January 18, 2024

2024: A big year for democracy and delivery

by Adam Lang, Carnegie UK

2024 is a landmark year for democracy around the world. More than four-billion people in more than 50 countries will vote to elect their leaders and representatives, including in the EU, India, the USA and potentially here in the UK too (maybe). 

These elections come amidst challenging times. There are now several devastating armed conflicts around the world which, alongside the rise of autocratic regimes, are putting many aspects of a rules-based global order under strain. Closer to home, stagnant economies across the EU and here in the UK are resulting in a flatlining of living standards and social mobility. 

These challenges are bad enough on their own, but we are also living through a time of shifts in the foundations of our economies and societies.  

Effectively responding to the climate crisis will require a shift in consumption habits and a move to long-termism in policy making at a scale and pace rarely seen over the last century. AI and technology continue to disrupt core aspects of how we work and connect with each other day-to-day. Ageing demographics across European nations are forcing a rethink on long-held assumptions about how we can deliver the kind of public services many have come to rely on and expect. And in the mix of all that, social and economic inequality between demographics, geographies and generations continues to grow.

However, if the challenges facing policy makers around the world are great, then so too are the opportunities. 2024 is an opportunity to show that democracy and good public policy can rise to these complex issues. Democracies have risen to huge challenges before, but there is no denying that the coming years will not be easy. No matter who wins power in this year’s many elections around the globe, they will need to be bold in their ambitions and laser focussed on effective delivery of policy for those they represent 

This could not be more true than here in the UK where our recent Life in the UK publication showed that trust in democracy is in crisis. People feel disconnected from and unable to influence decisions that affect them, undermining our wellbeing as a society.

This is of particular concern for us at Carnegie UK as we believe in democracy as a foundational aspect of our collective wellbeing. We believe that policy making and the role of the state can be enabling and a force for good that meaningfully impacts on people’s lives.

Last year colleagues were at events and meetings in Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. We know that across the UK and Ireland there are many examples of inspired people working to improve their communities. On a personal level, I spent an excellent couple of days in Cardiff meeting stakeholders working in a range of different policy areas and came away galvanised by the commitment and pragmatic efforts from so many of the policy community there working to help make the Senedd and Welsh Government deliver for people in Wales. 

It is in this innovative space around effective policy delivery that real opportunities lie in the coming year. Elections can provide a moment in time to reset policy agendas or respond to public priorities, but democracy shouldn’t shut up shop when the polling stations close and politicians shouldn’t only be listening when there’s an election on the horizon. An ongoing focus on policy delivery that continually engages and brings people alongside decision makers will be critical in meeting the challenges we all face in the years ahead.

In this milestone year for democracy around the world, our work to improve the wellbeing of people across the UK and Ireland is more important than ever. Even if we know securing the kind of changes we want to see is not straightforward or easy, we are up for the challenge and excited about what the year ahead will hold.