UK Democracy in Terminal Decline

By: Stephen Lendman

Like America, UK democracy long ago passed the point of no return. Arguably it never existed.

Britain’s “Democratic Audit” (DA) says it’s in terminal decline.

DA is a University of Liverpool-based independent research organization. It studies the quality and effectiveness of UK democracy.

It published three previous audits in 1996, 1999 and 2002. Its new one is damning.

It evaluated UK democracy based on 75 criteria. They’re “derived from established international standards….”

“While we note dozens of examples of specific democratic improvements,” it said, “our overall assessment suggests that genuine democratic renewal can only arise from a new constitutional settlement for the UK.”

It calls a democratic audit “a comprehensive and systematic assessment of a country’s political life against some key democratic principles.”

What is democracy, it asked? Defining it never proved straightforward. The term derives from the Greek word “demokratia.” It means rule of the people. Kratia is rule. Demos is people.

Merriam Webster calls it “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority….directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

It also includes “the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.”

America and Britain fail the test. DA based its audit on two basic principles:

  1. Popular control: To what degree do UK citizens “exercise control over political decision-makers and the processes of decision-making?”
  2. Political equality: To what extent is it reflected in the exercise of popular control?

Overall, Britain’s democracy fails the test. It’s in terminal decline. Corruption is rampant. Elections favor entrenched privilege. Corporate power is dominant. Politicians prioritize their interests over popular ones.

Disillusioned citizens opt out of the political process. They stop voting. They spurn major parties. Why not when they’re indifferent to public needs.

From official data and public surveys, DA concluded that Britain’s constitutional arrangements are “increasingly unstable.” Changes like devolution caused it.

Public faith in democratic institutions are decaying. A widening gap in participation rates among different socioeconomic classes exists. Corporate power is “unprecedented.”

It threatens the fabric of British society. It “undermine(s) some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making.”

At issue is whether UK democracy is, in fact, viable. Is it fact or fiction? According to lead report author Stuart Wilks-Hegg:

“The reality is that representative democracy, at the core, has to be about people voting, has to be about people engaging in political parties, has to be about people having contact with elected representatives, and having faith and trust in elected representatives, as well as those representatives demonstrating they can exercise political power effectively and make decisions that tend to be approved of.”

“All of that is pretty catastrophically in decline. How low would turnout have to be before we question whether it’s really representative democracy at all?”

“Over time, disengagement skews the political process yet further towards those who are already more advantaged by virtue of their wealth, education or professional connections.”

“And without mass political participation, the sense of disconnection between citizens and their representatives will inevitably grow.”

Over the last decade, political party affiliation and electoral turn declined significantly. An astonishingly low 1% identify themselves with a political party.

In 2010, turnout for Britain’s general election was around 60%. For European and local ones, it was about 33%.

Disillusionment discourages public involvement. According to Sadiq Khan, Labor Party MP/Shadow Secretary of the State for Justice:

“What I find really troubling is there’s no shortage of big issues which we must get to grips with – the economy, the future of our health, education and social care systems, our environment – many of which grab the attention of the public, but there’s a disconnect when it comes to party politics.”

DA’s report claimed 74 “areas of improvement.” At the same time, 92 “continuing concerns” overshadowed them. So did another 62 “new or emerging concerns.” Electoral fraud was one.

Compared to other OECD and EU countries, Britain ranked low. Troubling issues include corporate power, corruption, press freedom, declining trade union membership, and socioeconomic inequality.

Britain falls woefully short. Conditions are deteriorating, not improving. Attempts to rejuvenate its democracy failed. Turnout in a rare referendum on changing the electoral system was 42%.

In May, eight of nine cities rejected direct mayoral elections. London does it this way.

Britain has no constitutional document. Laws and principles substitute. They comprise statutes, written documents, court judgments, treaties, and unwritten principles like parliamentary constitutional conventions and royal prerogatives.

According to Wilks-Heeg, a written constitution and greater powers for MPs to hold ministers accountable would strengthen British democracy.

Reforming or abolishing the House of Lords would help. So would ending centuries of monarchal privilege and discontinuing the monarchy entirely.

About the author: Stephen Lendman writes on topics of international importance such as war and peace, American imperialism, corporate dominance, political persecutions and other socio-economic and political issues. He is also the author of ‘How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War’ and the co-author (along with J. J. Asongu) of ‘The Iraq Quagmire: The Price of Imperial Arrogance’. A former marketing research analyst, Lendman also hosts the Progressive Radio News Hour (on the Progressive Radio Network, Thursdays at 10:00 AM & Saturdays/Sundays at noon, US Central Time), that features cutting-edge interviews with distinguished guests. Click here to visit his blog.

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