The 2022 version of the Economist’s Democracy Index is out, and I am surprised to find that the UK remains classed as a Democracy and maintains its position as 18th in the World. I last looked at this in 2018 and wrote quite a long article, being surprised at how few Democracies are defined as such by the Economist and how, if the US was classed as a flawed democracy, the UK was not.

I remind myself that, I think Democracy is,

Government by consent expressed through free and fair elections and under the rule of law without favour.

The Economist’s index measures over five classifications and sixty questions. The basic methodology and the questions are described at The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy by Laza Kekic 2007. The five classifications are Elections (with 12 questions), Government (14), Participation (9), Culture (8) and Human Rights (16). In 2018,

I worked through the 60 questions and in 2018, scored the UK, as a “flawed democracy”; this time I make it a “hybrid democracy” which is worse, primary due to a dramatic 33% fall in the category political culture and over 20% falls in the categories on Government, and Civil Liberties, albeit with a 20%+ improvement in Participation.  The methodology categorises societies as a democracy, a flawed democracy, a hybrid democracy or an authoritarian regime.

Figure 1: The Economist Democracy Index, hierarchy of democracy

The reasons for the change in score are that in some cases, I have changed my mind, although usually more generously and others, particularly category IV Democratic Political Culture, I found the World Values Survey (WVS) for 2022. In 2018, contemporaneous scores for the UK were not available and so this time I was able to score the Economist questions as designed. This led to a reduction in scores as, today, it seems we might be happier to be ruled by experts rather than elected politicians, and even by the army (but only just). I couldn’t find the questions on economic effectiveness of democratic government, nor on public order effectiveness.

Here is the revised infographic that I developed this year.

Figure 2: The Economist Democracy Index 2017-2022 and my scores

The following sections look at each category and review the issues and scores.

Free, fair, and meaningful elections

The first category is elections, and the UK’s score on free and fair elections is or should be damaged by the existence of the House of Lords. Not just that it is not elected but the role it performs ensures that unelected politicians do not make these decisions. First past the post reduces smaller parties’ chances of joining government and makes the votes of many irrelevant. The lack of an effective recall on the Government, unequal access to the press inc. the state broadcaster, weak electoral finance laws, opaque post-election government transition laws, especially important when a prime minister resigns without calling a general election,  the remaining (few) political restrictions for Catholics[1], the registration of political parties required by PPERA, and the Lobbying Act aka Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 place significant constraints on the political activities of civic society, both Unions and campaigning NGOs. I have also changed my mind on the fairness of municipal elections, which is one question, because not all residents can vote, and most local authorities and directly elected mayors are elected by first past the post, both mean the creation of large unrepresented minorities and some cases majorities.

I score four out of twelve questions as 100%, which is good, and the remaining eight as 50%. I cannot understand how the economist gets 95%; it must mean they score eleven questions as 100%, which is nonsense in my mind.

Functioning of Government

For the “Functioning of Government” class, I mark the UK down on a weak democratic control of the Government, weak checks and balances, exacerbated by an unwritten constitution, no basic, entrenched human rights law and the removal of legal aid from judicial review cases. I have revised my score on, “Is the legislature the supreme political body, with a clear supremacy over other branches of government?” down to 50% as the executive controls the legislature and appoints and pays the judiciary. Further medium and low scores were made due to the influence of a foreign power on the government, i.e. nuclear defence capability and the leasing of land to the US military for various defence purposes, the existence of special privilege for certain groups, mainly expressed through the House of Lords, the rules on change of government which are opaque and taken by unelected officials allegedly on behalf of the King. Corruption is also a growing issue with particularly acute issues being campaign finance, appointments to the House of Lords and press collusion.

On the functioning of government, I mark three questions at 100% (good), six at 50% and five at zero. The majority of my zero scores are from the WVS which reports we have little confidence in government and parties, feel we have little control over our lives, feel that corruption is pervasive (from the WVS) and I have scored the UK as only 50% free from the influence of a foreign power. This maybe a misuse of the question which is, “Foreign powers do not determine important government functions or policies.” and the hints talk of a protectorate, which the UK is not, neither the US nor the EU.  The UK’s commitments to the USA on nuclear technology acquisition and use, land lease for military use and use and on intelligence sharing are secret. I score corruption as zero applying the Economist’s scoring rule from the WVS and also from Transparency International’s 2022 report, on which I comment on this blog.

There follows a chart showing the WVS answers, the question asks respondents to place the UK on a 10-point scale judging corruption in the UK from between none to absolute.

Figure 3: On perceptions of corruption in the UK from the WVS

One of the changes since 2017, which should impact both checks and balances on the executive is Brexit and the consequent withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the CJEU and the Charter of Fundamental rights. Judicial Review could once be appealed to the CJEU which the government was bound to adhere to its rulings, this recourse is no longer available. The CFR is stronger on a number of rights the ECHR and the ECtHRs rulings are not mandatory.

Either I or the Economist have this very wrong as they score the UK Functioning of Government as 75% where I now have this as 46% with the only 100% scores I make being, the government is free from influence from the military and security services, the government is effective over 100% of its territory and the civil service is willing and capable of implementing government policy.

The influence of the House of Lords badly effects the scores in this section, partly because of the Economist’s repetition of the questions or at least its rephrasing of them. In the UK, the executive, the Government usually controls the legislature and so most checks and balances do not work. Many controls are based on convention not law and their enforcement and interpretation is left to non-independent entities, such as in the case of the ministerial code, the Prime Minister. Important officials responsible for the enforcement off standards and good government such as the parliamentary standards commissioner and the government’s ethics advisor are not independent. They are accountable to the government or the Commons which the government controls. Most laws are drafted by government, all laws requiring expenditure must be approved by government, do [all] our elected representatives determine government policy? I suggest not really.

Does legislature have a clear supremacy over other branches of government? I suggest not. AS argued above, the government, i.e. the executive controls the Commons and appoints and pays judges and writes the laws that judges interpret. The UK has no basic human rights law, that judges can use to test the democratic acceptability of statute law; it had, the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, but that has been removed through Brexit.

The majority party in the Commons will usually have a majority in the Lords and the Lords powers to hold the government policy to account is limited by convention and the threat appointment more peers, a power of the Prime Minister.

So, I mark at 50% questions on the accountability of government policy to the Commons, the supremacy of the legislature, an effective system of checks and balances, and the representation of special interests in government; all of it due to the executive’s domination of parliament and the unelected nature of the House of Lords with its remaining 92 hereditary Barons together with its 26 Anglican Bishops.

The domination of the Commons by the government has led me to score the question on government accountability to the electorate between elections as limited i.e. 50% and the reduction in access to judicial review through funding and the repeal of human rights law through Brexit is another factor in marking this at 50%. Judicial Review is the only means of holding a government accountable. The petition scheme introduced in 2006 has become a joke, with a 3m signature petition being dismissed by the Prime Minister. The questionnaire asks, is the government, open and transparent? The observation of the Johnson government’s lies and suppression of official documents such as the Brexit risk analyses, and the Russia report suggest that the UK should not get a clean bill of health on this issue.  

There are 14 questions in this section, a score of 75% implies that 10½ are scored as 100%. I can’t see how that can be done.

Political Participation

On “Political participation”, I have increased my score and the class of democracy it implies i.e. my new score in this category suggests I believe we are a flawed and not a hybrid democracy but I am still well short of the Economist’s scores. The reason for the increase is I found a contemporaneous WVS report and many of these questions are straight forward stats and scales. The UK has a low membership of political parties and political NGOs, and I may have overscored this question last time. Otherwise, the questions on, adult literacy, news interest, willingness to demonstrate, and citizens’ engagement in politics I have rescored with each of them now being scored as one.

On the question on whether the authorities encourage political participation, I say, “the use of voter suppression techniques and the exclusion of EU Citizens and ex-pats beyond 15 years from voting are negative markers and the Tories changes to electoral law, the introduction of individual voter registration, and voter id are designed to reduce the electoral roll.” This vote suppressing government are also increasing their ability to ‘instruct’ the electoral commission.

I am still several questions/points short of the Economist’s score.

Democratic Political Culture

In the category Democratic political culture, most of these questions are reliant on the WVS and where I have found the equivalent questions, I have copied them into the scorecard, leading to a number of 100% scores becoming 50% scores; there are three questions where I cannot identify the question in the survey and I have used hot decking techniques. The WVS survey has persistently surprised me at the pessimism of the British sample, and so for the questions on the effectiveness of democracy in running the economy and guaranteeing order I have marked at 50% and for commitment to democracy. It seems we are readier to accept a military rule or a technocracy than I had thought. In 2022, I score the category as 62.5% whereas the Economist scores the UK as 68.8%, which is close, although yet again the Economist is more optimistic about the UK’s democratic culture.

Civil Liberties

By my scoring, this category falls by 25% from being a democracy to being a flawed democracy.

I have changed my score on three of these questions. The first on basic security, which is designed to measure the impact of crime on people’s lives. However, they qualify it as whether a significant minority are unsafe. I mark it down based on youth violence, drug crime and violence and the nationwide low level of confidence in the police. The questionnaire as a whole is poor at collecting a score on the impact of poverty and has no question specifically aimed at employment security. So I note the growing poverty and low employment rights in this question and now score it as 50%, rather than 100%. The UN Human Right Commission issued a statement about the UK last year on housing, food, security and equal rights. The Guardian reports that the UN came up with 300 recommendations. I think the UN would have supported my remarking of this score and criticise the Economist’s methodology for not giving these social rights sufficient weight.

The penultimate question, asks for a score on the statement, “There is no significant discrimination on the basis of people’s race, colour or creed.” In 2018, I optimistically marked this as one. This year, I have marked it down to ½. My comments about the UN report equally apply here, I also believe that the economic evidence suggests that racism is endemic in the UK, particularly anti-black prejudice and Islamophobia. The ONS has published a report on an ethnicity pay gap, based on the recent census data. There is no legal glass ceilings but racism exists and is powerful. The Equality Act prohibits it but the hostile environment, immigration policy, and its historic dreadful record keeping are all factors not to  mention Prevent are racist. The Government response to both the Windrush Scandal and the response to the Grenfell tower fire together with the terms of the immigration and citizenship clauses of the withdrawal agreement and the recent judicial review of Home Offices management of those EU citizen, UK residents with pre-settled status all suggest that not all is well with the British State.

A further and in fact the final question is to the question, “Extent to which the government invokes new risks and threats as an excuse for curbing civil liberties.” .” In 2018 I marked this as 50% as the Governments of both colours always over react, but since that time, we have had May, Patel and Bravermann as Home Secretary. The thrust of legislative reform has been in an illiberal direction on issues such as surveillance, privacy, free speech and immigration. There has been a sustained attempt to exclude people from human rights protection, most recently seen in the failure to give asylum seekers decent and safe accommodation. I marked the UK as zero on this question.

How bad are we really?

In summary, I believe that, on “Free, fair and meaningful elections”, the UK’s score is serious damaged by the existence of the House of Lords and FPTP voting which means that many people’s votes are wasted. There is an inadequate regulation of election finance laws with recently weakened independence for the regulator and there’s an inequality of access to the press and media.

On Functioning of government, I mark the UK down on a weak democratic control of the Government, weak checks and balances, exacerbated by an unwritten constitution, no basic human rights law and the removal of legal aid from judicial review cases. In the UK, the Government controls the legislature and not the other way around.

On political participation, the score has risen, but the UK has a low membership of political parties and political NGOs, scores well on adult literacy, news interest, willingness to demonstrate, and citizens’ engagement in politics. On the question if the authorities encourage political participation, I note the recent adoption of voter suppression techniques and the exclusion of EU Citizens and ex-pats beyond 15 years from the electoral roll. Also, the introduction of individual voter registration, and voter id are designed to reduce the electoral roll. The Government has recently voted to increase their ability to ‘instruct’ the electoral commission.

On Civil Liberties, I am concerned about the lack of social rights and the limited access to judicial review, there is a serious crisis of confidence in the police, racism is rife within the nation expressed both economically and in terms of relations between minority communities and the state and the government always over-reacts to public order outrages, and at the moment incites the political atmosphere for regressive laws. The Tories legislative buttressing of police powers, especially their consideration of weakening the Human Rights Act and developing crueller immigration control techniques all show a declining committent to civil liberties in the UK to the extent that we await with anticipation the UN periodic review of the UK’s human rights record.

Two of what I consider to be critical weaknesses, on the issue of the House of Lords and its powers, and whether the legislature controls the executive would be improved by the implementation of the recommendations of Gordon Brown’s Commission on the constitution of the UK. The Commission proposes to reform the composition and importantly powers of the upper house to weaken, some would say destroy, the Government’s control of the legislature and create the relationship that should have always existed. I commented on the Commission’s report in an article, called, New Britain, New Britcon [also on Medium]. The Commission ducked the issue of proportional representation which would be another means of ensuring that the legislature, i.e. Parliament held the government accountable and not the other way round.

Some of this is disagreement over methodology, some of it values based, but this is a big difference in our scores and the issues I raise need to be addressed by the Economist in their methodology and by us in terms of building and/or defending a democratic state.

Even Norway’s democracy, the Economist’s No. 1, can be improved.


[1] I am unsure of this now, it is clear that the Prime Minister no longer has to be an Anglican, but there remain 26 Anglican clergy in the House of Lords, and that the King appoints them on the advice of the PM.

How democratic is the UK in 2022
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