Who Watches the Watchmen?

Exploring whether our current political system lends itself to short term self-interests
Research Paper

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Is the British political system setup to foster short-term electoral thinking?


In this piece, we consider if the current democratic political system encourages too much short-term thinking.

We’d like to believe politicians spend their term genuinely trying to do the most good; perhaps intending to please the electorate and thus be re-elected. The aspiration to be re-elected could be driven by an altruistic desire to hold onto the power that allows them to continue making changes for good. Perhaps more ominously though, some politicians simply seek to progress their careers. In any case, concentrating on short-term gains can lead to more beneficial, but less popular, long-term goals being ignored.

We consider whether there are other structures that effectively mitigate short-term policy-making?

The House of Lords

Do the House of Lords prevent short-term policymaking?

Membership to the House of Lords is unelected and is a lifetime appointment. This means longer-term impacts of policies can be considered without fear of 'losing one's seat'.

The implication is that though the House of Lords is undemocratic, members can take a long view of legislation.

But does that really happen?

The Opposition

Does the Opposition prevent short-term policymaking?

Through healthy debate, the opposition keeps the government on its toes. But is it always healthy?

Each side wants to be seen as “winning” the debate. As topics get more complex, a “quick win” is to deride the opponent’s position simply. When was the last time a politician stood up in a debate and said, “I disagree with your approach, but I see how it is a viable solution, so go ahead and do it”.

The Public Vote

Does the public prevent short-term policymaking?

Every election cycle, the public gets to hold the government to account for its policy achievements.

In the face of complex, multiple problems, large groups of people just “pick a party and stick with it”. Come hell or high water, they will vote for the same party year after year, often ignoring what the latest policies are.

'Groupthink' pervade our minds.