A ‘People’s Question Time Day’ would be a helpful reform
The 2014 Hansard Society annual Audit of Political Engagement 11, published April 30, shows the level of public concern with the culture and conduct of politics and politicians and, while levels of interest in and knowledge of politics are holding up or improving, the public continue to feel relatively powerless in the political process.
Listen to the authors discuss their findings at the launch event for Audit 11
Tuned in or Turned off? Public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions, a new research report from the Hansard Society published today examines public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions and asks whether PMQs is a ‘cue’ for their wider negative perceptions of Parliament.
PMQs is the best known aspect of Parliament’s work, famous throughout the world for its combative, adversarial atmosphere. It is the bit of Parliament’s work that the public are most aware of and have likely seen on the television news. But while politicians and journalists have strong views about the value of PMQs, there is a scarcity of substantive evidence as to the public’s opinions.
Our focus group evidence indicates that heightened awareness of PMQs should not be mistaken for approval – the most common words associated with it are ‘noisy’, ‘childish’, ‘over the top’ and ‘pointless’.
Supporters of PMQs in its current form argue that it is great parliamentary drama, envied by citizens in other countries whose leaders are rarely held to account in public. But our focus group research shows that the drama and theatre of the event is not appreciated in a positive way. In the dismissive words of one participant, ‘this was noise and bluster and showing off – theatrical but not good’.
In a new pamphlet from the Hansard Society published today – Measured or Makeshift – Parliamentary scrutiny of the European Union – politicians, commentators and academics demonstrate a growing concern that many EU initiatives are not subject to sufficiently robust parliamentary scrutiny at Westminster and question whether there is a democratic deficit at the heart of our relationship with the European Union.
Measured or Makeshift – Parliamentary scrutiny of the European Union comprises a series of essays from leading experts, exploring how the system could be improved to address the democratic deficit and ensure that Parliament is more effective and influential in its scrutiny of European issues.
‘Life as a TD* is no ordinary life. It is unlike any other career or profession in terms of the responsibilities associated with it; the varied skills it entails; the broad range of competencies it requires; and, the multi-faceted demands it makes of individuals.’ *Teachta Dála (Member of the Irish Parliament)
As part of the Hansard Society’s ‘A Year in the Life‘ study of newly elected legislators, this new paper by Dr Mary C. Murphy (University College Cork) looks at the experiences of TDs in Ireland, following the 2011 election when nearly half (46%) of the Members of the Dáil Éireann were new to the role. The report finds that the 2011 intake are ‘hard-working, optimistic and ambitious’.
The report looks at the make-up of the new intake of TDs, their motivations for seeking election, their first impressions of the Dáil, the parliamentary and constituency aspects of their new role, their understanding of the legislative process, their relationship with the media, and the induction, orientation and long term support available.
The Audit of Political Engagement is the only annual health check on our democratic system. Now in its 10th year, each Audit measures the ‘political pulse’ of the nation, providing a unique benchmark to gauge public opinion across Great Britain with regard to the political system.
This year’s report explores a worrying decline in the public’s propensity to vote. Just 41% of the public now say that in the event of an immediate general election they would be certain to vote – a decline of seven percentage points in a year and the lowest level in the debate of the Audit. Twenty percent of people say they are certain not to vote. For young people, the picture is even worse; just 12% are certain to vote, down from 30% two years ago.
Combined with the low turnout levels at recent local elections and the disastrous turnout at the polls for Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012, these findings are deeply worrying for the health of our democracy.
The landscape of print, broadcasting and social media is changing rapidly and how it alters affects Parliament’s ability to communicate and engage with the public it serves. A new report from the Hansard Society – #futurenews The Communication of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World – explores these strategic communication trends and how Parliament needs to respond in order to keep pace and ensure it has a voice in the political debate commensurate with its role at the apex of our democracy.
#futurenews examines changing patterns of news consumption, the public’s attitude to news about politics in general, and Parliament in particular, and how and where they access such news. The report finds that, given the UK’s position at the forefront of mobile device and smart-phone ownership, and with one of the highest penetration rates for social networks anywhere in the world, Westminster has a huge opportunity to enhance public knowledge and understanding of its work. But if it gets it wrong, there could be serious consequences for public engagement in the future.
What is it like to make the rapid transition from being a member of the public to being an elected Member of the National Assembly for Wales? How do AMs learn the ropes in a new and challenging political environment? How do they decide what they are going to do and how they are going to do it?
The Hansard Society has been examining the role and work of the new AMs through surveys, interviews, and personal observation of their work, supplemented by discussions with Assembly staff, to try and answer these questions and many more.
Do AMs have the resources to carry out their role effectively? How do they balance the expectations and demands of their constituents, their party, the media and others? What are they hoping to achieve, and how does the reality of the experience match up to their expectations? In short, what is it like to be a Member of the National Assembly during their earliest months in office?
The briefing paper, Assembly Line? The Experiences and Development of new Assembly Members, was launched at an event in the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay.
Public satisfaction with media reporting of politics increases
But tabloids do little to advance political engagement of their readers
The second part of this year’s Audit of Political Engagement report shows that public satisfaction with media reporting of politics has risen: 45% claim to be satisfied compared to just 38% who said the same two years ago.
But two thirds of the public perceive the coverage of politics in the tabloid media to be far more negative and distorting in its portrayal of politics and politicians than in all other media outlets. Notably, tabloid readers themselves strongly agree with this negative view of their own newspapers of choice.
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