Britain Democracy

9 Ways We Can Make The UK More Democratic

02:22Ciaran McCormick

The 2015 general election was notable for opening back up the debate on the fairness of British democracy. The controversy over our constitutional system has not been this intense since the AV referendum in 2011. This post outlines some suggestions of ways we can improve our democratic processes with some left-wing analysis of how they might help.

1. Reform the Electoral System

At the top of every list, First Past The Post is deeply flawed. It gives big parties far more seats than they should have given their vote share. It robs small parties that have support distributed across the country. Check out this map to see what happened in 2015.

The solution is a system of proportional representation that would match up votes with seats. Some systems even still allow constituencies to keep their dedicated MP. It would also reduce the problem of safe seats, where people's votes are worth less than in other areas.

2. Guaranteed Opposition in Parliament


The problem here is that on some Bills that have cross-party agreement, they may lack proper scrutiny and criticism. For example, the current proposed legislation banning legal highs has been rejected in the media but is supported by most major parties. More rigorous procedures need to be devised to ensure there are always voices scrutinising legislation in Parliament.

3. Strengthen Our Human Rights


The Human Rights Act needs to be strengthened rather than scrapped. We must stop demonising it as a charter for criminals and defend it as essential to a vibrant democracy. It safeguards in law basic principles like free elections, association and expression.

4. Lower The Voting Age


The political system should recognise the capabilities of young people and the huge interest many of them have in politics. It will be engaging and force politicians to stand up for young people. The predictions of negative consequences were disproved when 16 and 17 year olds voted in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

5. Improve participation


From public Prime Minister Questions to compulsory voting, there are a huge range of measures that can be introduced to strengthen engagement in politics. Read my blog post recommending some of these reforms.

5. More referendums


Whilst referendums are usually reserved just for significant constitutional issues, there is definitely a role for greater consultation of public opinion. Elections should not be the only way for people to exercise their democratic rights. After all, we have only ever had 12 referendums in this country.

6. Deliberative democracy


We should embrace the principles of deliberative democracy. It says that the thoughtful consideration and weighing up of policy makes it legitimate, rather than the procedures for voting on it. This could include more debate for legislation and greater consultation of the public through experts and citizen panels.

7. Keep the House of Lords


Normally, abolishing the House of Lords is at the top of the agenda for democratic reform. Yet preserving some of its useful functions could be really important when faced with majorities in the Commons. There should be no role for hereditary peers or religious figures, but experts and figures from the community offer a lot of value. Additional representation of minorities, women and regions should also be explored. 

7. Greater Local Government


The UK has a rich diversity of regions, nationalities and cultures that should be celebrated. Devolving powers to local areas is a great way to empower communities and allow people to have a greater stake. However, it should not be done in the ideological manner spearheaded by the Conservatives. They have increased local government in order to roll back the national state and to cut funding.

7. Stop Unrealistic Expectations of Politicians


We have lost faith in our politicians, which has affected the enthusiasm of people to engage with democratic processes. They are unfairly demonised just because they are 'career' politicians that want a high salary and expenses for a demanding high profile job. People need to realise that politics requires messy compromises and not all problems will be fixed overnight. Yet these unrealistic expectations make politicians overly cautious and rely on bland soundbites and slogans. This just feeds another criticism that they 'are all the same'.

8. More Level Playing Field for Corporate Influence


I do not feel as negatively towards lobbying as many on the left and am seriously considering public affairs as I begin my PR career. However, we must always make sure that the richest companies cannot have disproportionate access and influence and parties are not solely bankrolled by people expecting their ulterior motives to be met. A diverse range of voices should be heard by policymakers, including those that challenge their viewpoints. This also includes the media landscape, which in 2015 showed how much power a largely Tory press can wield.

9. Improve Representation


A democracy is only as strong as the voices it harnesses for its work. This is why having people from different backgrounds and life experiences is essential for good policymaking. Women and ethnic minorities need to be represented to force their issues onto the agenda and have their unique oppression addressed. 2015 was a great occasion for representation as women increased by a third in Parliament. Yet it is still low at 29%. Improving figures like these is part of the many reforms needed to make the UK more democratic.

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