The latest annual Audit of Political Engagement shows opinions of the system of governing are at their lowest point in 15 years - worse now than in the aftermath of the MPs’ expenses scandal. The public are pessimistic about the country’s problems and their solution, with sizeable numbers willing to entertain radical political changes as a result.
Originally published in The Times Red Box on 8 April, 2019
This year’s Hansard Society Audit of Political Engagement, published today, shows that the public are not apathetic about politics but they are increasingly dissatisfied with the way our system of governing works - so much so that sizeable numbers are willing to entertain quite radical solutions that would challenge some of the basic tenets of our democracy.
Fifty-four percent of the public say Britain needs a strong leader who is willing to break the rules; and four in ten people think that many of the country’s problems could be dealt with more effectively if the government didn’t have to worry so much about votes in Parliament.
Although some of the core indicators of political engagement – certainty to vote, and knowledge of, and interest, in politics - remain stable, pessimism about the country’s future combines worryingly with anti-system sentiment.
Seventy-two per cent of the public say the system of governing needs ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ of improvement. This measure has risen five points in a year and now stands at its highest level in the 15-year Audit series.
Well over half the public are downbeat about the state of Britain. Fifty-six percent think Britain is in decline, six in ten people think our system of governing is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful, and two-thirds of us think there are no clear solutions to the big issues facing the country today.
But people are not confident that our politicians and political parties are capable of dealing with the challenges the country faces.
When asked whether the problem is the system of government or the people making the decisions not being up to the job, more people say the problem is the people (29%) than the system (15%). But more people think neither the system nor the people making the decisions are good enough (38%).
Three in ten people still consider themselves at least a fairly strong supporter of a political party. But half the public think that the main parties and politicians do not care about people like them. And 75% of people think the main political parties are so divided within themselves they cannot serve the best interests of the country. Only three in ten people say they have confidence in MPs (34%) and political parties (29%) to act in the public interest, well below the confidence levels recorded for the military (74%), judges (69%) and civil servants (49%).
When asked what kind of leadership and leaders they would prefer in the future, only marginally more people prefer experienced political parties and leaders who have been in power before (47%) to those with radical ideas for change who have not (43%).
These Audit results paint a stark picture of public attitudes to our system of governing, and our politicians and parties. Unless something changes, and there is comprehensive reform of the culture and practice of representative politics, we are storing up some of the key ingredients of a potentially toxic recipe for the future of British politics.
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