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International Day of Democracy Event discusses key democractic challenges

On Wednesday 15 September, to mark UN International Day of Democracy, BGIPU hosted its first in-person event after eighteen months of reduced parliamentary activity. BGIPU invited a panel of experts on democracy, including Franklin De Vrieze, Senior Governance Advisor at Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Sarah Birch, Professor of Political Science at King’s College London and Tom Brake, Director at Unlock Democracy, to discuss the state of democracy across the globe. The event was moderated by BGIPU Chair, Harriett Baldwin MP, who was joined by a range of parliamentary participants such as Baroness Hodgson of Abinger CBE, Wayne David MP, Lord Hylton, Baroness Verma, Baroness Jolly, Baroness D’Souza, The Rt Hon Valerie Vaz MP and Lord Rennard MBE.

The meeting provided an opportunity for parliamentary attendees to hear from experts on the backslide of democracy which has occurred as a result of the increased powers executives have gained to manage the public health crisis. Franklin De Vrieze focussed on the effect of the pandemic on the functioning of parliaments and the legal foundations for emergency legislation. He covered the trends in parliamentary oversight and legislative leadership with a growing shift towards legislatures being bypassed. He emphasised the importance of strengthening parliaments in order to strengthen democracy which was a point echoed by his fellow panellists.

Prof. Sarah Birch then provided her insights into the impact of the pandemic on elections across the globe, noting that half of the world’s countries had held some form of election during the pandemic. Professor Birch stressed the impact of the pandemic on the health of voters and poll workers, as well as activists and candidates, remarking on the opportunities for election manipulation which had presented themselves due to the pandemic. For example, with executives using the pandemic as an excuse to postpone elections or obstruct opposition campaigns. Although the pandemic has presented a barrier to international observers, Professor Birch also highlighted that this could be seen as an opportunity to bolster election observation locally.

Following this, Tom Brake looked at the impact of the pandemic at a domestic level, concentrating on UK health measures and the impact of restrictions on the right to protest and on civil liberties. The key issues which arose from a UK perspective were the reduced level of legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, along with the introduction of emergency legislation and the diminished ability for vulnerable MPs to participate in the parliamentary process.

The three presentations provided the backbone for an engaging and lively discussion which looked at parliamentary procedures both at home and abroad. Participants were all in agreement about the importance of strengthening and empowering parliaments in their core legislative, oversight, budgetary and representative functions to prevent all-powerful executives. BGIPU would like to thank all three of the expert panellists who took the time to come to Westminster and share their knowledge with UK parliamentarians on an ever-pressing and concerning topic.

BGIPU Secretariat