The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T +44 (0)1227 764000
Constitutional reform: a recipe for restoring faith in our democracy?
If the current or a future British government wishes to use institutional reform as a recipe to restore public faith in politicians, then the mix of ingredients may need to become even more radical than those recently proposed e.g. fixed-term parliaments, directly elected mayors and local police commissioners, and the wider use of referendums.
This is the conclusion of the University of Kent's Dr Ben Seyd, after analysing data collected by NatCen Social Research for the British Social Attitudes (BSA) report 2012.
For the report, Dr Seyd, an expert on political institutions and public attitudes towards government at the University's School of Politics & International Relations, was asked to explore if and how the coalition government's reform programme really is better suited than that of its predecessor to the task of addressing public scepticism about politics and politicians. Using data collected by the 2011 BSA survey, Dr Seyd and his research partner John Curtice, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde and Research Consultant at NatCen Social Research, began by looking at levels of trust in the political system to assess whether the Coalition is correct in its assessment that they are all very low (Dr Seyd's and Professor Curtice's findings indicate that fewer than one in 10 trust British politicians a great deal' or quite a lot'). Thereafter they considered how popular the government's proposed reforms are among the public in general, bearing in mind that the formation of a coalition government was itself an innovation for the post-war period. Finally, they examined the appeal the reforms have for those who have the lowest levels of trust in the current political system in particular.
Our conclusion,' said Dr Seyd, 'was that few of the Coalition government's proposals are likely to do much to re-engage the rather large number of sceptics among the British population. The only reforms we found that are likely to work are those that give more power to people themselves. But politicians tend not to like giving away power. So while ministers have brought forward proposals for referendums and the recall of MPs, there remain doubts over how far-reaching these reforms will be.'
Published on 17 September, the BSA report is a landmark study of how people's lives are changing and their views on how Britain is run. Drawing on three decades of data, and spanning three recessions and seven elections, the report assesses how the public is reacting to economic difficulty and the toughest cuts in public spending since the Second World War. Alongside constitutional reform, the report also considers public opinions of and responses to welfare, immigration, transport, health, work and wellbeing, Scottish independence, the armed forces and satisfaction with the NHS.
'Constitutional reform: a recipe for restoring faith in our democracy?' (John Curtice and Ben Seyd) can be viewed at http://www.bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk/read-the-report/constitutional-reform/introduction.aspx
For further information on/access to the full BSA report go to www.bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk
Story published at 12:55pm 19 September 2012