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
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
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
Disillusioned citizens opt out of the political process. They stop voting.
They spurn major parties. Why not when they're indifferent to public
From official data and public surveys, DA concluded that Britain's constitutional
arrangements are "increasingly unstable." Changes like devolution caused
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
"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.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized
Banking, Government Collusion and Class War"
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge
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