While writing and thinking about Labour Party governance, I asked myself the question how does one measure democraciness?  My reading for that article pointed me at two data sets that allow one to answer this question for Nation States. These are the Polity IV index and the Economist Information Unit’s Democracy Index. The key white paper for Polity IV is, CONCEPTUALIZING AND MEASURING DEMOCRACY Evaluating Alternative Indices, by MUNCK & VERKUILEN, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 2002 and the Economist defines its methodology in this paper, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy by Laza Kekic dated 2007 which lists their 60 attributes of democracy.

I have decided to examine the Economist’s methodology to see if it can be used to help understand the democraciness of non-Nation State entities. However, I went through the questions and scored the UK according to my own judgements. The rest of this article looks at the Economist’s methodology and my findings about the UK’s democracy. … 

The Economist’s methodology measures 60 attributes which it gathers into six classes, the Electoral Process and Pluralism, Functioning of Government, Political Participation, Political Culture and Civil Liberties. I like the breadth of the 60 questions and its very useful to test one’s preconceptions against someone else’s tests. The Economist is a famously pro-capitalist journal, having provoked me to stop reading it in 1984 by saying that Argentina’s post Falkland’s priority was a strong property law and not a truth and reconciliation commission to look for the culprits of the disappeared. Despite that the questions and their answer hints are useful and provoking.

The Electoral Process and Pluralism looks at elections, whether they are free & fair, who can vote, what they vote for, how confidential is the ballot, how free of state coercion are voters, can the opposition win and how open is the process of political organisation?

Functioning of Government deals with the accountability of the government, checks and balances, the role of the military & foreign powers, transparency and access to information, levels of corruption and the confidence that people have in the Government.

Political Participation measures things such as voter participation, women’s and other equality community’s access to power, the size and engagement of civic society inc. political parties, adult literacy and the extent to which political engagement is encouraged by Government.

A Democratic Political Culture is mainly about whether the population would prefer an alternative form of government varying from bonapartist via military dictatorships to technocratic governments. It includes a question on the separation of church and state.

Civil Liberties class looks at freedom of the press and freedom of speech, freedom to organise, effective right of petition, freedom from torture, an independent judiciary, crime rates, freedom from discrimination, the right to travel and the right to own property, well it is the Economist!

I have performed the scoring exercise based on my own prejudices and I may look at creating a google form to collect a bunch of inputs from my vast readership, but immediately below I compare the two scoring ranges.

The methodology requires in most cases each questioned to be answered and evaluated as 1, ½ or 0. Hints are given as to why a score of ½ should be given. In some cases they recommend the use of the World Values Survey, [1] for which I could not find a more recent result for the UK than 2005[2] and so I developed proxies (in some case guesswork) for those variables.

One of the things that interests and helps me understand the nature of the UK political structures is the questions and their hints. For instance, Q10 is “Do opposition parties have a realistic prospect of achieving government?” Their ½ point hint is that “There is a dominant two party system in which other political forces never have any effective chance of taking part in national government” and so I score the UK as ½ a point, equally interesting they make press ownership concentration a test of the freedom of the press.

Above eight is considered to be a democracy and between six & eight to be a flawed democracy and from four to six as a hybrid state. The Economist’s white paper does not justify the equal valuing of the five classes nor the meaning of the final summary statement of Democracy, Flawed, Hybrid or Authoritarian, nor does it justify the final score table i..e that above 80% is a democracy;  we should note that Authoritarian is the bottom 40% of scores, the ranges of this final tabulation is not even.

Ad you can see with the exception of Democratic Culture, I mark the UK lower than the Economist did last year and evaluate it as a “Flawed Democracy”.

The electoral process and pluralism is damaged by the House of Lords, first past the post, the lack of an effective recall on the Government, equal access to the press, weak electoral finance laws, weak post-election government transition laws, there remains restrictions on political access by Catholics, PPERA requires the registration of political parties and the Lobbying Act[3] places significant constraints on the political activities of civic society.

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 human rights law and the removal of legal aid from judicial review cases, 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, government transparency, it’s not, government accountability between elections, the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) has damaged this and political corruption, particularly acute issues being campaign finance, appointments to the House of Lords and press collusion,  together with overall political confidence which is low. I score this class at 5.36 which is classed as Hybrid. The Economist have scored this higher.

With Political Participation, they look at voter turnout, religious or ethnic minority autonomy, women’s representation, size of political parties, citizen engagement, propensity to protest and demonstrate, adult literacy and the extent to which authorities encourage participation. This category is my lowest score, with the only high score being the number of women in parliament; the number of people in political parties is near the top score threshold but most of this is the Labour Party. Electoral turnout has been below 70% for the last 20 years and the Tories voter suppression laws [the trialling of Voter Id  and the introduction of Individual Registration] together with the Lobbying Act means that the UK is marked down as it does little to encourage political engagement.

The category of Democratic Culture measures the polity’s propensity to support strong, anti-democratic, military or technocratic alternatives The only failure in my assessment is the weakness of the separation of the established church and the state. I am unclear where the Economist will have marked the UK lower.

On Civil Liberties, as I said, the Economist takes a very liberal view as to which Human Rights are mandatory in a Democracy. If we look at Maslow’ hierarchy of needs[4], we learn that self-actualisation comes only after food, warmth and shelter and safety needs are satisfied thus poverty is an anti-democratic factor and yet not measured in this index. They evaluate the freedom of expression, inc. the freedom of the press, and freedom to use the internet, the right to organise, right of effective petition, freedom from torture, an independent judiciary, equality under the law, freedom from crime, the extent to which citizens enjoy personal freedoms such as gender equality, right to travel, choice of work and study, freedom from discrimination and the propensity for Government to restrict freedoms as a result of shocks. They also measure the freedom to conduct a private business free from government interference.

I mark the UK down, but nowhere as zero, because of the concentrated press ownership and the control firewalls between the BBC and its news service and the Government are too weak. The UK has very harsh libel laws, although less strict now than once. While internet access to consume and publish is relatively free, the Government have been proposing laws to increase the level of censorship and seek to lower the thresholds at which sites can be blocked or banned. A small number of occupations are prohibited from joining a Union and/or their Unions are prohibited from striking, but the regulatory environment for Trade Unions is one of the harshest amongst the democracies in the ILO. No system of petition, short of judicial review is effective and there is now no legal aid for judicial review. On the question of torture, I have marked the UK as not undertaking torture, but we do not know the full truth behind the allegations of torture during the extraordinary rendition programme although it seems there is little evidence that this has occurred within the UK, at least not since the Good Friday Agreement. I have marked the independence of the judiciary as ½ since there is no basic law, nor an overarching inviolate human rights law; the UK has a system of Parliamentary Sovereignty, which means a Government with a Commons majority can do what it likes[5]. Equality before the law is weakened by the cuts in Legal Aid, and Brexit, if it occurs, will deny British born citizens access to the CJEU and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Do you think I have been too harsh? If one de-duplicates the list of negative factors, I get this,

  1. The Human Rights Act can be repealed by Parliament, and cannot be used to strike down laws; there is no basic human rights law in the UK[6]
  2. First Past the Post voting system for the House of Commons
  3. Unelected upper house, which still contains hereditary peers and C. of E. clerics.
  4. Very limited means of recalling the government, made worse by Fixed Term Parliament Act.
  5. The election finance laws are demonstrably inadequate
  6. Political parties have to register with the Electoral Commission i.e. the Government
  7. The laws governing Government transition are based on convention and are in some cases secret
  8. There is no effective system of petition short of judicial review
  9. Access to judicial review no longer attracts legal aid, only the rich can afford to pursue this route of justice
  10. The influence of the US Government on the government of the UK is unknown as some military co-operation treaties, on nuclear defence and intelligence sharing are secret
  11. The independence of the BBC, the state broadcaster, is no longer transparent[7]
  12. There is an unhealthy concentration of ownership of the press
  13. World famously harsh[8] libel laws although moderated in 2013
  14. Civic society’s voice is constrained during elections
  15. Internet access is currently free to consume and publish, but the Tories have promised more censorship laws and a web site blocking scheme is in place
  16. There are issues of political corruption around, at least, appointments to the House of Lords, election finance and also around the politics/police/press nexus
  17. Voter turnout is low
  18. Adult literacy is low
  19. There is an established religion
  20. Some occupations, the military, are prohibited from joining a Union, and the Police Unions are prohibited from striking

I think we can do better but the complete list all together shows how far we have to go and that’s before we start talking about economic democracy


One of the points of doing this exercise was to see if these attributes could be applied to the Labour Party nationally and Momentum. Some of the classes seem pointless to evaluate, such as Civil Liberty and even Democratic Culture, or the questions used are unhelpful. I have attempted to score these organisations against the Economists’ questions and currently plan to write them up in another blog article although most of my promises for future articles seem to get broken.

If I do, I’ll publish my spreadsheet, so others can play, and as I said above, I may translate the questionnaire into a google form to collect the views, of at least, more than one person.

Should be fun!


See also, Measuring democracy, on my wiki, where I have the notes and links that help[ed me write this.

I wrote this using word, and so have used footnotes, and not tool tips.

[1] This needs further study, by me at least, there is some fascinating stuff here, including a 2×2 chart matrix known as the Inglehart Welzel Cultural Map.
[2] Do comment if you know better.
[3] Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014
[4] I mention in it passing in my article, Uber and Capital Abundance.
[5] The Coalition Govt. passed laws in days to extend the struck down data retention regime and to regularise the deemed illegal workfare/benefit sanctions.
[6] What we have is the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights
[7] The BBC’s Chairman has been a party appointment virtually since its i.e. the role’s creation which is interesting since the Government look like they’re planning to ban Russia Today
[8] They seem to have been moderated in 2013.

How democratic is the UK?
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11 thoughts on “How democratic is the UK?

  • 23rd December 2018 at 11:26 am

    I had some thoughts while conducting the final proof read., on the importance of press freedom, the freedom to conduct a business, and the lack of any questions on subsidiarity i.e. how powerful are local authorities.

    They ask three questions on the role of the press, and most assume it’s a good thing, although I have marked the UK down due to its monopolistic ownership and political homogeneity ; it supports the Tories. The current regulation and oversight of the BBC is cause for concern. Is this too many questions? Are the hints sensible for evaluating democracy?

    They ask if businesses can be conducted free from government interference. Modern stakeholder theory suggest that no company should be free from a duty to respect its neighbours and there is a lot of law defining minimal standards of behaviour, from accounting, to marketing, privacy, employee and environmental protection. The question is designed to discriminate against those countries with a high commitment to economic planning. At the least it should be balanced by questions about worker’s democracy.

    There are no questions about countervailing state power. In the UK, local authorities have virtually no power to protect citizens against the central government, in at least Germany and the US, this is not the case. The treaties of the EU guarantee a right that decisions are taken as close to the citizen as possible, but the Tories, who championed it have not sought to pass this power to the local authorities, in fact they have done the opposite through control of funding.

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