The following item is taken from Crossing Cultures 1998 British Council, Bucharest
Introducing the Idea
Have you ever considered what a strange thing representation is?
What does it mean? It’s no simple uncomplicated matter - it’s not
Look at the following statements:
• An elected member of parliament represents you in a democracy.
• The Queen, who is not elected, can be said to represent Britain.
• Her Majesty’s ambassador represents her in Poland.
• The film represents how we all feel.
• My clothes represent how I feel about myself.
• She represents the school in the competition.
• Realistic art accurately represents objects that we can see.
• TV represents Britain as multicultural society.
• Princess Diana represented the modern British woman in many ways.
ii) conveys the views of
iv) is empowered to speak on behalf of (but remains independent of)
v) gives a mental image of
vii) is typical of
viii) stands for
Now consider which of the words and phrases in the box above can replace
the usages of represents above. In some cases several can be used, but
with different meanings.
Just Representation in Britain?
Quickly answer the following by replying true or false, first in
small groups and then as a whole class.
• Political representation always involves all the population of a country.
• Political representation is a result of the "imagined community".
• Political parties simplify choice for voters by providing a limited
range of coherent policies.
• The possibilities for political representatives are:
1) they do whatever they think is best for the country
Now read the passage.
2) they embody the nation
3) they do what they promised during election time
Representation in government is the process of enabling the citizens
of a country, or at least some of them, to participate in making legisaltion
and governmental policy through deputies chosen by them. The rationale
of representative democratic government is that in large countries not
everyone can physically assemble together to decide issues, as the male
citizens used to in the marketplace of Athens. If, therefore, people are
to participate in government, they must elect a small number from among
themselves to represent and to act for them. Elected representatives are
also more likely - according to the theory - to provide greater stability
and continuity of policy to a nation.
Because of the need to formulate systematically the demands of citizens,
political parties have come to act as intermediaries between the citizens
and their representatives. Political debate along party lines has thus
become a characteristic feature of most representative systems of government.
How answerable representatives should be to their electors is an issue
that has long been debated. The basic alternatives are that the representatives
of the people act as delegates carrying out instructions (that is, they
have a mandate from the people they represent) or that they are
free agents, acting in accordance with their best ability and understanding
(they are representatives subject to recall).
Not everyone can become an elected representative in Britain.
Which of the following do you think are able to stand for Parliament
in Britain? Why?
• Polish citizens
• Peers of the realm (A peer of the realm is a "noble")
• People with no political party
• EU citizens
• People over 21
• Members of the clergy
• People who have no money
• People with mental problems
• Citizens of the Commonwealth
Who may be represented in the British Parliament? (who may vote?)
Quickly read the table, tick the answer you think correct and compare
your answer with your neighbour’s before checking in plenary. Then consider
the questions which follow the table (in groups or whole class).
Category of person
|British citizens aged 18 or more
|British citizens aged 99 or more
|Peers of the realm
|British citizens with no property
|Women under 21
|People who have not registered to vote by a certain date
|Citizens of other countries resident in Britain
|Diplomats from other countries resident in Britain
|People kept in hospitals under mental health laws
|People in prison
|People convicted of corruption
|British citizens working overseas as British Government employees
|British citizens on holiday out of the country while elections are
• Is it right that some people should not be politically represented?
B. Justice in Representation?
• Why do you think men and women have struggled to get the vote in
• What are the advantages and disadvantages of having the vote?
In small groups read the passage and use the information to answer
the questions after it. Then discuss your answers in plenary.
Britain is usually called a parliamentary democracy, but in fact government
is divided up into three sections: parliament, the executive and the judiciary.
A Parliament comprises the House of Commons, whose members are elected,
the House of Lords (consisting of peers) and the Monarch. They meet all
together only on occasions of symbolic significance such as the State opening
of parliament each year when the Commons are summoned by the Monarch to
the Lords. The Monarch’s role is constitutional, that is, s/he acts only
on the advice of ministers. In the twentieth century the Lords have only
ever debated and slowed down laws proposed by the Commons in order to give
more time for debate, although amendments are frequently suggested.
Although Britain has no written constitution it is made up of various
laws and conventions (these are not legally enforceable but are regarded
as indispensable to the working of government). Parliament may in theory
pass laws as it pleases, but it is now subject to its obligations as a
member of the EU. Besides passing laws it ensures, by voting for taxation,
that the work of the executive branch of government can be carried out.
It also scrutinises government policy and administration, including proposals
for expenditure, and debates the major concerns of the day, thus -
in theory - drawing the attention of the electorate to the relevant facts
The executive is not completely elected. While at the head is the Cabinet
of Ministers who are almost all elected Members of Parliament (MPs), there
is also a professional Civil Service whose duty it is to serve whatever
government is in power to the best of its ability: there are strict rules
determining how active they can be in party politics (though of course
they can vote for whomever they choose). The same Civil Service remains
whoever is in power. But at the same time it is concerned to represent
the country: it is committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all
of its staff. In support of this commitment, the Civil Service, which recruits
and promotes on the basis of merit (and goes to elaborate lengths to ensure
this is so and avoid any form of clientelism or patronage), is actively
pursuing policies to develop career opportunities for women, ethnic minorities
and people with disabilities.
In May 1997 120 women MPs out of a total of 659 were elected, the highest
number ever, due largely to the determination of Labour party to win women’s
votes by fielding women candidates;
9 MPs were from ethnic minorities
51% of the total population of the UK is female
5.5% of the total population of the UK belongs to an ethnic minority
In April 1996:
• Women represented 51% of all non-industrial civil servants
• 47% of all staff at Executive Officer level (the first management
grade) were women
• 17% at senior management level were women
• 5.5% of non-industrial civil servants were from ethnic minorities
• 2.9% of all disabled people were employed in the non-industrial Civil
The Judiciary is the third branch of government: like the Civil Service,
it is not elected. Judges are completely independent of ministers and are
normally appointed from amongst practising lawyers.
The police are divided into 43 local police forces. These are each
watched over by "local police authorities", a board of 17 members of which
9 are elected in local elections, and 3 are magistrates. Each police force
operates an equal opportunities policy, and discriminatory behaviour by
police officers, either towards other officers or members of the public
is a punishable offence. Police forces recognise the need to recruit more
women and members of ethnic minorities to ensure they fully represent the
community. No statistics were given for the representation of women and
ethnic minorities in the judiciary.*
* Information derived from (and quoted verbatim where
relevant) Britain 1998: An Official Handbook, Office for National Statistics,
1998, pp. 50-96. This is one of the official guides to Britain produced
by the government itself.
Why might there be no statistics for sex and ethnic comparison for the
Judiciary in the Official Handbook?
What are the different kinds of representation in this passage?
Which is the most just in terms of representation of the population of
Britain as a whole: Parliament, the Civil Service or the Judiciary?
What does this imply about an election system?
What is "Equal Opportunities"?
How may "Equal Opportunities" be connected to the idea of just representation?
Is there/should there be an "equal opportunities" policy in Poland?
The internet allows in theory Participatory Democracy — that is,
a democracy where people directly make their views heard and can vote for
or against all laws, propose their own laws, etc. They can do this by using
email and on-line discussion groups.
Would this be truly just political representation?
Write about the advantages and disadvantages of “IPD” – “ Internet Participatory
A2. Any person aged 21 or over who is a British citizen, or citizen
of another Commonwealth country or the Irish Republic, may stand for election
to Parliament, provided they are not disqualified. People disqualified
include those who are bankrupt, those sentenced to more than one year's
imprisonment, members of the clergy, members of the House of Lords, and
a range of public servants and officials. There is a financial deposit
which may be lost if the candidate does not poll enough votes.
A3. All British citizens together with citizens of other Commonwealth
countries and citizens of the Irish Republic resident in Britain may vote,
provided they are 18 years or over and not legally barred from voting.
People not entitled to vote include those serving prison sentences, peers
and peeresses who are members of the House of Lords, and those kept in
hospital under mental health legislation. You must, however, be on the