Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain: The Democratic Audit of the United Kingdom

Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain: The Democratic Audit of the United Kingdom

Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain: The Democratic Audit of the United Kingdom

Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain: The Democratic Audit of the United Kingdom

Synopsis

Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain sets out an up-to-date and compelling analysis of the huge and flexible powers of the United Kingdom. It details the absence of effective checks and balances and the inability of Parliament, in particular, to render the executive open and accountable. In doing so, it provides a comprehensive audit of the formal institutions and process of the British liberal democratic state, including: * the prime minister and cabinet * the civil service, ministers, bureaucrats and government departments * executive agencies and the quango state * elections * Parliament * the judiciary and the rule of law. This study measures democratic practice in the United Kingdom specifically against a unique index of democratic criteria, specially constructed by the authors. The index is an important new tool for monitoring the quality of democracy around the world.

Excerpt

The election of Tony Blair's Labour government in May 1997 at once raised the public's confidence in the way this country is governed. Public confidence in British government, as measured by opinion polls, had been falling sharply through the late 1980s and 1990s and there was a widespread and persistent sense of unease, both about standards in public life and more widely, about the governing institutions and democratic practice of the state (see the Rowntree Reform Trust State of the Nation polls). The incidence of sleaze, unjustifiable patronage, and undemocratic practice under the Thatcher and Major governments was unarguable, and the weakness of the Major government intensified the sense of public disquiet. We were undoubtedly being badly governed. But was the wider concern about the governing system itself justified? Had Britain, which had always been held up to others, rightly or wrongly, as a model of democracy, fallen behind the standards of democratic and effective government of other western nations? In short, how free and democratic were we?

The Democratic Audit of the United Kingdom seeks to provide systematic and robust answers to these questions, using an index of rigorous criteria and standards for assessing the quality of British democracy. These build on internationally accepted criteria for democracy, but go further. Existing criteria tend to regard democracy as a matter of free and fair elections on the one hand, and civil and political liberties on the other. We also measure how responsive and accountable government is between elections, and how much power it is willing to share with ordinary people. In this respect our criteria are, and we think rightly, more rigorous and comprehensive than any others. They are also in tune with the wishes of the British people who feel that they have too little power between elections, as the polling firm ICM have discovered, and would like to have a great deal more.

It may be thought that the election of the Blair government, with a substantial programme of democratic reforms, has made this democratic audit redundant. After all, this is a self-proclaimed 'People's Government', intent on restoring trust between government and the people, and consulting and carrying people with them on major policy changes. Its reform programme acknowledges the legitimacy of public disquiet about the way we are governed, and shows its determination to 'clean up' and 'modernise' British politics. Power is being devolved to the peoples of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and London is to have its own government again. Doesn't this demonstrate the fabled flexibility of our governing arrangements, and their capacity for self-renewal?

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