Standards in public life are essential to the health of the democratic system. They protect decision-making, underpin political stability, and help to maintain public trust. Lisa James, Meg Russell and Alan Renwick argue that if they are not respected, pressures will grow for a more legalised constitution.
High ethical standards are fundamental to a healthy democracy, and their importance is widely recognised across the political spectrum. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to put ‘integrity, professionalism and accountability’ at the heart of his government; Keir Starmer has pledged to maintain ‘decency and standards in public life’.
No single set of rules or values can hope to capture every aspect of behaviour, so standards in public life are maintained through a combination of codified values, laws, rules and conventions.
The most fundamental values governing all those in public life are contained in the Nolan Principles – also known as the Seven Principles of Public Life (set out below) – which are defined and promoted by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL). Some standards – such as those relating to electoral malpractice or bribery – are matters of law. Others are contained in various codes of practice, such as the Ministerial Code or the Code of Conduct for MPs. And others are reflected in the UK’s wider system of constitutional conventions, which help to govern the relationships between institutions.
There is little serious disagreement about the importance of standards in public life for a democratic system. But debates and disagreements exist about how they should be defined and enforced.Continue reading