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

By Stuart Weir; David Beetham | Go to book overview

Findings: Good in Parts
Measuring British democracy against Democratic Criteria
In this section, we summarise the findings for each of the Democratic Audit Criteria used throughout this book to measure the health of British democracy. They are divided into two broad sections: Free and fair elections, covering the issues addressed in Part 1, and Open, accountable and responsive government, covering Parts 2 and 3.
FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
DAC1. How far is appointment to legislative and governmental office determined by popular election, on the basis of open competition, universal suffrage and secret ballot; and how far is there equal effective opportunity to stand for public office, regardless of which social group a person belongs to?
Parliamentary elections to the popular chamber are determined on the basis of universal suffrage popular vote, but the second chamber, the House of Lords, is not elected. Membership is determined by the hereditary principle, appointed public office, and executive patronage. Men are privileged over women, people of white European descent over all other ethnic groups, and landed, business and professional people over other classes (pp. 75–76).
The return of 101 women Labour MPs at the 1997 election represented a dramatic advance for women in Parliament, but Britain still compares badly with other nations and is far from equal in representation of the genders. The law on positive discrimination in Britain may mean that the key to the adoption of more Labour women in winnable seats—all-women shortlists—may no longer be possible (p. 76).
Ethnic minorities are poorly represented in the House of Commons (p. 76).
The ballot is secret at the point of voting, but the authorities and intelligence agencies can check how individual people have voted from their ballot papers, which are kept in storage. There is some evidence that the intelligence services have made use of this facility (p. 97).
Some 4,500 local quangos under self-appointing or appointed boards now run a wide range of public services at local level, many of which have been removed from the control of elected local authorities. This 'new magistracy' is not subject to popular recall; its members are not broadly representative; and they are not accountable to local communities or users (p. 269).

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