My work on democracy highlights the moral and political significance of two features of democratic government which tend to be overlooked.  The first is that ordinary people, with no special knowledge, virtues, resources or abilities are entitled to participate in government on their own behalf, and on behalf of other people.  The second is that democracy is a competitive, as well as a cooperative, business and this means that democratic morality inevitably has a strategic, as well as a timeless, dimension.

These two claims about democracy underpin my objections to supposedly democratic arguments on behalf of compulsory voting as well as my qualified defence of judicial review against democratic objections, both of which can be found in a series of published articles in Politics, The British Journal of Political Science, Public Reason, Public Law, and Perspectives in Politics.

Proponents of compulsory voting, I believe, pay insufficient attention to the variety of ways in which people can participate in government and neglect the importance of people being able credibly to stand for elected office themselves.  Hence, they exaggerate the importance of elections to democratic legitimacy and participation, and underestimate the variety of ways in which people can come to govern themselves.

Likewise, democratic critics of judicial review, I show, too quickly identify democratic government with majority rule and national elections, thereby wrongly implying that citizen appeals for judicial review are an effort to short-circuit or undercut democratic politics.  However, I argue, judicial review is not necessary for democratic government, though it can be helpful and I suggest that the reasons why judicial review can be consistent with democratic politics are reasons why there is much more scope for lay participation in judicial tasks than is typically the case in contemporary democracies.

I will be developing and extending these claims about democratic theory and practice in Contemporary Democratic Theory: A Critical Introduction, which I am writing for Oxford University Press.  It will provide a sophisticated introduction to contemporary debates in democratic theory, and will include chapters on procedural and substantive conceptions of democracy, on individual and group rights, on the ethics of voting, the roles of competition and deliberation in democratic decision making, and on democracy as a human right.

The book will also include recent work on democracy and the rationing of healthcare, which was published by the 2020 Public Services Trust, as part of an ESRC-funded project on Democracy and Public Service Reform.  NICE – or the National Institute of Clinical Excellence – was established in 1999 by the Labour Government to provide national guidance on the clinical efficacy and cost effectiveness of medical treatments and techniques.  My article, ‘Democracy, Deliberation and Public Service Reform: The Case of NICE’, provides a critical, but supportive, account of the role of the Citizens Council in this task, arguing that NICE was right to believe that ordinary citizens have an important role in determining the priorities which should govern rationing in healthcare. Further details of this project can be found at the website of the 2020 Public Services Trust.

Go to Publications on Democracy