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Elected Bodies: Representation, Scrutiny and Policy

A body of work from the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Lincoln has been informing the country’s political agenda for over two decades.

For more than 20 years, researchers from the School have conducted wide-ranging investigations into elected bodies, political representation and parliamentary scrutiny, and made innovative recommendations that are now being implemented across local, devolved and UK platforms.

Notably, Professor Hugh Bochel, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Lancaster, has successfully created the principal body of data collection and analysis on Scottish local elections since 1994. Previously, there had been no official system for the collation of local election data in Scotland, so this research is the authoritative standard reference work on the topic.

For this reason, his work on the 2007 and 2012 elections was supported and facilitated by the Electoral Commission, while the Scottish Government itself purchased copies of the report, together with many Scottish councils.

Further research by Professor Bochel, Catherine Bochel and Dr Jacqui Briggs has also uncovered underlying gender issues, including the underrepresentation of women throughout local and central government. Over a period of 10 years, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with MPs and councillors as part of their investigations, which examined the barriers faced by women in the process of election as well as progression to political leadership positions.

The findings from this work have been used in Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament reports, analysis by bodies such as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Department for Communities and Local Government, the Commission for Councillors, and by groups campaigning for electoral reform and gender equality.

"The work has been quite widely used campaigning organisations, for example those that want to get the voice of women and young people more heard in politics."

Similar concerns underpinned Dr Briggs’ research on compulsory voting, on which she worked with Belgium-based Professor Karen Celis. In Belgium, compulsory voting has been in existence since 1893, and their investigations examined the lessons that Britain could potentially learn from this system, informing the on-going debate on parliamentary reform.

Today, the School’s wider research into parliamentary reform, expertise and scrutiny is proving central to government policy.

Interest in representation led to Catherine Bochel’s pioneering body of research into petitions and petitioning, which explores the diversity of the country’s existing systems and highlights the apparent importance to petitioners of having a fair hearing, almost regardless of the outcome of their petition.

Recognition for this research led to an invitation for Catherine Bochel to participate in a Backbench Business Committee and Hansard Society seminar on “Reform of e-petitions in Westminster” and significantly informed the Hansard Society’s report on this topic. She was also subsequently invited to give evidence on this topic to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.

The debate on constitutional change remains at the forefront of British politics and since 2004 Professor Bochel and Dr Andrew Defty have undertaken wide-ranging investigations into the roles and attitudes of the country’s legislators, particularly around social policy and the oversight of intelligence issues.

Their research has revealed significant evidence to support claims for a new consensus on welfare, particularly in the House of Commons, but also a simultaneous lack of consensus within the House of Lords. Their conclusions have challenged existing arguments about the Second Chamber, and provided groundbreaking new evidence to question the perceived expertise in the Upper House.

Their work on parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence agencies also highlighted concerns within parliament about the the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is the current oversight system, being a committee of parliamentarians, but not a committee of parliament - a position which was then proposed for change in the 2011 Justice and Security Green Paper.

Their recommendations have been submitted to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, the House of Lords Constitution committee’s inquiry and the government’s consultation on the Security and Justice Green Paper. They also provided evidence to the government’s consultation on Parliamentary Privilege and have been featured a number of times on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, as they continue to raise awareness of important issues of democratic accountability.