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