The 2016 referendum result, the government’s inability to manage the Brexit process, and the cumulative effects of austerity have brought many of the UK’s past democratic advances to a juddering halt.
These are the findings of a comprehensive audit of the quality and sustainability of liberal democracy in the UK published today (1 November) in the first open access textbook from LSE Press, a new publishing platform at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Previous audits of UK democracy (the last in 2012) undertaken by Democratic Audit, found the quality of democracy in the UK had generally improved over the past two decades. The 2018 audit still found areas of significant advances, especially in the success of the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and London, and the advent of regional mayors in England.
However, the 2018 audit also found a series of policy disasters in the core executive processes around the Prime Minister, Cabinet and Whitehall, and a series of austerity-induced failures by the civil service and local government that raised profound causes for concern. Areas that have been impacted include the implementation of Brexit, NHS reorganisation, Universal Credit and the erosion of building safety regulations that became evident in the Grenfell Tower catastrophe.
The authors highlight how the two-party system in Westminster is in an unprecedentedly chaotic condition, unable to effectively represent let alone reconcile Brexit divisions. And they conclude the once smoothly operating UK central government apparatus continues to stutter and malfunction.
The auditsituates the worsening quality of UK democracy against the global backdrop of some backsliding core democracies (such as the USA) and the growth of ‘semi-democracies’, where authoritarian governments undermine political competition through rigged elections and manipulated media.
The audit was led by Professor Patrick Dunleavy and the Democratic Audit team at LSE, and engaged a wide range of co-authors from universities across the UK. The book, The UK’s Changing Democracy: the 2018 Democratic Audit is free to download in full at: https://press.lse.ac.uk/site/books/10.31389/book1/
Commenting on the publication, lead editor Professor Patrick Dunleavy from the Department of Government at LSE said: “UK democracy has been in crisis ever since the Brexit referendum vote signalled a huge gap between elite, expert opinion and voters. Britain is an iconic democracy, but in comparative terms we don’t rate terribly highly on democracy scales. That’s because we’re still quite a mixed political system.
“We have a lot of hangover ‘legacy’ institutions like the House of Lords, and ‘dark state’ areas that are not very well covered by Parliament. We don’t have a written constitution. All of these factors mean that it behoves us to constantly try to improve British democracy. The laurels we used to rest on are now looking pretty desiccated”
Lead author of the 2012 audit of UK democracy and Chair of the Democratic Audit Trustees and Trustee of the UK Political Studies Association, Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg added: “Patrick Dunleavy and his colleagues provide a masterful stocktake of how UK democracy has changed since the last full audit in 2012. Their book is a timely reminder that democracies are elaborate, and potentially fragile, constructions. It will be essential reading for students, citizens and policy-makers alike, as the country grapples with defining the shape of the UK polity post-Brexit.”
The book is the most up to date and comprehensive textbook on UK politics available and has been written for a wide range of audiences, from informed general readers to A-level students and undergraduates. It is an innovative open-access aid to teaching and is free to everyone online, in PDF, ePub and Kindle formats.
To access the book, or to purchase a print copy, please visit: https://press.lse.ac.uk/site/books/10.31389/book1/