The ailing dragon – healing Welsh democracy

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 9th July 2014

There’s a crisis of confidence in politics, which cannot be allowed to continue. After countless scandals and inquiries, people are left thinking that politics isn’t working for them. The Hansard Society’s audit of political engagement found that ‘voters are disgruntled, disillusioned, and disengaged’. Low-turn out, falling levels of trust, and dramatically declining levels of party membership, are all symptoms of our ailing democracy.

Politics isn’t yet in intensive care, but left untreated, the chronic conditions facing our democracy will have profound effects. The legitimacy of elected representatives will be increasingly questioned; and the confidence of our leaders to govern on our behalf, significantly undermined.

As there’s no one, magic pill to cure this affliction, Electoral Reform Society Cymru has launched a programme of work called The Health of Welsh Democracy. The aim is to generate ideas on how we can boost democracy in Wales. Our ideas will help shape party manifestos, and will provide concrete proposals on what laws and policies the next Assembly, elected in 2016, should enact.

To kick-start the process, we’re hosting a series of small events, bringing together academics, policy-makers, practitioners and decision-makers to explore what’s working, what’s not working, and what we might do to fix things.

Today, we’re hosting the first of the four events. Each event is themed around a particular set of questions, and today we’re looking at Participation & Engagement in Politics. We’ll be exploring the disconnect that exists between people and politics, and tackling issues like political education, the future of political parties and diversity in politics.

Our second roundtable, The State of Democratic Representation in Wales, will lift the bonnet on voting and elections in Wales, and test how well the democratic machine is working. We’re committed to fair votes and the introduction of a system called the Single Transferable Vote. We’ll look at how, practically, this change might be brought in. We’ll also think through the electoral aspects of local government re-organisation, asking questions on things like councillors’ expenses, boundary reviews, and scheduling of elections. Finally, whilst the Welsh Government has limited power over how elections work in Wales, they do have some levers they can pull. We’ll explore how best Welsh Government can use its existing powers in this area, and debate whether more power should be devolved.

Our third event, Good Governance for Welsh Institutions, will shine a light on the corridors of power, and explore whether our local councils, the National Assembly, and the Welsh Government can work in a more accountable and transparent way.  We’ll discuss how the public can shape decisions that affect their everyday lives, not just on Polling Day, but between elections too. And we’ll look at Wales’ place in the UK.  One way or another, the make-up of the UK constitution will change following September’s referendum.  What will this mean for Wales, and if there’s a ‘UK Constitutional Convention’ which some people have called for, what homework will Wales need to do to be ready for those talks?

We’d be missing a trick if we only talked to ‘experts’. Politics is too important to be left just to politicians, which is why we’ll be asking our 6,000 members and supporters in Wales what they think. We’ll also be using the findings of Democracy Max, a citizen-led programme our colleagues in Scotland have undertaken which offers up some interesting and radical ideas on how to renew politics.

We don’t want to just talk about change – we want to see change happen. So we’ll be working with the political parties in Wales.  Ahead of the 2016 Assembly elections, we’ll be hosting a series of workshops with individual parties where we’ll present our ideas and talk about what laws and policies they might put in their election manifestos.

It’s an exciting and ambitious programme of work, that could reshape the way we do things in Wales, for generations to come.

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