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The story of

Our

UK Democracy that

Every UK Citizen

should know

Foreword

Written by too many citizens to name

Who holds the power? What power do I have? Why vote at all? Why get involved? Why does it matter? What’s democracy got to do with me? Who cares? How will it help? What will it do? Who do I trust? What is the truth? What is a vote anyway? Why wasn’t I taught all this in school? Who represents me and why, how and where? What is the difference between parliament and government?

Well sure you could just stand there shouting on the side lines or you could actually get involved and be part of the story.

Because this story is your story.

It is our story.

Written by those who went before us and by all of us now and all those yet to come.

Democracy is the people. Because this story is your story. Stand up and be counted.

Introducing the

Hero

of our story

The hero of our story is you.

The hero of our story is you. You are at the heart of this story. You the reader. The viewer. The listener. You the citizen. You the Voter! Without you our collective story of democracy doesn’t really properly exist. Because the people rule and that means you rule!

We need all citizens to:

  1. Understand the basics of our existing UK democracy and that democracy is more than the ballot box and is all year round and begins with them
  2. Have confidence and trust in our democracy and feel heard and involved
  3. Understand that democracy is not fixed or set in stone and is shaped by the people for the people
  4. Be given the confidence and permission to question and challenge our existing democracy. Because that is the very essence of a working democracy

The word democracy comes from two Greek words that mean people (demos) and rule (kratos).

A democracy is a system of government where the power lies with the people who either rule directly or, in the case of the UK, indirectly through freely elected representatives who we can replace through peaceful transfer of power.

You vote for people to represent you.

However democracy is about more than simply voting and elections. It is about having your say every day and not just on election days.

Democracy is about having your say and getting involved all year round. Whether that’s through exercising your freedom of speech, volunteering, starting or signing a petition, protesting, campaigning, joining a youth parliament, lobbying, contacting your elected representative or finding ways large and small to take part in civic and civil society, in your local community and neighbourhood or beyond.

Democracy is collaboration and negotiation. It is being able to think critically, debate and reach a consensus.

A democracy is a society which is considered as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity.

Democracy affects your life every single day. From how and when your rubbish is collected and your streets are repaired, to how your school and hospital is run, to how you collaborate with others in your community for the benefit of your community.

Democracy isn’t just about voting.

Democracy needs you every single day of the year not simply on election days.

Democracy is you understanding how things operate so you can have your say all year round and not just on election days.

Don’t be powerless and excluded. Be the hero of the story by reading the story and sharing this story. Read all seven chapters and find out all you need to know to begin your hero’s journey.

Find out who can help you. You’re not on your own. You have representatives who you elect to represent you in councils and parliaments/legislatures (that’s where the laws are made) across the UK. You need to find out who they are and make sure they are representing you properly all the time.

You elect the people who you want to represent you in your council and your parliament to discuss things on your behalf. You elect representatives to make the laws on your behalf and to look carefully at everything that happens and at what is decided by governments.

And you elect the people who get to form those governments.

All those elected representatives are paid by you and work for you and they have to listen to you all year round not just at election time.

Voting is your right. Your privilege.

Taking part is our democracy is your right too. Your privilege. You are part of a community. You are not alone.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to read this story, share this story and own and exercise that right. And in doing so enable others in your community to do the same. You must collect seven key facts and find 10 ways to get involved in our UK democracy along the way.

The

Hero's

Journey

Our UK Democracy is not set in stone

It never was. The different types of government, voting ages, voting systems have been created, shaped and changed by hero’s past and present...

They have been created and shaped and changed by all the Hero’s past and present and must continue to shift and change to meet the needs of future generations.

The Rule of Law

The key idea of the rule of law is that the law should apply equally to all rulers and ruled alike. This ensures a ‘government of law’’ and not a ‘government of men ‘. In this way, the rule of law establishes the relationship between government and the people.

The Media

The UK has a strong independent media history with many different newspaper titles, television and radio channels. The media’s role is to inform the public on important issues that affect them whether these are local, national or international.

Many broadcasters (BBC, ITV, C4) have it written in to their charters that they must inform all citizens about our UK democracy.

Newspapers remain an important source of political information with millions sold and read online every day.

Bias

The media is not unbiased. Newspapers don’t have to be unbiased, but TV and radio journalists generally do need to be impartial. You can check out OfCom for more information. Different newspapers and media can choose to report the news in different ways. Newspapers can take a one–sided approach through their choice of headlines, pictures and stories. Newspapers often support one political party. This can change. It is important to understand what political bias different media sources have. Sometimes it depends on who owns that media outlet. Some urge or seek to influence their readers to vote for one political party of another in the run up to an election.

Fake News

The internet and social media allows people almost unlimited access to information which means people are better informed than ever before. As the internet allows almost anyone to post almost anything they choose, some of the information on the internet is not accurate. Check the date, source, author, detail, funder, facts via other sources.

Go to the Electoral Commission – an unbiased and trusted source of information for everything to do with elections and democracy. You can also use things like fact checkers to check if a story/fact is fake or to be trusted.

Ten Ways to have your say

Democracy is about having your say and getting involved all year round.

Whether that’s through exercising your freedom of speech, getting involved in your local community volunteering, starting or signing a petition, protesting, campaigning, joining a youth parliament, lobbying, contacting your elected representative,finding ways large and small to take part in Civic and Civil Society.

1. Have conversations

Have conversatiions with family and friends and share this Story of Our UK Democracy that every citizen should know. Explain all of the above to other heroes.

Critical thought, debate, collaboration, challenge, protest, campaigning, reaching consensus (agreement) are all key to a good working democracy.

2. Volunteer and get involved in your local community

Democracy starts outside your front door and in your local community all year round. Get to know your neighbours. Find out about and get involved in volunteer groups and societies which represents the needs of your local community and things which you care about.

If one doesn’t already exist, start one!

What do you want to change or help fix? What’s group(s) already exist that are starting to make the change you want to see that you could support?

Volunteer to help with a local community garden, or school (like helping listening to kids read or becoming a school governor or helping with the PTA) or find out about your local health board, parish, community and/or Town Council.

Find out about Citizen’s Assemblies, Participatory Budgeting and local initiatives that will help you to raise your voice and be heard about what matters to your and your family and friends.

3. Find out who your Councillors, Members of Devolved Parliament (if you live in Scotland, Wales or NI) and your MP is. Get in touch with them about what you care about locally, nationally and internationally.

Find them here at Write To Them and They Work for You. Contact your elected representatives by letter, email, phone, social media and in person. They should all hold "surgeries" which just means a day when they hold face to face meetings with the people they represent. Some are drop ins and some are by appointment.

4. Protest, Campaign and Organise

Join with others to amplify your voice and, if you live in Wales, use the Future Generations Act in Wales to hold public bodies and elected representatives to account. Freedom to assemble (getting together with others in public) is your right. Know your rights. Get a copy of The Young Citizen’s Passport – a guide to those parts of the law most relevant to the everyday life of young people in England and Wales

5. Contact the media

From letters pages in your local and national papers, to contacting journalists in the press and recorded media (TV) to social media or simply writing a blog. It is your democratic right to “hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Remember at all times the simple rules of our Freedom of Speech – that it comes with duties and responsibilities to protect the freedom and rights of others as well as ourselves and to not incite violence or hatred.

6. Start a petition

Start a petition and get it debated by a devolved such as (Welsh Parliament) or UK Parliament

7. Contribute towards a committee’s research.

They have to listen to you! Watch out for public consultations too and make sure you have your say about anything which matters to you.

8. Join a School Council, Youth Parliament or stand for public office

In primary and/or secondary school and/or a Youth Parliament from age 11-18 and when you are 18 or over stand for public office. Yes you!!! Become a Councillor or even stand to be elected as a Member of a devolved parliament or the UK parliament.

9. Register to Vote

Register to vote:

  • at 14 if you live in Wales and Scotland
  • or 16 if you live in England
  • or 17 if you live in Northern Ireland

10. Vote

Check out The Electoral Commission for trusted and unbiased public information about your vote and all elections and also Where do I vote? Who can I vote for?

The four kinds of

Elected

Representatives

our hero can call on for

Help

Every hero has more than one elected representative.

The first part of your quest is to find yours.

Everyone in the UK is represented by an MP and several councillors and some also elect a mayor.

If you live in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland you elect members of that devolved parliament / legislature too.

Step one on your hero’s journey is to find your elected representatives at Write To Them and They Work for You.

Councillors

Councillors are elected by Ward/District to represent you at local government level. Councillors represent electoral areas called Divisions, Wards, Districts or Unitary Authority Electoral Division (UTE). I know you couldn’t make this stuff up. This is why the hero’s challenge is so complex! It just means an area around where you live. You will have several councillors who represent you at city, county, district or borough council level which is often called your Local Authority. You may also have councillors who represent you at Town, community and parish councils too.

Mayors

Most local authorities opt for the ‘leader and cabinet’ model where the council leader is selected from the councillors. In some areas a ‘mayor and cabinet’ model has been adopted, where a directly elected mayor is established replaces the role of council leader?. Many authorities with or without elected mayors have a ceremonial mayor who holds no executive power and the two roles of elected mayor/nominated council leader and ceremonial mayor exist concurrently.

Members of Parliament (MPs)

MPs represent you in UK parliament in Westminster in London at UK Parliament level at Westminster in London. Everyone in the UK is represented by an MP in the UK parliament in Westminster. There are 650 MPs representing 650 constituencies. MPs and Members of Devolved Parliaments represent people who live in an official geographic area called a Constituency which is a bigger local area than a ward/district.

Members of devolved parliaments (MS, MSP, MLA)

Elected to represent the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Parliaments/Legislatures.

Members of Senedd (MS) and Members of Scottish Parliament (MSP) are elected by constituency and region. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in Northern Ireland are elected by constituency only.

Key fact

You have more than one representative. Everyone in the UK is represented by an MP and several councillors and some also elect a mayor. If you live in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland you elect members of that devolved parliament/legislature too.

Once you know who all your elected representatives are you must go seek the oracle – go to the Electoral Commission for trusted and unbiased public information about your vote and elections.

Our hero is now less alone in the world.

Our hero has many representatives who are paid well to listen and take on board what matters most to them and to make sure that all voices are heard equally.

Our hero has a trusted and truthful source of information.

Next our hero must travel through and understand the ‘three realms’ - the three different types of government we have in the UK.

The Three Realms

The

Three Different

types of

Government

we have in the

UK

Next our hero must travel through and understand the 'three realms' — the three types of government in the UK.

The three types of government explained

Realm 1 | Local government

Your council/local authority deals with all the local stuff such as your bins, streets, local public buildings and open spaces like your local parks, schools. youth services and social care. Some people in the UK will also have a Community, Town or Parish Council.

Most local authorities/councils opt for the ‘leader and cabinet’ model where the council leader is selected from the councillors, but in some areas a ‘mayor and cabinet’ model has been adopted, where a directly elected mayor is established to replace the role of council leader. The leader or Mayor chooses the Cabinet.

Realm 2 | Devolved Governments and Parliaments (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland)

Devolved governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are in charge of many things that directly affect the people living in that part of the UK such as health, education and more. These are called devolved powers and devolved parliaments have law making powers for these. The leader of the political party with the majority of seats in a devolved parliament becomes First Minister and forms a government and chooses the cabinet.

Realm 3 | UK Government and Parliament

The leader of the political party with the majority MPs in the UK parliament becomes Prime Minister and forms a government and chooses the cabinet. The UK government and parliament look after some things for the whole of the UK (such as defence and immigration) which are ‘Reserved Powers’ and some things for people in just England (such as health, education, transport, culture) that are ‘Devolved Powers’ in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

--------------------

It is very important to understand this about devolution.

The UK Government and Parliament only look after things that are devolved like Health and Education for people in England and not in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

So when you hear the Prime Minister on the news talking about Health and Education they are only talking about in England.

The UK Government and parliament also look after foreign relations, defence, the constitution, immigration and many aspects of economic policy for the whole of the UK.

These are called RESERVED powers.

This means that only the UK parliament and government can make decisions on these matters.

Whichever party wins an election is then in Government and gets to form a Cabinet.

Whichever party (or parties) come second become the opposition.

If there is no clear winner there may be a Coalition Government.

Key fact

Devolved powers include health, education, culture, sport, agriculture, transport and local government. Devolved parliaments and devolved governments are resposnsible for all areas which are devolved and have law making powers for these areas such as Health and Education.

The UK Government looks after all the things for people in just England that are devolved in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Also look after foreign relations, defence, the constitution, immigration and many aspects of economic policy for the whole of the UK.

These are reserved powers. This means that only the UK parliament and government can make decisions on these matters.

Our hero understands that

Parliament

and

Government

are two

Very Different

things

PARLIAMENT basically means DISCUSSION. A parliament is the group of people who are elected to make and change the laws of a country and check everything the Government does. A Parliament is a country’s legislative (law-making) body and is sometimes called a LEGISLATURE.

Both words mean an institution that has the power to make or change laws

Which is very different to...

GOVERNMENT the group of people who are officially responsible for governing (running) the country or political part of the country.

A Government has 1 job – to run the country

A Parliament has 2 jobs:

  1. LEGISLATION – Propose new laws and amend (change/make better) existing laws
  2. SCRUTINY – Challenge and examine or inspect closely and thoroughly everything the Government/Cabinet is doing.

The UK Parliament makes laws for England and for the UK. The UK Parliament scrutinises the UK Government.

The UK Parliament (Westminster in London) is made up of 3 things:

1. Monarch

The monarch has the final seal of approval but it is really ceremonial and Queen Elizabeth II has never challenged a law. The Monarch used to have ALL the power until 1642 when Charles I burst in and tried to arrest some MPs which led to the monarchy being abolished for 11 years!

2. The House of Commons

This is the first chamber where MPs debate and vote. Ordinary British citizens, citizens of the Republic of Ireland or eligible Commonwealth citizens can stand to be an MP unless they are disqualified because of their job (such as police/army/judge/civil servant/monarch).

3. The House of Lords

This is the second and non-elected chamber.

You can find out how you become a member of the House of Lords here.

Decisions made in one House generally have to be approved in the other.

If the House of Commons propose a new law the House of Lords need to approve it before it gets approved and signed off by the Queen.

It’s a two way chamber system.

Checks and balances.

Making sure everything is fair, right and proper.

Devolved Parliaments

The Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish Devolved Parliaments make and amend their own laws for their own devolved nations. The devolved parliaments scrutinise the devolved Governments. For example, Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru makes laws for Wales and challenges and examines the Welsh government

The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments do not have a second chamber.

All devolved parliaments have law making powers and can create laws about devolved areas without reference to Westminster.

It is therefore very important that people in the devolved nations vote in the UK parliamentary general election and the Welsh/Scottish/Northern Ireland elections.

A QUICK BIT OF HISTORY:

Until 1999, the UK Parliament was the source of all legislation across the whole of the UK (they made all the laws for everywhere). Since devolution, the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly have taken on the task of passing laws for their respective nations and have developed distinctive new bodies of law in areas of devolved responsibility.

THE WELL-BEING OF FUTURE GENERATIONS (WALES) ACT 2015:

One of the laws that the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament has made is the Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015) which gives people in Wales the ambition, permission and legal obligation to improve our social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being. The Well-being of Future Generations Act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. The Act is unique to Wales attracting interest from countries across the world as it offers a huge opportunity to make a long-lasting, positive change to current and future generations.

Key fact

All devolved parliaments have law making powers and can create laws about devolved areas without reference to Westminster.

It is therefore very important that people in the devolved nations vote in the UK Parliament General Election and the Welsh/Scottish/NI elections.

The

Rules

of the game part 1

Voting Ages

General UK Elections

To Vote in General Elections (UK Parliament i.e voting for MPs) wherever you live you have to be 18.

Local Elections

You can vote in local council elections in England and Northern Ireland (council) at 18 and vote in local council elections in Wales and Scotland at 16.

Devolved Parliament Elections

Wales and Scotland devolved parliament elections at 16.

Northern Ireland devolved parliament elections at 18.

Register to Vote

at 14 if you live in Wales and Scotland.

or 16 if you live in England

or 17 if you live in Northern Ireland

Voting rules can change. We, the people, and groups like the Chartists and the Suffragettes, have demanded that the rules change to include all men and women equally. People have died so that all men and women could have a vote. All women only got the vote in 1928. We have only had one person one vote since 1948 and votes for everyone aged 18 and over since 1969. Votes at 16 was introduced in Wales in 2021.

You can get involved in democracy at any age:

  • exercising your freedom of speech
  • volunteering
  • starting or signing a petition
  • protesting
  • campaigning
  • lobbying
  • contacting your elected representative
  • joining a youth parliament
  • getting involved in your local community and finding ways large and small to take part in Civic and Civil Society

Key fact

To get involved in democracy by exercising your freedom of speech, getting involved in your local community, starting or signing a petition, protesting, campaigning, lobbying, contacting your elected representative or finding ways large and small to take part in civic and civil Society = any age!

Your vote

Matters.

It is your

Right.

The

Rules

of the game part 2

Voting Systems

Voting systems, or electoral systems, are the method by which we elect representatives. A voting system determines the rules on how we elect parties and candidates.

The House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and UK local authorities all use different voting systems.

First-past-the-post (FPTP)

is a type of electoral system where the candidate with the most votes in a constituency or area/districts wins.

Who uses First-past-the-post (FPTP)?

The House of Commons and local councils in England and Wales use firstpast-the-post.

Proportional Representation (PR)

is a type of electoral system in which the distribution of seats corresponds closely with the proportion of the total votes cast for each party such as if a party gained 40% of the total votes, a perfectly proportional system would allow them to gain 40% of the seats in that Parliament or Council.

Who uses Proportional Representation (PR)?

A mixture of First Past the Post and Proportional Representation is used to elect Members of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland’s Parliaments.

Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method to elect members.

Wales and Scotland use the Additional Member System.

There are pros and cons for all types of electoral systems. There are many different forms of Proportional Representation. You can find out more about them here.

A note from Omidaze and democracy heroes past, present and yet to come:-

Thank you for reading this story. Please share this story far and wide until everyone you know has heard it and then we can write the next chapter together.

The Democracy Box

Blasting the lid off the shame of not knowing this stuff.

The Democracy Box involves young people aged 16-26 being paid as co-creators to explore and develop new ways to explain the basics of our democracy for other young people, old people and everyone in between all year round and not just in the run up to an election.

#TDB #BeBoldBeBraveBeEducated #NoShameNoBlame

What is the Democracy Box

The Democracy Box aims to promote understanding of our UK democracy and achieve a shared basic level of understanding by the majority of the population.

The Democracy Box is about young people finding new creative ways to share The Story of our UK Democracy That Every Citizen Should Know In Seven Short Chapters so that all young people, old people and everyone in between can understand our UK democracy and can take part.

Our UK democracy needs all citizens to be informed, actively encouraged to get involved and to understand that it is their democratic right to challenge, question, protest, shape, critique, debate and influence our democracy all year round and not just at the ballot box.

The Democracy Box works with young people aged 16-26, born or based in Wales, as paid co-creators. It has developed four prototypes which seek to increase democratic participation and provide information about the UK’s democratic system and structures.