A study by Democratic Audit into the state of democracy in Britain conducted in 2012 that looked at the previous ten years warned that democracy was in “long-term terminal decline” as the power of corporations keeps expanding, politicians become less representative of their constituencies and disillusioned citizens stop voting or even discussing current affairs.
Political decision-making, and how fairly the system reflects the population it represents is a principle most powerfully embedded in the concept of one person, one vote. But it doesn’t seem to be working for Britain.
Britain is the only nation left in Europe that continues to use the antiquated ‘First past the post‘ electoral system.
Britain is one of only two countries (the other is Canada) in the 34 nation OECD with an unelected parliamentary chamber and it is by far the largest of any democracy in the world. The majority in the House of Lords are life peers who are appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, and the balance on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. None are elected democratically by citizens.
Democratic Audit revealed in their study that there had been 74 areas of democratic improvements but that these improvements were very modest in scope. This was overshadowed by 92 concerns and 62 emerging concerns that democracy in Britain was indeed going in the wrong direction. And remember, that was in 2012.
Almost immediately after election victory this year, the Conservatives announced the impending destruction of the Human Rights Act and dismantling of the Freedom of Information Act along with threats of increased surveillance and lower thresholds of security for citizens with a new government drive towards banning encryption.
The report also says that public faith in democratic institutions is “decaying”; there is a widening gap in the participation rates of different social classes of voters; and an “unprecedented” growth in corporate power, which the study’s authors warn “threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making”.
Since the 2012 report, we have now seen the emergence of the truly alarming and secretive TTIP agreement. Millions of European citizens are very concerned about what they consider to be a corporate ‘stitch-up’ and it’s of no surprise that faith in democratic principle is decaying. In the largest study ever undertaken by the EU commission 97% of respondents stating they did not support TTIP with the end result being that governments are proceeding anyway. It is not hard to see why sentiment towards the political process is vaporising.
If democracy in Britain is supposed to representative of its citizens then its core principle is surely about engagement in the political process, political parties and having trust and faith in both. Since 1950 when voter turnout was 84% of the electorate, participation by voters has crashed by nearly 20%. Even the hotly contested election of this year produced an anaemic response barely better than the previous worst three turnouts in over 100 years.
The less democratic Britain becomes or even feels, the less people turn up for elections. This is evident with the European elections. The lowest-ever vote in a European election of 24% was in 1999. The UK’s first ever European vote of 32% was in 1979. The European election average turnout for the UK is just 33.5%.
And who can blame such a low turnout. Following the appointment of the unelected Jean-Claude Juncker last year at the head of the European Commission, a further 27 unelected commissioners were appointed, for the following five years, to their powerful posts in the European Commission.
The biggest decline in voter turnout in Britain started in 1979 under Thatcher, continued under Blair, the coalition and now Cameron.
Only 1% of the electorate are now members of political parties, this is an historic low and overall membership levels continue to decline.
Democratic Audit used over 40 international comparable datasets, including the 34 nation OECD, EU nations, Nordic (Denmark, Iceland, Finland,Norway, Sweden) nations, the six nation consensual (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland) democracies and five nation (Australia, Canada, Ireland, NZ and UK) Westminster democracies. In virtually every case, the UK ranks below the ”EU-15 average. The contrasts between the UK and the Nordic countries was particularly stark.
The numbers are telling. The Nordic nations have consistently higher democratic scores in almost every metric. Voter turnout is almost 20% higher, participation in political parties is 400% higher and the proportion of female politicians is almost double at 41%.
Britain’s ‘Global Absence of Corruption’ ranking is 20th place, the average for Nordic nations is 4th. Global rankings for press freedom in the UK is 26th, for Nordic nations it’s 2nd. In Rule of Law Britain ranks 12th and lags far behind the Nordic nations who occupy 4 out of the top 5 slots. Lower Corruption, higher press freedom and consistent use of the rule of law in the Nordic nations – accounts for a better functioning democracy.
As the report continues to highlight – “Public faith in democratic institutions is decaying, and reforms aimed at restoring public confidence in democratic arrangements have tended to prove, at best, ineffectual and, in several cases, counter- productive”.
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