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Friday, 20 July 2012

Democracy



A study into the state of democracy in Britain over the last decade warns it is in "long-term terminal decline" as the power of corporations keeps growing, politicians become less representative of their constituencies and disillusioned citizens stop voting or even discussing current affairs.
The report by Democratic Audit shared exclusively with the Guardian notes there have been many positive advances over the last 10 years: stronger select committees of MPs holding ministers and civil servants to account; devolution of power to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and publication of much more information about politicians' expenses and party donors. But it found evidence of many other areas where Britain appeared to have moved further away from its two benchmarks of representative democracy: control over political decision-making, and how fairly the system reflects the population it represents – a principle most powerfully embedded in the concept of one person, one vote.

Among its concerns, identified from databases of official statistics and public surveys, were that Britain's constitutional arrangements are "increasingly unstable" owing to changes such as devolution; public faith in democratic institutions "decaying"; 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".
"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."
Membership of political parties and election turnout has fallen significantly in the last decade, with only 1% of the electorate belonging to a party, and just over six out of 10 eligible voters going to the ballot box in the 2010 general election and barely one in three in European and local elections. But the depth of public disillusionment and the range of ways voters are turning away from politics revealed by the latest study could shock even those involved.
Sadiq Khan, shadow justice secretary and former chair of human rights group, Liberty, said: "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."
However, there were 92 areas in which there are "continuing concerns", such as the uncertainty over England's constitutional settlement as powers were increasingly devolved to the other three parts of the UK, and increasing evidence of press harassment; and a further 62 "new or emerging concerns", including electoral fraud and declining newspaper sales and audiences for TV news.
Britain also ranked below average compared with other wealthy democracies in the OECD and the EU, and even worse when measured against Nordic countries for issues from party membership and turnout to corruption, press freedom, income inequality and trade union membership.
Source:  The Guardian