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 end of the transition period is likely to expose even more fully the scope of the policy-making that the government can carry out via Statutory Instruments, as it uses its new powers to develop post-Brexit law. However, there are few signs yet of a wish to reform delegated legislation scrutiny, on the part of government or the necessary coalition of MPs.
Parliament’s role around the end of the Brexit transition and conclusion of the EU future relationship treaty is a constitutional failure to properly scrutinise the executive and the law. As the UK moves to do things differently after 1 January, MPs must do more to ensure they can better discharge their responsibilities regarding the making of UK treaties.
The EU (Future Relationship) Bill is to be considered by both Houses in just one sitting day. How unusual is such an expedited timetable and how much time will parliamentarians really have to look at the Bill? How will MPs participate in proceedings given Covid-19 restrictions? And how will proceedings, particularly the amendment process, work on the day?
The Coronavirus pandemic has added to the questions surrounding the nature of the Parliament that should emerge from the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal programme. But, with concerns over the programme’s governance and public engagement rising, the report arising from the current review of the programme will not now be published this year.
The debate about remote participation in House of Commons proceedings raises critical questions about what constitutes a ‘good parliamentarian’, what ‘fair’ participation looks like, and who gets to decide. As things stand, the exclusion from much parliamentary business of pregnant women, among others, undermines equality of political representation.
Disputed parliamentary election results – often taking months to resolve – were a frequent feature of English political culture before the reforms of the 19th century. But how could defeated candidates protest the result of an election, and how were such disputes resolved?