Democracy in Britain is in terminal decline, claims new study. The research finds the growth of corporate power, increasingly unrepresentative politicians and disillusioned voters are undermining democracy.
The study was conducted by Democratic Audit. It is based on official government statistics and data from a range of public surveys. The study focused on the decade from 2000 to 2010. The picture that emerges from the analysis is one of a consistent and increasing disconnect between decision-making and ordinary voters.
The disillusionment of the electorate is clearly revealed in the fundamental political participation rates. Over the decade membership of the two major political parties has dramatically declined. Both parties having less than 200,000 members. In the mid-twentieth century the parties had millions of members. Those numbers have consistently declined ever since. Only one percent of the population are now members of any political party.
The willingness of the electorate to vote has also been declining. In the last general election only 60 percent of the electorate voted and this figure falls to a mere third in local and European elections. Last year in a referendum on the voting system only 42 percent of the electorate voted.
These figues bespeak of an electorate that is deeply disillusioned with politics. This disillusionment is reflected in the statistics on how people view standards in public life. Those seeing the standards as high has dropped dramatically over the decade to a mere third of the population; whereas, the number seeing standards as low has risen from virtually no one to almost a quarter.
The report also noted the decline in the number of people who read newspapers and the dominance of television as most people's source of news. Of even more significance, the report is highly critical of the news media's capacity to hold the political and corporate elites to account, expressing the view:
Most of the time, most journalists do not know what they are talking about.
The report is also clear about the undemocratic effect of the concentration of the news media in the hands of a few corporations; although, it does acknowledge that it is difficult to demonstrate the extent to which ownership and control influence editorial decisions.
The report is also critical of the levels of widening class inequality; both in terms of poverty and labour market exclusion and also in terms of the degree of corporate influence over public policy.
Stuart Wilks-Heeg, the report's lead author, told the Guardian that Britons could soon have to ask themselves:
Whether it's really representative democracy any more?
The report did, however, recognise some positive signs. It welcomed the increasing application of the Human Rights Act, the increasing membership of smaller parties, such as the Green Party, and the proposed reform of the House of Lords.