Changing the Face of Democracy in Britain
By Ellen Nicholson
As Liberal Democrats, we welcome increasing support for changes to a fairer voting system. A recent YouGov poll found greater support amongst the public for proportional representation (42%) than for the current electoral method (33%). The poll also found that four in ten Britons think the current system is unfair.
The UK is one of the few democracies still using First Past the Post. Where fairer voting systems have been introduced for the devolved Parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, people getting a taste of these changes have not looked back.
It is also interesting to note that countries fostering more collaboration across different levels of government have been rewarded with greater public trust for their response to the COVID pandemic rather than the UK FPTP combative Parliamentary system.
On page 48 of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto Boris Johnson stated that a Conservative Government would 'look at the broader aspects of our constitution'. He added that in the first year, the Government would 'set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates'.
This pledge was repeated in the Queen's Speech on the 19th December 2019 with a claim that 'a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission will be established.'
Since then there has been less government enthusiasm, with only an indication from a Minister that 'Further announcements will be made in due course'.
Everyone acknowledges that Covid impacts all areas of Government, so a delay in setting up the Commission is understandable. But Unlock Democracy believes that the handling of the pandemic, particularly the way it highlighted the highly centralised nature of UK government and the impact on the UK's four nations, has reinforced the need for a Commission. Other organisations like the NCVO and FairVote agree.
That is why we propose a new deadline of 12th December 2021 to establish the Commission. The following considerations will need to apply to the Commission before it is set up and in the way it operates thereafter.
This is essential for the Commission to be able to undertake its role with the requisite credibility.
The Commission must be independent of Government
The membership of the Commission should be determined in a transparent and open manner and its membership should be truly representative of the UK and its people
The Commission's remit must be flexible enough to consider the full range of constitutional, democratic and rights' reforms: including, but not limited to devolution, federalism, voting systems, House of Lords, a written constitution, and social rights
The Commission should involve the public in its deliberations through a Citizens' Convention
The Commission's purpose will be to put forward to Government recommendations based on its work and that of the Citizens' Convention
If the Government are genuinely interested in restoring trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates, setting up a commission that meets the five criteria above would be a convincing step in the right direction.
Let's see 2021 as the year of real change with the establishment of an independent electoral commission and a real change to our voting system. Let's bring British Democracy, once seen across the globe, as a fair system, into the 21st Century.