrated in the table the Liberal Democrats did not have a strong enough mandate to implement their manifesto in its entirety. Both the Labour and Conservative parties wished to increase tuition fees and thus the resounding outcome.

The Conservatives had received the strongest mandate from British civilians to implement their manifesto. However since no party had gained 326 seats this resulted in a “hung parliament”.  The Conservatives decided to join forces with the Liberal Democrats to form a “Coalition Government”; their combined votes enabled them to form an executive.


The only reason why the Liberal Democrats were in government was because the conservatives needed to form a majority; it was not because they had received a majority of votes or a strong mandate to scrap university fees. As the majority of people either voted for Conservative or Labour who both supported the Browne Review which called for the increase in tuition fees, democracy ruled that university fees should increase not decrease. The increase of university tuition fees after the 2010 election does not represent failure of democracy, it shows the opposite - it shows the efficiency of democracy.

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