How democratic is the UK?
For the past three years I've been working with colleagues at Democratic Audit on a major research project which aims to track how UK democracy is changing, how well it measures up against international standards, and how it compares to the best democratic performance found globally.
The results of our democratic audit have now been published and feature in today's Guardian.
It probably won't surprise anyone to learn that we find many causes for concern. In fact, we identify more than 150 concerns, ranging from the concentration of media ownership to the reliance of the political parties on large donations.
To be fair, there are also areas of improvements - we identify 74 of them in total. But many of these are modest, others offset by clear deterioration on other indicators, and few, if any, appear to have resulted in the UK improving relative to international comparators.
Concerns about democratic decline are not unique to the UK. The central thematic concerns we identify, such as growing political inequality and declining public faith in democratic institutions, are identifiable in most established democracies. But the UK does appear to be dropping down the international league table of democracies. The contrasts with the Nordic countries are particularly telling, as the Table below illustrates.
There have been plenty of reforms to the UK political system over the past 15-20 years, many of them initiated in response to moment of crisis or growing concerns about a loss of public trust in politics and government.
Unfortunately, there is precious little evidence that these piecemeal reforms have made any real difference. And where reforms really have made a difference - in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - they have also tended to create additional democratic difficulties for England, where 84% of the UK population live.
On this basis, our audit concludes that a new constitutional settlement for the UK will be required if the increasingly evident flaws in our democratic arrangements are to be addressed. This means that the UK must consider adopting far-reaching changes to its political system, underpinned by a clear expression of democratic principles, and taking the step of enshrining these in a written constitution - as all but 2 other democracies globally have done.
How Democratic is the UK? The 2012 Audit was written by Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Andrew Blick and Stephen Crone. The executive summary of the study is available here.