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New report calls for urgent action to defend UK’s democratic space

This news post is 11 months old

The research was carried out by civil society groups. 

Leading civil society groups have used a new report to call for the not-for-profit sector to take a leadership role to raise awareness of the importance of our democratic space. 

Defending our Democratic Space, published this week by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation and Civil Exchange, documents cumulative threats over more than a decade to vital elements of our democracy that enable people to have a voice, amplify that voice to decision-makers, and help hold politicians to account.

It calls on politicians to reverse that trend, warning failure to do so will undermine their legitimacy and ability to deliver for the British people, and ultimately damage democracy itself.   

The report also also calls on the not-for-profit sector to take a leadership role to raise awareness of the importance of our democratic space, build new alliances within and beyond civil society, and work with others to create a shared vision for it. 

Research undertaken for this report suggests it is possible to find common ground across political divides on big issues like integrity, accountability, and transparency. 

The report is based on discussions with charities and grassroots campaigners, think tanks, parliamentarians and others, including people across the political spectrum. 

One interviewee likened it to a boiled frog who fails to realise the water is slowly getting warmer until it is too late. 

Former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, publicly warned last year about many of the threats contained in this report, and said it was critical for politicians to uphold and protect ‘the values we have as individuals, and the trust we inspire as a nation’.

Sue Tibballs, CEO of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation which co-authored this report, said: “In the run up to the next election, all political parties need to step up and commit to policies that will protect those precious aspects of UK democracy that enable people, and those who represent them, to have a voice and a say. 

“Too many people already feel they’re not listened to by their elected representatives, that their everyday concerns are ignored, and that they lack control. Attacks on the ability of charities to campaign and raise issues with the government or restrictions on the right to peaceful protest can only make this worse.”   

The groups warned that the water may not yet be boiling but polls already show people don’t think politicians listen or deliver for them and are concerned about their loss of integrity and transparency.

Many also actively support charities and other civil society organisations and can’t understand why they are under political attack. 

They know they are a vital conduit for their views on issues that matter to them, helping to create good policies, services, and laws through advice and campaigning, working with others to curate and create our common culture, and sometimes challenging the government in the courts when laws are broken. 

They appreciate the critical role of the media and judiciary in ensuring all voices are heard and government is held to account, and wonder when they too are attacked. People are shocked that the Government ‘cancels’ experts who have criticised their policies. 

Civicus, which monitors trends worldwide, this year put the UK on the same alert as Poland, Hungary, and South Africa. 

Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange which co-authored this report, said: “Successive UK administrations have shown a loss of integrity and respect for the law and democratic institutions, eroding transparency, accountability and trust. Some politicians and commentators are even portraying judges, lawyers, charities, campaigners and parts of the media as a block to democracy, rather than vital elements of it. 

“We’re calling on charities to create a broad coalition of interests across the political spectrum and sectors to defend and re-imagine a democratic space where people’s voices count and our democratic institutions are truly accountable.”



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