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Tue, 29 September 2020

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Democracies must evolve and embrace new thinking if we are to defeat Covid-19, recover and rebuild stronger

Democracies must evolve and embrace new thinking if we are to defeat Covid-19, recover and rebuild stronger

Back in April, the UK Parliament took the historic step of introducing hybrid proceedings to ensure that MPs across the political divide could continue to get the voices of their constituents heard, writes Chloe Smith MP. | PA Images

3 min read

I recently announced proposals for new world-leading rules that will require online political campaign content to have a ‘digital imprint’ - an essential measure that will improve transparency in political campaigning.

The UN International Day of Democracy has an added poignancy this year - Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on mature and fledgling democracies alike.

Over the past seven months, we have all had to grapple with fundamental issues of governance: seeking the right balance between introducing unprecedented peacetime restrictions to protect public health and upholding cherished liberties, while also protecting vibrant liberal economies.

Of course, while it may not always be comfortable for a government to be on the receiving end of criticism and challenge, this is what it means to be a democracy.

Back in April, the UK Parliament took the historic step of introducing hybrid proceedings to ensure that MPs across the political divide could continue to get the voices of their constituents heard. In the UK, there was really no other option. It had to work.

One of the most testing moments in my career in public service was bringing forward legislation to postpone the local and mayoral elections in England and the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales. A decision that many of my counterparts across the world also had to make.

I can’t imagine any democratic government wanting to do such a thing. It goes against every instinct we have as representatives of citizens living in a free and open society.

Yet, it is also the first duty of any government in a democratic society to protect the lives of its citizens. The time-limited provisions have been vital to help control the spread of the virus.

UN Secretary General António Guterres is right to urge governments around the world to be transparent, responsive and accountable in their Covid-19 response. Those qualities have been at the heart of the UK Government’s approach.

We’ve worked hard across government to collect, analyse and publish the best possible data to help us understand more about the virus, mould our response and allow the public to see the fine detail about the spread of the virus in their area. This has been a ‘Team UK’ response involving the whole of the United Kingdom, with data shared around the devolved administrations.

But of course, the virus is not the only common threat to democracies across the sphere. We know that there are some out there who want to destabilise democracies and are exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to do so.

When it comes to any threat to our democracy, we are not complacent. That’s why the Government is bringing forward reforms to equip the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to disrupt hostile state activity.

And it is our utmost priority to strengthen and protect the integrity of our elections.

I recently announced proposals for new world-leading rules that will require online political campaign content to have a ‘digital imprint’ - in other words, explicit and accessible information linked to the content that clearly shows who is behind it. This is an essential measure that will improve transparency in political campaigning.

And the Government has also proudly delivered on our promise to equalise and update Parliamentary boundaries – so everyone’s vote carries the same weight.

The Covid-19 pandemic is certainly presenting new challenges for democracies around the world, as well as heightening existing ones, but democracies by their very nature must evolve and embrace new thinking.

It is the fundamental tenets of democracy - representative Parliaments, strong civil society, fact-based debate, an independent free press, fair elections and liberal economies - that will ultimately help democracies defeat the virus, recover and rebuild stronger.

 

Chloe Smith is  Minister of State for the Cabinet Office and Conservative MP for Norwich North

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