If the health of UK democracy is to be improved, we need to move away from thinking about the representation of individual voters to thinking about the representation of views, perspectives and narratives.
Democratic reform comes in waves, propelled by technological, economic, political and social developments. There are periods of rapid change, followed by relative quiet.
We are currently in a period of significant political pressure for change to our institutions of democracy and government. With so many changes under discussion it is critically important that those proposing and carrying out reforms understand the impact that different reforms might have.
Most discussions of democratic reform focus on electoral democracy. However, for all their importance in the democratic system, elections rarely reveal what voters think clearly enough for elected representatives to act on them. Changing the electoral system will not alone significantly increase the level of democratic control held by citizens.
Room for a View, by Involve’s director Simon Burall, looks at democratic reform from a broader perspective than that of elections. Drawing on the work of democratic theorists, it uses a deliberative systems approach to examine the state of UK democracy. Rather than focusing exclusively on the extent to which individuals and communities are represented within institutions, it is equally concerned with the range of views present and how they interact.
Adapting the work of the democratic theorist John Dryzek, the report identifies seven components of the UK’s democratic system, describing and analysing the condition of each in turn. Assessing the UK’s democracy though this lens reveals it to be in fragile health. The representation of alternative views and narratives in all of the UK system’s seven components is poor, the components are weakly connected and, despite some positive signs, deliberative capacity is decreasing.
Room for a View suggests that a focus on the key institutions isn’t enough. If the health of UK democracy is to be improved, we need to move away from thinking about the representation of individual voters to thinking about the representation of views, perspectives and narratives. Doing this will fundamentally change the way we approach democratic reform.
A series of blogs in response to the report are being published on the Democratic Audit website. Links to these blogs will be added below as they are published.
John Dryzek, Centenary Professor and ARC Laureate Fellow at Canberra University, Australia
Graham Smith, Research Director and Professor of Politics at the Study for the Centre of Democracy at the University of Westminster
Jessica Studdert, Deputy Director of the New Local Government Network
Paul Braithwaite, Building Change Trust, Northern Ireland
Oliver Escobar, Lecturer in Public Policy, University of Edinburgh
Ed Hammond, Head of Programmes (Local Accountability), The Centre for Public Scrutiny
Temi Ogunye, Policy Researcher, Citizens Advice
Simon also spoke to The Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Specialist Group about Room for a View. Listen here.