British democracy is broken – here’s how we can fix it

If the last few months have shown anything, it is that they have exposed democracy in this country to be deeply flawed, open to abuse and vulnerable to manipulation by actors with bad intentions.

We have seen a Prime Minister try and avoid the scrutiny of Parliament by suspending it, unelected representatives attempt to filibuster bills to stop no deal and the very union put in jeopardy, with polls in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all showing growing support for breaking away.

If we are to keep Britain united and fit for the decade ahead, the country needs urgent and radical reform to bring outdated systems into the 21st century.

Proportional voting system

Firstly, and perhaps most important of all, the way that we elect MPs must change. First-past-the-post favours a two-party confrontational system which has left us with deadlock, indecision and an inability to govern.

The system we currently use has also resulted in millions being effectively disenfranchised. At each election, millions of people vote for smaller parties, only for this not to be represented in Parliament. A proportional system of voting would ensure that everyone’s vote genuinely counts, and would allow people to be free to support whichever party they agree most with, rather than the lesser of two evils.

There are a variety of different voting systems that could serve this purpose, some of which are currently used in the UK for devolved parliaments and assemblies.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV), used in Scotland and Ireland, is not only gives voters greater choice and results in a more proportional result, it also maintains local representation for constituents, with each constituency having a number of MPs.

Elected House of Lords

The upper chamber of the British parliament is full with hundreds of representatives selected by successive governments and not by the people. Countless times we have seen Prime Minister after Prime Minister grant positions in this chamber and vote on our laws for doing favours for the government, with their seat there safe for life. That is not a democratic system.

The way to fix this is to get rid of the current model and start from scratch with a new elected upper chamber. Not only will vastly cutting the numbers of lords save the British taxpayer millions in expense claims, but it gives us an opportunity to provide better scrutiny of laws with a chamber more representative of British society.

Extending the franchise

Five years ago in the Scottish independence referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were given the right to vote for the first time in the UK. However, since then, 1.5 million people have been denied a say on big issues that will effect their lives, especially Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Americans fought for greater autonomy and even independence on the basis of ‘no taxation without representation’ – and the same is true for this group. 16 and 17 year olds are eligible to contribute to the tax system, can leave home and can even vote in elections for political parties, so it makes no sense to continue to exclude them from voting at a national level.

As well as this, encouraging voting at a young age could have a beneficial impact on turnout in future elections. 75 percent of 16 and 17 year olds voted in the Scottish independence referendum, and almost all said they would vote again in future. We should be actively encouraging the next generation to get involved in politics and extending the franchise gives Britain a perfect way to do so.

Become a federal nation

The current system of devolution is flawed. Not does England feel left behind as other parts of the UK get greater power over their areas, but central government maintain the right to repeal or amend the very legislation that created the devolved bodies in the first place.

Local authorities does not hold the solution to this situation, with its ability heavily restrained by a myriad of guidelines from central government. Instead, Britain needs to move to a federal system of government, with all of the UK covered by some form of devolved parliament or assembly. For England, this should be in the form of regional assemblies, each with similar powers to their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This would give regions across the country the power to prioritise funding and create regional strategies to deal with issues that cross county lines, such as waste, transport, housing and economic development. Meanwhile, central government would continue to have responsibility over the country’s defence, foreign affairs and the national debt.

With a new Act of Union enshrining these changes into law, we can keep Britain a united nation and remove the feeling of English voters of being left without a say.

Abolition of the monarchy

The Prime Minister’s recent controversy over prorogation has demonstrated that the monarch can not act as an effective protector against those who wish to do harm to our democracy. The Queen’s position as head of state is a precarious one in those situations; her role is to follow the advise of her ministers, but should those ministers propose something that she can not support, she would trigger a constitutional crisis over the monarch’s role in politics.

The idea that an unelected head of state, who derives their power from their lineage, could veto legislation passed by elected representatives is, no matter how unlikely it might be, absurd and has no place in a democratic nation.

Regardless of what you think of the Queen, or the Royal Family in general, hereditary public office goes against every principle of democracy.

Instead, we should have an elected head of state that can act as a ‘referee’ to the political process and act as a non-political voice in times of crisis, similar to that of Ireland and Germany.

Disestablishment of the Church of England

In our current Parliament, a selection of bishops can vote on laws in the House of Lords and sittings of the House of Commons open with Christian prayer.

Over the last few decades, Britain has become a more diverse country and, with irreligious people now making up a majority of Britons, the place of the Church of England in politics and as the official religion feels out of place. This is especially true considering that the Prime Minister advises the monarch who to appoint as bishops and archbishops.

Church and the state should be clearly separated, just as they are in almost all other Western countries, so the Church of England should be disestablished to allow all of Britain to become a secular nation.

A written constitution

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all these changes and the rights afforded to British citizens and residents should be enshrined in a formal and written constitution.

Our current system, based on legislation and the rulings of the courts, is extremely vulnerable to a government that is willing to rip up the norms. As no legislation can impose a will on future governments, what is there to stop a hypothetical government from repealing laws such as the Human Rights Act?

A written constitution offers protection for those rights, whilst also offering opportunity to update and amend over time through referendum, like in Ireland.

The current predicament where a court is struggling to determine whether Johnson’s prorogation was unconstitutional would be much clearer if we had a written constitution that set out the foundation of our democratic system and outlined the separation between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

If British democracy is going to survive into the 2020s and beyond, these changes need to happen, or the country faces repeated constitutional challenges or even complete dissolution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s