Deliberative and Participatory Democracy in the UK

Authors

  • Stewart Davidson,

  • Stephen Elstub


Research Highlights and Abstract

This article:

  • Provides an overview of the development of deliberative and participatory democracy in the UK.
  • Critically analyses the success of consecutive UK national governments in fostering deliberative and participatory processes.
  • Surveys the development of deliberative and participatory processes in the UK at sub-national and local level.
  • Provides a starting point for comparative politics on deliberative and participatory democracy between the UK and other polities.

This article responds to Michael Saward's call for a more context-specific approach to the study of democracy by exploring developments in, obstacles to, and prospects for, a more deliberative and participatory model of democracy in the UK. A review is undertaken first of the New Labour and coalition governments' attempts at constitutional reform, in order to assess the implications these efforts have had, and continue to have, for the institutionalisation of such a model of democracy. Despite proclamations of lofty ambition successive UK governments have wrapped themselves in the straightjacketing logic of the Westminster model of parliamentary government. As a consequence their actual proposals lack ambition and are often incoherent. The story told in this respect is therefore one of largely unrealised rhetoric. The ‘largely’ qualifier is included, however, in recognition of the space created by Labour's constitutional reforms for participation at the peripheries of governance. The second section of the article focuses on these spaces by, first, commenting briefly on whether the participatory aspirations of the architects of Scottish devolution have been realised before, second, examining the use of specific deliberative mechanisms—such as citizens' juries, deliberative polls and participatory budgeting—at varying locations within the political system and in public agencies and services. Evidence of democratic innovation is presented; however, any optimism on this front must be tempered, as the power-sharing potential of such mechanisms, and their capacity to move us towards a more comprehensive and joined-up deliberative system in the UK, is hampered by the lack of a facilitating institutional landscape. Finally, an overview is provided of the three remaining articles that make up this special section on deliberative and participatory democracy in the UK.

Ancillary