6 simple steps to modernise Britain’s democracy

The UK has a long way to go to become a fair and modern democracy. Here are six things that can help the system.

1. Electronic voting

Allowing members of the House of Commons to vote at the push of a button would be an efficient step necessary to bring our democracy up to speed with many others around the world. In order to vote, members currently need to traipse down off the benches and walk through either the ‘Aye’ or “No” lobby. With 650 MPs, this wastes valuable parliamentary time, which could otherwise be used for key debates. 

Introducing an electronic voting system would be easy to administer and it's not like this is a new idea in Britain: the Scottish parliament has been doing this for years.

2. Automatic voter registration

The system used to register voters is outdated and over-complicated. One inclusive solution that can help make our democracy as healthy as can be would be the introduction of automatic voter registration where eligible individuals are quite simply automatically on the register. Campaign-group TalkPolitics has long been calling for this, and earlier this month Labour MP Jo Stevens proposed a bill to introduce such a system. The second reading is due to take place in January next year.

Stevens points out:

“Around the world there are many successful examples of automatic voter registration systems, for example in Canada where electoral information is continually updated from records held by government agencies, and in Chile where a recent change added over 4.5million voters to the register, many of them under the age of 30.

Closer to home Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden all use a version of automatic registration.”

Why not here?

3. Reform to the election deposits system

For parliamentary elections, candidates must pay a £500 deposit, which they get back if they receive 5% of the vote. If a candidate wishes to stand for election to be an MEP – not that that is happening any time soon in the UK – or as a Police and Crime Commissioner, a £5,000 deposit is required. Prospective councillors do not need to pay anything. The argument for deposits is that they deter non-serious candidates, but they can disincentivise individuals without £500 to spare, thus putting up a significant financial barrier. Deposits can also deter independent candidates from running, a group which has no elected representatives in the House of Commons.

What’s the solution? Removing deposits altogether would be the most obvious step to tear down the financial barrier. Another option would be to introduce a signature system where candidates could only stand if they receive a certain number of signatures. This solution would remove the financial barrier, but it would end up benefiting the party machine, which would be able to easily secure enough nominations whereas independent candidates would need to spend an awful lot of time gathering signatures.

One thing is clear, the current system is far from perfect.

4. A fair voting system

Would it not be nice if we could have a parliament that reflected the views of the British public? There are plenty of things wrong with the UK’s FPTP voting system, but the distortion of how the public vote in elections is the main flaw, one that can have dramatic consequences. In 2005, Tony Blair won a majority with just 35% of the vote. Blair was able to have 100% of the power with minority support.

As a result of FPTP’s mismatch between votes and seats, millions of voters who back smaller parties are silenced in parliament due to much reduced representation – or none at all as was the case for UKIP after the 2017 snap election.

5. Weekend voting

The exact origins of why the UK votes on Thursdays is debated, but it is a long-standing tradition. In America, Tuesday voting is part of the constitution, but in most of the world’s democracies, voting takes place over the weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday.

Switching to the weekend would give most people more time go to the polls rather than cramming their ballot box visit into the early or late hours of the day. It would also end the closure of schools and similar up and down the country for the sake of democracy. Education does not need to be sacrificed for people to vote. Both can happen side by side on different days of the week.

6. A reformed upper-chamber

The House of Lords is one of the most outdated aspects of British democracy and makes the country a laughing-stock across the world. The chamber is overflowing with unelected ex-politicians and is not representative of the country at all.

There are several solutions to this massive problem. Cutting the numbers and removing hereditary peers would not go far enough. The upper chamber needs to be elected, or to become a Senate of the Nations and Regions like Germany’s upper house. The latter would ensure that each part of the United Kingdom is fairly represented in parliament.