Our Democratic Infrastructure

9 areas for improvement in our democratic infrastructure.

Author: Henry Tam

Any electoral process is only democratic in a limited sense if it is not adequately supported by elements that enable people to explore their common interests, learn about the relevant issues, and use their shared power to shape the decisions that affect them. If we are to have a functioning citizen democracy, we need to secure the infrastructure it requires.

There are 9 key areas where politicians and public officials with influence over how democracy operates in practice, should aim to improve.

1. Invest in Community Development:

Invest in the provision of tried and tested forms of community development, including community organising and community mediation, to help people overcome divisions, experience the benefits of collaboration, and develop a shared sense of common interests.

2. Root out Discrimination:

Discriminatory activities have been emboldened by the toxic rhetoric that scapegoats vulnerable groups and fuels social divisiveness. A firm stand against these activities must be taken and clearly explained in terms of fair treatment for all, backed by transparent rules and dependable enforcement.

3. Clarify Civic Responsibility:

The right to take part in democratic processes has been mired in confusion – with different criteria for eligibility in different cases. In addition to determining what the justifiable exclusionary factors are, citizens should be made aware of their responsibilities in taking part.

4. Support Learning in Democracy:

All educational bodies should facilitate learning in democracy – both in terms of inculcating open, deliberative learning, and increasing knowledge of public policy issues and the operations of government. Teachers should recognise that being impartial does not mean they are to abdicate from differentiating between conflicting claims, but they need to rely on objective evidence and sound reasoning to do so.

5. Reinforce Objective Investigation:

Countering attempts to undermine scientific expertise, professional assessment, and judicial impartiality, there should be formal support and protection for arrangements that secure objectivity and independent scrutiny in all major processes for determining the acceptability of claims.

6. Regulate Irresponsible Communication:

Akin to the prohibition against communicating false or misleading information in commercial transactions, expression that can incite illegal behaviour, and sensitive materials that can harm a country’s security, regulatory restraints should be applied to irresponsible communications that affect public understanding and political decisions.

7. Extend Participatory Decision-Making:

In line with subsidiarity and deliberative engagement, more support and opportunities for participatory decision-making should be provided for citizens to be involved in a wider range of public decisions. On-going dialogues should be developed to sustain collaborative relationships.

8. Curtail Civic Disparity:

The power of the wealthy to help win votes for their favoured outcomes should be reduced by tighter limits on their contributions being set and enforced, and the electoral marginalisation of the poor by their economic insecurity should be countered by a civic guarantee (of basic income and decent public services) to enable them to participate in democratic activities.

9. Fortify Public Accountability:

The processes for electing people to public office must be protected from party political interference, and institutions tasked with overseeing their rules and operations must be free from appointments dependent on party political backing. Those in office should be accountable to independent bodies

Read more about our Citizen Democracy series here.

For more on the reforms needed to strengthen democracy see: Time to Save Democracy at: https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/time-to-save-democracy

The publisher is Citizen Network Research. Our Democratic Infrastructure © Henry Tam 2024.

Article | 05.03.24

Constitutional Reform, Neighbourhood Democracy, politics, England, Article

Henry Tam


Director of Question the Powerful

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