The Unit’s new report, What Kind of Democracy Do People Want?, contains numerous important findings, many of which relate directly to current concerns about low political trust and standards in public life, and debates about the proper role of the courts. The report is based on a survey conducted in July 2021 in partnership with YouGov, with a sample size of almost 6,500 people who were representative of the UK’s voting age population.
When we asked respondents how satisfied they were with how democracy works in the UK, 54% said they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly satisfied’, against 40% who were ‘not very’ or ‘not at all satisfied’.
But respondents had very little trust in politicians. Net trust in the Prime Minister was -31%, and that in the UK parliament was -19%. In contrast, attitudes towards the civil service were neutral (+1%), and they were positive towards the judiciary (+19%).
Robert Hazell and Bob Morris have been examining the accession and coronation oaths the Queen’s successor will have to take once her reign comes to an end. Their research on the subject has led to two reports, both of which were published today. In this blogpost, they discuss their conclusions and call for both oaths to be rewritten to reflect a country that has changed significantly since they were last used.
The Constitution Unit has published two reports that look forward to the accession and coronation of the next monarch. This might be thought premature. But because so much has to be decided quickly, within 24 hours of the Queen’s death, it is important to spend time now considering the issues that will arise, before they have to be dealt with in the rush of a new reign. There will be no shortage of critics ready to snipe at the new monarch and their government if anything goes wrong; the more things can be thought through in advance, the better.
On accession the new sovereign has to make three statutory oaths: the Scottish oath, to uphold the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; the Accession Declaration oath, to be a true and faithful Protestant; and the coronation oath, which includes promising to uphold the rights and privileges of the Church of England.
These oaths date originally from 1688-1707, when Catholic Europe was seen as an existential threat. In our more secular and pluralist society, the oaths need to be revised and updated; or dropped altogether.
Because the oaths are statutory, any significant revision would require fresh legislation; as would their repeal. To be in time for the next accession, legislation would need to be passed during the present reign.
Legislation could adapt each oath to its context. In a radical reformulation, the Scottish oath could become an oath about the Union; the Accession Declaration, traditionally made before parliament, could become an oath to uphold the constitution and our laws; and the coronation oath, in a ceremony watched by millions, could be an oath made to the people.
Our report offers three different reformulations of each oath, depending on how radical the government wishes to be. It may not be easy to reach consensus with the established churches, other faith groups, and civil society; ultimately the government has to decide.
If there is not the political will to legislate, the government should consider preparing a statement to give to parliament on accession explaining the historical reasons for the oaths, and how they are to be understood in modern times; with an accompanying briefing for the media.