How democratic is the UK’s basic constitutional law?

How democratic is the UK’s basic constitutional law?

The foundations of any liberal democracy lie with its constitutional arrangements, the key means by which the powers of the state are specified, distributed across different institutions and regulated. Constitutions set out how the state is structured, what its major institutions are, and what basic principles govern their relations with each other and with citizens. In the UK these provisions are famously diverse and uncodified, with no single written ‘constitution’ document. Michael Gordon looks at how to assess the democratic basis of constitutional law, and how well recent experience suggests that the UK has been performing.

Do party leaflets and canvass visits increase voter turnout?

Do party leaflets and canvass visits increase voter turnout?

Experiments in the US consistently find that Get Out The Vote campaigns boost participation at election time. Is the same true for Britain? Using a field experiment carried out in cooperation with the Liberal Democrats in May 2017, Joshua Townsley finds that leaflets and canvass visits did boost turnout, but that postal voters were unaffected by campaign contact.

Book Review | The Political Class: Why It Matters Who Our Politicians Are by Peter Allen

Book Review | The Political Class: Why It Matters Who Our Politicians Are by Peter Allen

In The Political Class: Why It Matters Who Our Politicians Are, Peter Allen lays out the case for and against the dominance of formal politics by a narrow social group – as well as pointing to the ways we could and should change things. Diverse audiences will find much in Allen’s balanced and thoughtful book, recommends Lawrence McKay, which retains an impressive clarity through its engaging style.

Posted in: Book reviews
Opening up Pandora’s box? How centre-right parties can outperform the radical right on immigration

Opening up Pandora’s box? How centre-right parties can outperform the radical right on immigration

It is often assumed that populist radical-right parties have dominated European politics throughout the refugee crisis period (2015–18) and laid claim to the immigration issue. James F. Downes, Matthew Loveless and Andrew Lam argue that this narrative is far too simplistic and that incumbent (governing) centre-right parties have responded to the electoral threat of the radical right by highlighting their own anti-immigrant positions. This strategy has helped the centre right to outperform the far right and even offset electoral challenges from them. However, it may also be a double-edged sword that benefits the radical right in the longer term.

Posted in: EU politics
How accountable are the UK’s security and intelligence services to Parliament?

How accountable are the UK’s security and intelligence services to Parliament?

For our 2018 Audit of UK Democracy, Sean Kippin and the Democratic Audit team assess the ways in which the UK’s four main security services are scrutinised, to ensure that they are operating legally and in the public interest. For matters that must be kept secret, ‘compromise’ forms of scrutiny have now been developed in Parliament. But how effectively or independently do they work?

How undemocratic is the House of Lords?

How undemocratic is the House of Lords?

For our 2018 Audit of UK Democracy, Sonali Campion, Sean Kippin and the Democratic Audit team examine how the UK’s deeply controversial current second chamber, the House of Lords, matches up to the criteria for liberal democracies with bi-cameral legislatures. Now an almost-all appointed Chamber, the Lords has achieved recent prominence on Brexit and tax credits by exerting some bipartisan influence moderating Commons proposals. However, its members remain creatures of patronage, and wholly unaccountable to the UK’s citizens. All parties except the Tories now support its replacement by an elected Senate. Increasingly only the Tories and Liberal Democrats are still appointing any peers – although there are also a fifth of peers who are ‘crossbenchers’, not taking a party whip.

Book Review | How Democracy Ends by David Runciman

Book Review | How Democracy Ends by David Runciman

Is democracy in crisis? In How Democracy Ends, David Runciman offers a compelling and convincing account of the state of democracy today, separating clear threats from alarmism in an accessible, well-written and thoughtful book. Sean Kippin recommends this to anyone seeking to understand our current predicament and the future paths for democracy – if any – ahead. 

Posted in: Book reviews
Patriotism, pessimism and politicians: understanding the vote to Leave

Patriotism, pessimism and politicians: understanding the vote to Leave

Ben Worthy reflects on the numerous overlapping reasons for the Brexit vote, the parallels with previous elections, and why a second vote risks exacerbating the anti-elite sentiments that underpinned it.

Membership organisations: how to boost numbers and activate engagement

Membership organisations: how to boost numbers and activate engagement

To help organisations increase their number of active members, Kate Dommett and Sam Power explain how people decide whether to join (and remain in) an organisation, as well as what may be keeping them from participating in its activities.

How effective are the Commons’ two committee systems at scrutinising government policy-making?

How effective are the Commons’ two committee systems at scrutinising government policy-making?

In addition to their floor debates, a crucial role of legislatures is to scrutinise government law-making and policy implementation. The House of Commons looks at legislation via bill committees, and its select committees cover each of the Whitehall departments to scrutinise implementation. As part of the 2018 Audit of UK Democracy, Patrick Dunleavy and the Democratic Audit team consider how well current processes maintain parliamentary knowledge and scrutiny of the central state in the UK and England.