Occasionally a statement is made which is so far removed from reality it is rendered meaningless. Such a moment occurred last week when The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its Democracy Index 2016 once again categorised the UK as a ‘Full Democracy’. In fact they regarded it as more of a democracy in 2016, rating it 8.36/10 than in 2015, when it scored 8.31/10, largely as a result of the EU referendum. This is enough to rate the UK at number 16 out of more than 160 countries examined and the anomaly is of such glaring proportions that it lends credence to the campaign tactics of populist movements around the world (most notably during the 2016 UK EU Referendum campaign by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson) of discrediting experts.
The full report can be accessed from The Economist website, but you have to sign your life away to get to it (they want to grab the details of as many professionals as they can, hence a telephone number etc). Alternatively, you can read a summary of the report on the World Economic Forum site. Although the overall results are clear it is worth digging in a little to examine just how they came to this seemingly bizarre conclusion. It is not necessary to sign up with the devil to do this as last year’s report for 2015 is freely available.
Stretching the definition of ‘Full Democracy’ beyond reasonable bounds!
For a start I am not sure what is meant by a ‘full democracy’ in the first place So here is the EIU definition:
Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the nourishing of democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracies.
Part of this definition applies (e.g. an independent judiciary) but lets compare it with the obvious basic anti-democratic features of the UK. Our constitution (unwritten) allows for an uncontestable Monarchy, a House of Lords (including 92 hereditary peers and 26 Church of England Bishops), an autocratic Privy Council and a Royal Prerogative through which the government can bypass Parliament and judiciary. On top of this there is a first past the post electoral system which has handed power to representatives elected by only 37% of people who voted, a hugely biassed press and a sophisticated corporate lobbying industry. Bearing in mind this list could have been many times longer and a democracy score of 83.1% is already absurd.