We’ve all heard a lot of the same words and terms thrown everywhere whenever we hear someone talk about politics: be it in the news, online, or overhearing a conversation between your mates. But what do these words and terms actually mean, and how exactly does our political system work?  


Learning Objectives

  • Understand what is meant by the broad term “democracy”, and find how it functions in the UK
  • Understand how Parliament works in the UK, and what the two Houses are
  • Know who can and cannot vote in the UK


Democracy is a system of government in which power is overseen and exerted (ideally) by the people as a whole as opposed to a singular governing figure or party. It comes from the ancient Greek words δημος (demos; “the people” or “community”) and κρατος (kratos; “authority”): the full word hence roughly translates to “the ruling by the people”. The UK political system is a representative democracy. This means the people from each constituency (small areas of land across the UK) can elect a representative for said constituency on their behalf in the House of Commons, and are free to vote for a particular Government in regular elections to govern the country overall; this is a democracy as it is the collective people who are in control (albeit indirectly) over who has power to govern them. Parliament essentially works like so…



In England, generally you may only vote in elections provided you are 18 or over, are a British/Irish/EU/Commonwealth citizen and not legally excluded from voting (e.g. if you are a prisoner, member of the House of Lords, etc.). These same restrictions on voting apply to those who want to run for MP or PM.



Make a visual as to how the UK political system works. It could be a diagram, like the one above, or it could be something far more colourful! Make sure to include the two Houses of Parliament.


Taking it further


There are other types of democracy in the world.

Find out what is meant by “direct democracy”, and pick out one other example of democracy in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_democracy to research further. What similarities and differences are there to the UK’s representative democracy?

Likewise, look up how democracy works in another country or region in the world. Can you see any similarities and differences here too?

If you want to learn a little more about the mechanics of Parliament, it would certainly be worth checking out UK Parliament’s website (https://www.parliament.uk/), particularly their “Learning” section for educational resources for students across the UK.  


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