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Is Democracy Eroding?

Protest in favour of democracy

Democracy is under threat according to two thinktanks which say the workings of civil society such as judges and campaigners are being attacked by ministers, a report has warned. New protesting laws passed by the government change the rules on how disruptive a protest can be before the police must restrict it, which caused issue among two think tanks, which said that the “urgent and alarming problem was largely going unnoticed.” 

New laws 

These new laws, when they come into force, will cap the size of a protest, limiting its effectiveness. At this point, the police would be called in to restrict the protest. The report, titled Defending Our Democratic Spaces, mentions the two charities, the Civil Exchange and the Sheila McKechnie Foundation which argued that restrictions imposed on the charity sector had had a “chilling effect” on public campaigning. Wider areas of civil society that provides checks and further keeps British politics in order has said to have been “portrayed as the problem, blocking the government’s plans and the will of the people.” 

In an assessment about the state of British democracy, the report said there had been attempts to portray judges, lawyers, charities, campaigners, and parts of the media as a “block to democracy rather than key components of it.” The report added: “We must recognise the crisis before it is too late.” It called on people to “work together to arrest further decline and reimagine our democratic space – one where people’s voices count and our democratic institutions are truly accountable.” 

As a result of these new laws, the UK was recently downgraded in an annual global index of civic freedoms, as the UK government was creating a “hostile enviroment” towards campaigners, charities, and other civil society bodies, mentions the Civicus Monitor, which tracks the democratic and civil health of countries across the world. 

Impacts on Democracy: Other factors at play 

The report goes further than just the new anti-strike laws, but also mentions other restricting laws recently introduced by the government, including new ID restrictions on the right to vote and “gagging” clauses being inserted into government contracts tendered to not-for profit groups. 

Further issues such as reduced access to judicial review when challenging the lawfulness of government decisions, are further examples of clampdowns on democracy, mentioned in the report. “Government transparency, accountability, and willingness to listen are being reduced,” said the report. “The quality of our public services, policies, and governance suffers when this is the case and voter apathy, alienation, and political disengagement result.” The report said such a move by some ministers had “created an intemperate environment in which it is becoming ever harder for both individuals and not-for-profits to debate differences of view or shape a common culture.” 

However, Rishi Sunak has pledged to lead a government of integrity and accountability, suggests that there may be less of an authoritarian clampdown on freedoms. Furthermore, with Labour pitching themselves as a party of reform and change, with various plans for improving government integrity, suggesting an end to this “political attack” from ministers. 

Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange and a former private secretary to Margaret Thatcher and John Major said successive government had “shown a loss of integrity and respect for the law and democratic institutions.” She further added, “We’re calling on charities to create a broad coalition of interests across the political spectrum and sectors to defend and reimagine a democratic space where people’s voices count and our democratic institutions are truly accountable.” 

Final Thoughts 

Many of these recent laws have taken us back in terms of the UK’s civil freedoms. The country is now classified as having a similar level of civil freedom to countries such as Poland, South Africa and Hungary, a frightening backtrack on progress in recent years. 

However, Rishi Sunak suggests a change under his government, compared to his predecessors, meaning no further clampdowns from the government. Furthermore, with Labour likely to win government in the next election, it appears unlikely to me that our civil freedoms will be weakened in the future. 

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