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Deliberative and Participatory Democracy in the UK

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen ElstubORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


This article responds to Michael Saward’s call for a more context-specific approach to the study ofdemocracy by exploring developments in, obstacles to, and prospects for, a more deliberative andparticipatory model of democracy in the UK. A review is undertaken first of the New Labour andcoalition governments’ attempts at constitutional reform, in order to assess the implications theseefforts 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 thestraightjacketing logic of the Westminster model of parliamentary government. As a consequencetheir actual proposals lack ambition and are often incoherent. The story told in this respect is thereforeone of largely unrealised rhetoric. The ‘largely’ qualifier is included, however, in recognition of thespace 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 theparticipatory 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 andparticipatory budgeting—at varying locations within the political system and in public agencies andservices. Evidence of democratic innovation is presented; however, any optimism on this front must betempered, as the power-sharing potential of such mechanisms, and their capacity to move us towardsa more comprehensive and joined-up deliberative system in the UK, is hampered by the lack of afacilitating institutional landscape. Finally, an overview is provided of the three remaining articlesthat make up this special section on deliberative and participatory democracy in the UK.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Davidson S, Elstub S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: British Journal of Politics and International Relations

Year: 2014

Volume: 16

Issue: 3

Pages: 367-385

Print publication date: 01/08/2014

Online publication date: 30/01/2013

Acceptance date: 01/01/1900

Date deposited: 02/03/2016

ISSN (print): 1369-1481

ISSN (electronic): 1467-856X

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/1467-856X.12001


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