Virtual Parliament: Democracy campaigners set out lessons from Commons’ handling of Covid crisis

Posted on the 16th July 2020

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society, for immediate release: 16th July 2020. The full submission is available here.

The Electoral Reform Society has called for Parliament to draw up a clear, transparent framework to ensure proper scrutiny in the event of future crises. 

In its response to the Procedure Committee’s inquiry on Procedure under Coronavirus Restrictions, the UK’s leading democracy campaign group said there was a risk of an ‘elective dictatorship’ if the rights of voters and backbenchers are not strengthened. The ERS point to the early shut-down of Parliament, the initial lack of a functioning Liaison Committee and the government’s ‘unearned majority’ as key concerns.

The ERS submission notes that the UK’s governance arrangements are a ‘disaster for public trust’ when it is most needed. “The UK represents one of the most highly centralised and undemocratic forms of governance among advanced democracies. Trust in government is dangerously low – and no wonder when so many people feel unrepresented.”

The Society writes: “Analysis of the crisis response from governments across the globe has suggested a pattern: governments that have come across as transparent, accountable and empathetic have performed well. As noted by Prof Kate Maclean in a recent article: “These nations [such as Germany and New Zealand]….have electoral and party-political systems which adopt elements of proportional representation. Such systems frequently give rise to coalition governments and hence necessitate collaborative leadership.””

The Society has set out five key proposals for Parliament to take forward to bolster scrutiny and participation:

  1. Reinstate remote voting for the duration of the pandemic, and consult on making this change permanent for those who need it.
  2. Develop a clear, transparent framework for Parliamentary procedures to prepare for future times of crisis.
  3. Decentralise power across all levels of government, to allow more rapid and dynamic responses to emergencies.
  4. Establish Citizens’ Assemblies or Citizens’ Juries that can feed into the government’s crisis response in a transparent manner, improving public trust in decision-making at these crucial times.
  5. Move to a Single Transferable Vote electoral system for the Commons to instil a more pluralistic and collaborative political culture, reducing the threat of ‘elective dictatorship’.

The full submission is available here. Quotes can be taken from the report as a ‘spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society’.


Notes to Editors

The recent ‘Democracy in the Age of Pandemic’ report from FairVote UK highlighted several opportunities to counteract these democratic shortcomings, including decentralisation of power, proportional representation and increased public participation in the democratic process.

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