Legitimacy In The UK And Around The World

What Is Legitimacy?

Legitimacy is the principle that a regime, institution or individual has a legitimate right to exercise power. Legitimacy is usually, though not always, bestowed through election, but the legitimacy of many political bodies can be disputed. It is a contestable term in that it is not always clear whether an institution is legitimate or not as we will show you using these UK and world examples that follow.

Legitimacy in the UK’s political bodies

– The House of Commons is legitimate because it is elected. However, many claim that the electoral college system is unfair and distorts political representation, so legitimacy can be challenged

– The House of Lords is arguable not legitimate because its members are not elected. However, it does have traditional authority and its political influence remains widely recognised

– UK government is legitimate because it is elected with a clear mandate to govern. However, every government in the UK has been elected with a minority of the popular vote, so we can challenge its legitimacy

– The power of the Prime Minister is legitimate because it is widely acknowledged that he/she is the supreme policy maker in the political system. However, there is no legal basis for prime ministerial power, so it could be said to lack legitimacy


Legitimacy can be challenged far more in other countries

– Regimes that seize power by force are not considered to be legitimate. This applies to the government of Cuba, where the communist party came to power after a civil war

– States which have one-party systems, such as China, lack democratic legitimacy even though they might receive widespread popular support

– States where democracy is considered to be a facade or ‘sham’ lack legitimacy, such as in Iran

– Hereditary monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, lack democratic legitimacy

Thank you very much for reading, please do tell us why the country you live in is legitimate/not legitimate?

Digestible Politics




11 comments on “Legitimacy In The UK And Around The World

  1. Argus says:

    I challenge the legitimacy if the premise it’s based on is false. Referring here to ‘democracy’ which was superbly defined by the ruthless Lincoln as “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” when in fact it is indisputably ‘Government of the people, by the party, for the party’ and that is the end of it.

    People have it pounded into them that they are democratic when blatantly they are not. Hence any ‘democracy’ isn’t (possible exception Switzerland).

  2. The US has a tradition of representation, which helps confer widespread legitimacy – but it also has a tradition of calling the legitimacy of the government into question (“The President doesn’t represent ME!”) that is, if anything, starting to get out of hand. Lately, a number of politicians have been questioning President Obama’s legitimacy for reasons that are arguably based mainly on Obama’s race or policies – as though popular, electorally endorsed positions are illegitimate if they contrast with traditionally American policies.

  3. kumadorian says:

    Why impose a system of governance on a country knowing very well that they are not well suited to such a style. Not all countries can practice democracy as it is being practiced in the USA and UK.

  4. The questions about legitimacy above prompt the question: what would a ‘legitimate’ government look like, i.e. what is the ‘ideal’ government, if indeed there is such a thing?

    In America, the traditional philosophy teaches that Man, the individual, is endowed at birth with rights which are unalienable because they are given by his Creator. Men, created of God, in turn create their governments and grant to them only “just” (limited) powers – primarily to make and keep secure their God-given, unalienable rights including, in part, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So perhaps exploring what rights Men possess and what rights are properly delegated to government might help delineate government’s legitimacy.

  5. davewaybe says:

    Your argument for legitimacy I understand, but would it not make ANY country illegitimate. For instance, you mention Cuba, but not the United States.
    Legitimacy has to be on the basis of the majority of the population accepting and adhering to the regime, not whether it does not satisfy on the basis being legitimate itself.
    Indeed the legitimacy has to be achieved only by consensus, and if you do not protest the point, then we can safely assume you accept it. That is not to be confused with if I cannot have a say, only if I have the option.
    Take satellite states to the UK or Overseas Dependent Territories. In general they have an option to either stay in the UK territories, or to gain about 75% of the population in their favor and they can become independent……
    But using your analogy, because there is no absolute consensus……. They would be illegitimate….?

  6. fearkillsfacts says:

    The legitimacy of any government when considered as a question is quite complex. For example here in Australia it is very rare indeed for a opposition to win and election; in all but one case that has occurred in my lifetime (66 years) Our governments have lost elections and there has been little, if any, consideration of the opposition, the alternate government, during the election campaign. This is very clear indeed with our last election on September 6 when a seriously divided but progressive government lost to a seriously divided, dishonest and incompetent opposition. The situation now, just over 4 months after the election, is that the new opposition, being now united and showing signs of being a lot better than previous governments of the same party, is ahead of the new government which has proven itself to be utterly incompetent, dishonest and worse than useless.

    The Australian government is not legitimate because the electorate only wanted to get rid of the previous government; it did not want to have the previous opposition as the government but believed that it had no choice.

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  8. I find it amazing that we are hung up on UK/ US democracies which although accepted have massive flaws because of their archaic systems. It is an outrage that neither has proportional representation – which would potentially allow stimulating plurality into politics.
    I once spoke to someone from Nicaragua – “What’s the point of voting” he said ” it’s only a choice between two sets of crooks”. I would suggest that the most legitimate governments are those where the representation in the law making bodies closely parallels the opinions of the electorate – say pretty much all of Europe except the UK.

  9. Thomas Wadsworth says:

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