This week we have been organising the 80+ responses we received to our ‘Democracy & COVID-19’ Consultation! Again we would like to thank everyone that took the time to participate.
Our aim was to analyse the threats COVID-19 and lockdown posed to our democracy and brainstorm what could be done about it. The responses have been a delight to read through.
Ahead of our report’s publication in May, we wanted to share with you some of the consultation’s trends and highlight a few of the responses.
Given the consultation’s timing a few weeks ago, many respondents flagged up the problematic fact that Parliament was not sitting at a time of national crisis. It is good news then, that a socially distanced and remotely functioning Parliament is now back up and running.
The Scottish and Welsh Assemblies were frequently commended for their swift move to remote working. Indeed, this crisis presents a chance for the devolved Assemblies to be real leaders of progressive democratic reform in this country. Fair Vote UK is planning to encourage them to do so in the coming months.
Somewhat further afield, New Zealand, flagged by several submissions, has created a watchable, cross-party special select committee tasked with considering the Government’s response to the crisis. In doing so it has met many of our respondents’ concerns head on. Namely the need for rigorous, transparent scrutiny and non-partisan cooperation.
Indeed, the Electoral Reform Society, in their response to the consultation, called for the UK to follow suit with, ‘an opposition-led Coronavirus Response Select Committee with full parliamentary powers, to hold government and officials to account across the UK’.
Many respondents recognised that from this unique crisis there is an opportunity for bold reform.
Online voting, of course, but also online citizen assemblies, as advocated by multiple submissions, or a radical decentralisation of power and strengthening of local authorities, as was also proposed. Given the even greater importance of the internet, it was also argued that the Government should now do much more to ensure every household has access.
But there were also notes of caution.
The Open Rights Group warned against the many dangers inherent in an, ‘uncritical application of digital tools in a time of crisis’. This was echoed by several noting that a rush to online democracy risks alienating the digitally illiterate and digitally excluded.
All of these responses and many more will feature in our report, to be published in May.
Clearly, many challenges lie ahead. But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.