By Akash Thiara, a Placement Student with the Electoral Reform Society from the University of Nottingham.
Last week, polling firm YouGov released a wide-ranging study on democracy and its perception amongst Britons – and it is worth looking at in detail.
The objective of the Democracy Study is to measure and examine the feelings of the British public about democracy in general and how democracy is working in the UK, in particular.
Much has changed since YouGov’s last Democracy Study took place in 2012. In the UK, debates around Brexit, devolution, populism, and now the pandemic have brought issues of how politics works in the UK to the fore.
While the study shows that there is overall support for democracy as an idea, voters express noticeable discontent with the quality of the current system.
Warning signs for Westminster
The need for trust in our democratic institutions is vital: democracies are built on trust. Individuals need to feel included, empowered and properly represented. However, the study highlights some warning signs and indicates that a significant number of Britons are dissatisfied with how democracy is working in the UK.
The results show that in the UK one in four (26%) believes that democracy is working badly, while one in three (34%) believe they have no say at all in how our country is run. These results shine a light on the unhealthy levels of frustration with the current state of our democracy.
One part of our system that fared particularly badly in the survey, was the House of Lords. Nearly half of the public (49%) think the House of Lords is working badly, while only 31% think it is working well. Perhaps this is unsurprising given the unelected, super-sized nature of the upper house.
The disconnect between constituents and their MPs is also at a disturbingly high level, with over a third (35%) saying that they don’t know who their MP is. Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system puts a lot of emphasis on having one MP – but with so many voters going ignored each election, it’s no wonder people tune out.
There is also a widespread desire for a redistribution of powers away from central government in Westminster, to local and regional governments. 52% of people support this proposition, whilst only 12% say more decisions should be made by the central government in Westminster. This support for decentralisation of powers is seen across all parts of Britain. Two-thirds (66%) in Scotland and just over half in Wales (52%) and England (51%).
Time for change
Democracy is a concept which gives people the power and the right to be heard in political decision making. Warning signs of discontent should be taken seriously and responded to. When 42% of Britons think that the world is becoming less democratic, we can and must buck the trend.
Replacing the House of Lords with a Senate of the Nations and Regions, decentralising power from Westminster, and ensuring MPs in Westminster reflect how people actually vote are essential first steps to ensuring everyone feels heard.
The government must see this study as a wake-up call, for our current political system to be positively transformed – with a package of popular, empowering political reforms that will make our democracy fit for the 21st century.
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