People often feel that their Government is distant from their everyday lives and that it is difficult to communicate effectively with a weird edifice that interferes so much in their lives and yet the individual has little chance to question the governments’ decisions or the effects they may have in one’s life. There are many ways to communicate with most governments, indeed even with the governments of dictators as we have recently seen in the Middle East, demonstrating and revolution has proved a very successful means of communicating with some governments, who not prepared to listen to their populations. However, revolution is a rather extreme form of dialogue, which should be unnecessary when one lives in a country with a democratic government.
The most effective way to communicate with a democratic government is, of course, through the ballot box. When you cast your vote, at a general election, you are telling the government what you think of their policies. Local elections and by-elections can also provide a way for voters to let the government know their opinions on government policies, during a government’s term. In the United Kingdom, the government formed after the indecisive 2010 General Election is a coalition between the Conservative Party ad the Liberal Democrat party. Local and by-election voters, in 2011, punished the Liberal Democrats severely for their perceived betrayal in backing the Conservative policies, raising University tuition fees and huge public spending and benefit cuts, in a denial of the 2010 Liberal manifesto and pledges. Voters by voting for other parties, so that in many places the Liberals limped into fourth place behind a minority party called UKIP (UK Independence Party), were telling the party and the government that they did not approve of many government policies. This has spurred Liberal Democrat MP’s into being far more vocal in both houses of Parliament and probably caused the recent Parliamentary rebellions in both Lord’s and Commons over such measures.
However, the ballot box whether at local or national level is not the only way to communicate with the government. Making the effort, as many people do, to take part in Government consultations is also a way to communicate people’s concerns to the government. Consultation exercises can and do make governments think again over policies. Democratic governments only govern with the consent of the governed.
Contacting your local Member of Parliament or representative in the legislature for your country is another way to communicate with the government. In the United Kingdom, local members of Parliament hold regular ‘surgeries’ in their constituencies at which any constituent can go and see their local member to raise any issue with him or her. A constituent has the right to go to the House of Commons and lobby their Member of Parliament on any matter. The Member can then raise the issue in the House of Commons. Many UK members of Parliament have web pages on which you can raise issues, which they can then raise in Parliament.
In the United Kingdom, individuals, organizations, or charities can also collect signatures and petition Parliament on any issue or deliver such petitions to the Prime Minister at Number Ten Downing Street. Petitions these days can also be in virtual form. The United Kingdom Government web pages have e petitions for the government those petitions reaching over 100,000 is eligible for debate in Parliament.
Another way to communicate with the government is to complain to government departments, when they get something wrong. If they ignore you, follow the relevant complaints procedure or go to the relevant Ombudsman. If you still get no joy, take the problem to your local MP or representative in your country’s legislature. There is in the United Kingdom, a legal procedure that can review any government official’s decision, not the decision itself but the manner in which the decision was made. Judicial Review is available in particular circumstances, such as where the decision made was reached in an illegal way or the official that made it exceeded his or her power in making the decision and the complainant must be able to demonstrate that the decision affects him unjustly. Judicial review is not available in the United Kingdom for primary legislation, although the courts have recently been extending the law of Judicial Review recently. To use the procedure, you need deep pockets and a lawyer expert in Public Law; it may be that here is an organization or charity campaigning on your issue, who can afford to invoke judicial review on your behalf. In most democratic countries there are similar ways that the courts can review government actions. In the United States the circumstances in which such action is open to review is far less restrictive than in the United Kingdom.
Another way to communicate with the government is to campaign or demonstrate on the issue about which you are concerned. The recent camp around St Paul’s Cathedral, by UK Uncut and Occupy the Stock Exchange, is an example of this type of communication. It certainly has reached the government’s ears and the concerns it raised and is raising are being discussed in Parliament, so, despite some scathing attacks by politicians, it has worked. The matters raised by UK Uncut and Occupy the Stock Exchange were once fringe issues but their campaigning and protests have brought them into the main political arena. Joining with others, who feel as you do on an issue, will make your campaign or protest effective, since democracy works on majorities.
Many people feel that government is all-powerful and distant but effective dialogue does not just mean words and ordinary people can communicate effectively with government in many ways. In democratic countries, the choice of means is much greater and the citizen must always remember that any government only governs with the people’s consent. If the majority of the people remove their consent, the government cannot govern and must fall. Communicating effectively with the government is a matter of choosing the best means for your issue.
De Smith and Brazier “Constitutional and Administrative Law”
University lecture notes Constitutional Law