The Constitution Unit has today published a major new report, Doing Democracy Better: How Can Information and Discourse in Election and Referendum Campaigns in the UK Be Improved? Drawing on detailed cross-national research, it proposes a bold set of reforms designed to transform the quality of democratic practice in the UK. In this post, the report’s authors, Alan Renwick and Michela Palese, summarise their analysis and explain their proposals. They argue that a new, publicly funded ‘information hub’ should be developed that gathers multiple information types from diverse sources, all guided by deep citizen deliberation.
The laws governing our elections and referendums are no longer ‘fit for purpose’. That is the stark conclusion of a recent report by the House of Commons Digital Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which calls for far-reaching changes to the regulation of online political communications. This is the latest in a series of reports (see also a recent collection of essays from the Electoral Reform Society) highlighting the threat to our existing democratic practices posed by the digital revolution and proposing measures to address this.
These contributions are important and deserve careful attention. Yet in our own report, generously funded by the McDougall Trust and published today, we aim to go further. We argue that we should strive to strengthen our democratic practice around elections and referendums, not merely protect the status quo from new challenges. Dissatisfaction with the quality of our democratic discourse is not limited to digital communications. Disinformation is propagated not just online, but also through traditional media. Voters and politicians alike are frustrated that reasonable discussions about politics and policies often seem impossible.
We argue that we could do much better. Our report analyses nine distinct strategies for strengthening political information. Through detailed case studies of practice around the world, we examine what does and does not work. We then propose an integrated model that would place the UK at the forefront of democratic renewal, enabling lively, diverse, citizen-led discussion to take place during election and referendum campaigns. Continue reading →
In the aftermath of the EU referendum much has been written about the conduct of referendums in the UK, and whether changes to the way referendum campaigns are regulated should be made in future. The latest contribution is a report by the Electoral Reform Society, in which a number of recommendations are made. In this post Alistair Clark writes that we must be realistic about how much independent regulation might be able to achieve. During the EU referendum independent authorities did speak out against Vote Leave’s £350 million claim, but with no noticeable effect on the campaign, whilst existing experience with regulatory bodies in the UK suggests that political parties push back against regulation and exploit loopholes.
With sincere apologies to Edwin Starr, referendums, what are they good for? If you believe much that has been written since the fateful decision on June 23, not much. Except of course for those writing reports and comment about how they have been conducted, the present author of this blog included. The latest in a long and continuing series of commentary is the Electoral Reform Society’s It’s Good To Talk: Doing Referendums Differently After the EU Vote, published on 1 September.
This is a typically thoughtful and provocative report from ERS. It essentially highlights the egregious quality of debate in the EU referendum, with lies, half-truths and obfuscation at a level rarely seen in British politics. That this was possible was because of the generally ill-informed nature of political debate and the lack of reliable political information. Many PSA members, this author included, signed an open letter orchestrated by the Constitution Unit and published in the Daily Telegraph during the referendum campaign, highlighting the level of misinformation and its likely impact on the democratic legitimacy of the result.
The consequences of this misinformation are becoming clearer by the day, and the warnings of the much derided ‘experts’ about the difficulties involved with Brexit are also being underlined by events. The actual date of triggering Article 50, never mind Brexit itself, recedes ever further into the distance. No-one is any clearer about what a post-Brexit UK might look like, despite some of the more outrageous claims during the campaign and recent statements by the Prime Minister and her cabinet.