There have been angry protests against the UK Parliamentary Election result and I commented that the result was democracy in action.

In response, another person said that the protests are a result of the fact that "the principle of Losers' Consent" has gone.

This has got me researching the best I can about this principle.

As far as I have seen it, there are 2 systems of rule. Democracy (the people choose their government through rule of majority), and Dictatorship (authoritarian form of Government characterized by the absolute rule of one person or one small group of people).

My main question is Is there such a thing as "Losers' Consent" in a democratic society where the "losers" of an election/referendum are to give consent to the result of the election/referendum?

It seems that Losers' Consent is described as follows:

Federalism has been seen as a panacea to several ills in modern democracies: among them conflict resolution, accommodation of ethnic minorities, and the more efficient distribution of government resources


by splitting powers between different levels of government the ills of majority rule could be constrained, and the consent of the people, especially parties in the minority, can be obtained. There is, then, a trade-off: losers consent to the outcome, and winners lament some loss of power.

   — Source: Loewen & Blais (2006)

I see Losers' Consent as some sort of melding of democracy and dictatorship. Am I correct to see it this way?

The thing is, where the UK is

composed of four countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), each of which has its own cabinet, legislature and First Minister, has traditionally been a unitary state, governed by the central Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster. Instead of adopting a federal model, such as that of the United States, for example, United Kingdom continues to employ a system of devolution, in which political power is gradually decentralized.

   — Source: Wikipedia)

Does the principle of Losers' Consent and the quote from Loewen & Blais (2006) apply within the UK?


Loewen, & Blais, (2006). Testing Publius’ Federalism: Losers Consent, Winners Lament? Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. Free PDF retrieved from https://cses.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/LoewenBlais2006.pdf

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    Interesting question, but I'm having trouble deciding which the exact question is. Are you asking if the prinicple of "Losers consent" exists in the British context. Are you asking if Federism is a merging of democracy and dictorship (as it gives minority opinions a local voice) or are you asking if the devolution process is one by which the consent of the minorty can be obtained. – James K Dec 14 '19 at 15:41
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    The Express is the most anti-EU newspaper - it's really spouting nonsense when it tries to pretend the protests are about Brexit. It's left wingers being unhappy that having obtained a left-wing Labour party leader, he got trounced at the polls. Support for EU is more of a left-centrist thing. – richardb Dec 14 '19 at 16:39
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    In a democracy, by definition, there is pre-existing Losers Consent: by agreeing to live in a democracy, people have agreed to majority rule. Note that there almost no (or actually no?) democracies in the world. The United States is a republic, and the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. – user2565 Dec 14 '19 at 16:43
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    @barrycarter, (1) the vast majority of people living in a democracy have never actively agreed to it; (2) being a democracy is orthogonal to being a republic or constitutional monarchy: one is about how political decisions in general are made, and the other is about how the head of state is chosen. – Peter Taylor Dec 14 '19 at 20:02
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    Hopefully I have clarified things. Please see my edit @JamesK – Chris Rogers Dec 14 '19 at 21:21

People use the word democracy to mean different things, but for present purposes I am taking it to mean representative democracy, in which citizens choose their leaders in (mostly) free and (mostly) fair elections.

It's not unheard of in democracies for people to protest the outcome of an election. They may be saying something like, "hey people! You're making a terrible mistake here!". That wouldn't be a rejection of democratic elections. The "losers" give their "consent" in that they accept the reality of the outcome, even if they are angry about it.

Of course, there are some cases where the "losers" might not give their "consent". For example, if they feel that the election was stolen, they would not regard themselves as having "lost" the election at all.

In some ways, federalism offers citizens more opportunities to make themselves heard. If you don't like whoever's running the federal government, you have the opportunity to elect a different crowd closer to home. To use Canada as an example, if you are a conservative-minded Albertan, you probably aren't too happy with the federal government, but you may rest easier knowing that, closer to home, your own province is in Conservative hands. Citizens have less reason to protest when they feel they are more in control.

I think it is correct to see the UK as a fundamentally unitary state, with devolved government outside England. It is not correct to say that England has its own cabinet, legislature, and first minister. England has no devolved government at all; it is governed directly by the United Kingdom parliament and government. (Local government has relatively few powers.) Nearly all important decisions in England are made at Westminster, and the only direct input that citizens have there is to choose their MP, and not very often at that.

In that situation sometimes protest is the only way of making yourself heard. I remember the protests in the UK against the poll tax in 1990, at a time when there was no devolved government in the UK at all. It is unfortunate that some of the protests turned violent. But in the end they were effective, and the government changed course.

I suppose any democracy is a trade-off between self-government and "dictatorship", in the sense that, inevitably, sometimes you get your way and sometimes you don't. Protest does not necessarily imply a rejection of democracy or the political system. The fewer opportunities citizens have to express themselves at the ballot box, the more those citizens may be inclined to protest.

  • Protests can happen if the elections were held more often. I remember the Poll Tax riots too. As a result, the Poll Tax was abolished and the Council Tax was put in its place. To me the Council Tax is the Poll Tax but in different name but we are digressing. As for your first paragraph, different people have different opinion on what is a fair election (proportional representation, first past the post...). The point is that the people do have a say in who governs when there is a democracy. With your second paragraph, there were calls to reject Conservative rule so they are rejecting the result – Chris Rogers Dec 14 '19 at 21:30
  • I suppose it depends on what you mean by "rejecting the result". To my mind that would mean saying the vote is invalid, for example because of fraud. I didn't get that sense from news coverage of the protests. Many of them had harsh words for Boris Johnson, carried "Defy Tory Rule" signs, etc., but I imagine most of the protestors will go on voting, paying their taxes, and otherwise participating in civic life. In this sense they "consent" to the result. It isn't anti-democratic to say that you think the majority got it wrong and continue to campaign for a different course. – mat_noshi Dec 15 '19 at 22:14

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