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The public think politics is broken, and are willing to entertain radical solutions

8 Apr 2019
People walking over Westminster Bridge towards the UK Houses of Parliament

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.

Dr Ruth Fox, Director , Hansard Society
Joel Blackwell, Senior Researcher, Hansard Society
Director , Hansard Society

Dr Ruth Fox

Dr Ruth Fox
Director , Hansard Society

Ruth is responsible for the strategic direction and performance of the Society and leads its research programme. She has appeared before more than a dozen parliamentary select committees and inquiries, and regularly contributes to a wide range of current affairs programmes on radio and television, commentating on parliamentary process and political reform.

In 2012 she served as adviser to the independent Commission on Political and Democratic Reform in Gibraltar, and in 2013 as an independent member of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee Review Group. Prior to joining the Society in 2008, she was head of research and communications for a Labour MP and Minister and ran his general election campaigns in 2001 and 2005 in a key marginal constituency.

In 2004 she worked for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign in the battleground state of Florida. In 1999-2001 she worked as a Client Manager and historical adviser at the Public Record Office (now the National Archives), after being awarded a PhD in political history (on the electoral strategy and philosophy of the Liberal Party 1970-1983) from the University of Leeds, where she also taught Modern European History and Contemporary International Politics.

Senior Researcher, Hansard Society

Joel Blackwell

Joel Blackwell
Senior Researcher, Hansard Society

Joel conducts the Society’s continued research into the legislative process, the effectiveness of Parliament in scrutinising and holding the executive to account and the public’s engagement with politics.

He is co-author of 'The Devil is in the Detail: Parliament and Delegated Legislation'. Prior to joining the Hansard Society in 2014, Joel was a Political Consultant for Dods Parliamentary Communications and has also worked at the Electoral Commission. He graduated from Bristol University in 2005 with a degree in Politics and Social Policy.

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Originally published in The Times Red Box on 8 April 2019 and reproduced with permission

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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