NEW REPORT: The Future of Democracy in the UK
23 November 2023
The Constitution Unit has published the final report from its Democracy in the UK after Brexit project, with extensive new analysis and reflections on policy implications.
Over the last three years, the Constitution Unit has conducted detailed research into public attitudes to democracy in the UK. This has comprised two large-scale surveys of the UK population, conducted in summer 2021 and summer 2022, and a citizens’ assembly, which met over six weekends in late 2021.
Previous reports set out the findings of each part of the project. This final report pulls these findings together, combining them with extensive new analysis and reflections on policy implications.
The Constitution Unit will be hosting an event to mark the launch of this report on 27 November 2023 at 1:00pm, gathering leading figures from Westminster and experts in this area to explore the findings and identify possible next steps. Free tickets to this online event are still available.
The analysis in the report re-emphasises certain key themes from the research:
- Participants did care about political process and were dissatisfied with the state of democracy in the UK. Participants wanted politics and politicians to be honest, to be representative of and responsive to the public, and to serve the public interest.
- Participants generally both wanted voters to be in charge and did not want power to be concentrated, with few supporting ‘strongman’ politics. They distrusted politicians to act in the public interest. Many valued a careful and considered approach to decision-making, weighing evidence and the views of experts, and including a broad range of perspectives.
- Most participants wanted a strong parliament that represents all points of view, scrutinises proposals and holds those in power to account. They wanted courts to be able to uphold the rule of law and protect vital rights and liberties. They preferred an impartial civil service and an independent and impartial media.
- Participants wanted politicians to be more responsive to public opinion, including through petitions, referendums and citizens’ assemblies – though they also thought that such mechanisms should be subject to constraints to enable more thoughtful public debate and prevent one group exerting undue power.
- Participants wanted barriers to effective participation to be lowered, through better education about politics and accurate and trustworthy information about politics.
- While there were some divergences in opinion among participants, these were not as great as might have been expected and should not be exaggerated. The public as a whole do not hold polarised views on democracy.
This report also discusses the extent to which the views of the public on democracy matter. It emphasises that public support for a given reform does not necessarily mean that such reform should be adopted. However, it also notes that responsiveness to public opinion is part of the essence of democracy, and that democracy works better if people have confidence in it.
The report finishes by asking what should be done. It says:
- Politicians and others in public life should acknowledge that ethical standards matter. Regulators could be strengthened and given greater independence. Deeper thinking about how to shift the political discourse is needed, including from politicians and the media. Simply calling for honesty is not enough.
- Checks and balances are important. There are already proposals to strengthen parliament’s role and enhance its reputation. Politicians should be wary of interfering with the impartiality of the civil service or the broadcasters, or of limiting the ability of the courts to prevent abuses of power.
- Re-engaging the public in democracy in the UK is badly needed. There are no ‘quick fixes’, but various positive steps appear possible.
- The Future of Democracy in the UK: Public Attitudes and Policy Responses
- Democracy in the UK after Brexit — full details of the project, including earlier reports, survey questionnaires and details and recording of the meetings of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK are available on the project’s webpage.