General Election 2017: What do parties promise on democracy?

What promises have parties made on key democracy issues? We’ve trawled through the manifestos of each major political party so you don’t have to. Click through the slides to see what they've said.


Money and Politics

Not all parties sought to tackle the influence of big money on politics in their manifestos. The absence of policies in the Green Party's manifesto are likely due to the streamlined nature of their 12 page ‘Green Guarantee’. However, it is worrying that the Conservative's 84 page manifesto contained no proposals to address this important issue. It also appears to represent a step back from their policy under David Cameron.

The Liberal Democrats have said they will expand the lobbying register to make it more effective. Labour went one step further and committed to repealing the current Lobbying Act, which has gagged charities whilst not doing enough provide transparency of lobbying activity, and replacing it with a more comprehensive register. Similarly the SNP pledged to extend the register whilst removing parts of legislation that gagged charities. All commitments are welcomed and we hope parties will take inspiration from our Private Members Lobbying (Transparency) Bill that passed through the House of Lords earlier this year. Curiously the Liberal Democrats pledged to ban MPs from undertaking paid lobbying despite the fact it is already prohibited in the code of conduct for MPs. Hopefully they wish to tighten the rules, which can certainly be worked around at the moment.

The Liberal Democrats were the only party to mention party funding, promising to cap political donations at £10,000. They also promised to stop parties fiddling their election expenses return, but as of yet have not provided any details of how they would achieve this.


Fairer Votes

All parties apart from the Conservatives and UKIP have called for the voting age to be lowered to 16, a move that would be welcomed by Unlock Democracy. When it comes to voting reform Labour have kept quiet whilst the Liberal Democrats, Greens  UKIP, and the SNP have promised proportional representation. Plaid Cymru have called for a more representative voting system without specifying which model they prefer.

Worryingly the Conservatives have not only committed to retaining first past the post for general elections, they have also proposed extending it to Police and Crime Commissioner elections, Mayoral elections, and London Assembly elections. This flies in the face of the trend of using proportional or at least preferential systems for new elections in the UK, and would mark a major setback in the campaign for electoral reform. This is a policy that the electorate neither want nor asked for, and we will do all we can to ensure it does not become law. 

The Conservative proposal to introduce voter ID at polling stations and UKIP's proposal to require those wanting postal votes to demonstrate ‘genuine need’ would hinder democratic participation and would disproportionately affect certain sections of society.

Whilst Unlock Democracy would support the use of citizen’s initiatives, we have concerns about UKIP’s proposals. Any system must prevent tyranny of the majority; no initiative should be permitted to propose the removal of any human rights or minority rights, or pass any discriminatory law. The model put forward by UKIP does not appear to provide such protections.


Devolution

Unlock Democracy believes that devolution should be a bottom-up not top-down process, and that citizens should be involved in determining where power lies. On that basis we welcome proposals from the Liberal Democrats and Labour to address this issue in a constitutional convention. We also welcome the Liberal Democrats' policy of 'Devolution on Demand' for England. UKIP’s proposal of an English Parliament attempts to address the unanswered question of devolution for England. However, England is much larger than the other devolved nations and therefore this solution may not be appropriate. It would keep power centralised in Westminster and fails to solve the problem of devolution within England itself.

The Conservative's commitment to moving power and institutions away from London is encouraging but they must ensure that this is met with an equal dispersal of power. Similarly, combined authorities must be given more powers and funding so that important decisions can be made on a genuinely local basis.


A Democratic Brexit

The Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and SNP have all pledged that at least some of the powers repatriated from the EU will be devolved to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The important thing now is to ensure that these decisions are a matter of joint determination rather than dictated by whichever government sits in Westminster.

Brexit has also highlighted the powerlessness of the devolved administrations in the negotiation of trade deals. We support proposals by the SNP and Plaid Cymru to require the UK government to seek the consent of the devolved legislatures when making deals. We would also support greater involvement from the UK Parliament in trade deals, such a vote in Parliament as proposed by the Green Party.

Disappointingly, no party proposed a solution to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of the powers in the Great Repeal Bill. Unlock Democracy has raised concerns about the unprecdented powers the bill will afford Ministers and the lack of safeguards against executive abuse. The Liberal Democrats raise the issue as a problem in their manifesto but don’t provide any solutions. Labour will change the name, and with that the emphasis, of the bill but delegated legislation powers will still be required and Labour gives no indication of how these will be constrained.


Written Constitution

Unlock Democracy welcomes the commitments from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats to holding constitutional conventions.

We believe that the UK needs a constitution for the people, by the people.


House of Lords 

Unlock Democracy opposes an unelected House of Lords. However we do believe in the need for a second chamber in Parliament which performs a scrutinising role and holds the House of Commons to account is vital for our democracy. We therefore oppose the proposals put forward by UKIP and the SNP to abolish the second chamber altogether.

We welcome Labour’s commitment to a democratically elected second chamber but are concerned about the framing of this commitment as a long-term goal. There is no place for unelected lawmakers in a modern democracy. We need to push ahead with wholesale reform immediately, rather than continuing to tinker around the edges. Reforms have been repeatedly initiated but not completed. Similarly the Conservative's promise to address the size of the House of Lords simply does not go far enough. We welcome the pledges the Liberal Democrats and the Greens to create a democratic second chamber. This will address a major democratic deficit in the UK's Parliament.


This blog is just intended to be a summary of some of the key policies outlined in party manifestos. There may be some details and nuances that a single sentence isn’t able to capture. It’s worth noting that all manifestos are in different styles, lengths, and formats, so direct comparison isn’t always easy. There may also be other policy areas that are important to you that you may want to consider when deciding how to cast your vote.

If you want to find out more, links to the full manifestos can be found below: