Study raises fears for UK democracy

Posted on the 2nd November 2018

A new study of the UK’s democracy has shown an ‘unprecedented decline’ in the core institutions of the UK’s democratic system – particularly at Westminster.

Democratic Audit 2018 [1], by the academics Patrick Dunleavy and Alice Park, shows that for the first time since the inaugural survey 20 years ago, British democracy is now faring worse than before.

The report notes: “UK democracy is still limited by legacy arrangements from imperial or pre-democratic times that should have no place in a modern liberal democracy,” including an unelected second chamber, and an electoral system for Westminster, and English and Welsh council elections, that “dates from mediaeval times and erratically assigns parties seats in no fixed relation to their share of votes.”

The report also notes that the UK’s ‘democratic effectiveness’ has been undermined by a failure to recognise new threats and challenges: “Out-of-date legislation and regulation failed to properly regulate Leave spending in the 2016 referendum, prevent Russian bots influencing voters in 2016 and 2017, or curb manipulative messaging and targeting of voters using illegitimate information.”

Commenting, ERS Director of Policy and Research Jess Garland, said:

“This report should be a wake-up call: our democracy is fragile and under threat.

“The deep divisions turning our politics toxic aren’t inevitable – they are exaggerated by a crumbling, centralised political system that no longer works for modern Britain.

“This report highlights exactly where UK democracy is at its weakest and the threats it faces. Whether that’s electoral systems that distort results, the fact that we continue to be governed by unelected peers or our out-of-date campaign rules which leave us vulnerable to foreign interference, dodgy donations and disinformation.

“But it’s not too late to put it on the right track. There is plenty that can be done to revitalise our democracy – from moving power away from Westminster, to giving us a fair, proportional voting system for MPs and finding new opportunities for meaningful participation.

“It’s time for parties to deal with the growing chasms in British politics and reverse the decline in our democracy.”


Notes to Editors


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