This 2005 report reviewed the evidence on public attitudes towards MPs and political institutions, and presented findings on MPs’ own views of their relationship with voters. It set out a far-reaching agenda for change in the relationship between electorate and the elected in the interests of building public trust and encouraging democratic renewal.
It is not a new phenomenon that the public has a low opinion of MPs. But social and cultural changes are weakening the traditional identities and institutions that bound people into the act of voting and the system of representative democracy, and increasingly replacing them with more individualistic and transactional attitudes.
In most people’s minds, modern politics is formal and remote. If it touches their lives, it is generally seen as something that is done to them by an elite they dislike and distrust, operating in institutions that are distant, irrelevant and ineffective.
Civic activism is strong, and this interest and involvement is certainly ‘political’ in a broader definition. However, political parties and elected politicians are not doing enough to ensure that their politics is connected to the everyday activities and aspirations that are a part of people’s lives.
The heart of the argument made in this report is thus that ‘politics’ needs to be redefined so it is no longer seen as a remote process ‘administered’ by an exclusive elite but instead as an interactive pursuit connected to the everyday activities and aspirations of the public. There needs to be a cultural shift in politics, led by elected representatives and their political parties. Civic activism needs to be connected with political activism in a broader understanding of politics which is not limited to the party political or the activities of professional politicians.
The relationship between elected representatives and the electorate requires investment from both sides - the latter to take an informed interest and actively offer their views, and the former to take a great deal more trouble to seek, listen and respond to public concerns. Although MPs already face a difficult task in balancing their parliamentary duties with party pressures and constituency casework, to these must be added extra roles: setting out more clearly the service their constituents can expect, better promoting the work they do to hold the government to account and, perhaps most importantly, spearheading the renewal of representative democracy by informing and consulting their constituents about politics in a way that reaches beyond the bounds of most current political debate.
The report suggests steps that could be taken by politicians, Parliament, political parties, the media and the education system to increase public confidence and trust in the job MPs do.
The report was co-authored by Mark Gill, Head of Political Research at the lpsos – MORI Social Research Institute; John Healey MP; and Declan McHugh, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament & Government Programme.
The report supplements its review of existing research on public attitudes to political institutions and elected representatives with findings from interviews with MPs across the political spectrum.
Table of contents
- Political knowledge, understanding and attitudes
- Public perceptions of MPs
- The politicians’ perspective
- Looking ahead
Enjoy reading this? Please consider sharing it
The new review of the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal project opens up a range of different outcomes for the future of the building. However, with the alarming state of the Palace not changed by the Coronavirus, the government should not use the pandemic as an excuse to downgrade or delay the much-needed repairs.
Submitting evidence before the House was to take further decisions on its Coronavirus arrangements, we decried the Leader of the House’s decision to end hybrid proceedings and remote voting as "over-hasty, poorly thought-through, unwise and unnecessary". Our recommendations covered House business, risk management, delegated legislation and select committees.
Jersey’s States Assembly was the first legislature in the Commonwealth to hold a full virtual meeting, with all members able to participate, in order to get around the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 crisis. Mark Egan, Greffier of the States, describes how this was achieved and suggests that some of the States Assembly’s Covid-19 innovations may stick.
The unprecedentedly long delay in appointing the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) again exposes the extent to which the work of this parliamentary committee is constrained by the executive. Important ISC inquiries, as well as publication of the Committee’s ‘Russia report’, are being held up.
Should the Liaison Committee have as its chair someone who is not simultaneously a select committee chair, and should the identity of that person be determined by the government? The answer to these questions will tell us much about how this cohort of MPs, particularly government backbenchers, view the relationship between Parliament and the executive.
The extensive take-up of remote evidence-taking by House of Commons select committees during the Easter recess is a significant Coronavirus-induced change of practice. It shows how procedural and technological change can help support scrutiny.