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UK democracy in last chance saloon says Saatchi & Saatchi CSO Richard Huntington


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

April 26, 2024 | 4 min read

The chief strategy officer at the ad agency that swept Margaret Thatcher into office 45 years ago says that UK Prime Minster Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer are slugging it out in a declining category and the entire legitimacy of democracy in the UK is under enormous threat.

Richard Huntington

Saatchi & Saatchi chief strategy officer Richard Huntington

Speaking with host Alastair Duncan on the latest edition of Politics for Drummies, Richard Huntington hits out at the fall in political engagement levels as the UK approaches the next general election, which must happen by January 2025.

“Both Sunak and Starmer are desperately fighting to be number one in a declining category,” he says. “The metric I use for that – just because it’s sort of fast and surgical and a bit brutal – is voter turnout. It seems undeniable that while voter turnout does fluctuate from election to election, the long-term trend for the last 50 years is decline. And particularly among anybody under the age of 44, to the point where among 18- to 24-year-olds, it’s less than 50%. Less than 50%! I think you’ve got to start questioning the legitimacy of our democracy. Is there any legitimacy in a democracy if less than half of the people are even voting?”

In part one of a two-part podcast, Huntington also outlines his concerns about young and increasingly disenfranchised members of the electorate, saying they are yet to live in a time when a government genuinely believes in its own power and ability to change things for the better.

He feels that today’s politicians and political leaders prefer to hide behind excuses and external factors as to why the UK cannot be improved rather than force the required changes.

“I’ve got two sons who are going to be first-time voters this time around and they have never lived during an era in which a government has actually done anything,” he says. “I’m of a generation where I saw my government actually do things. Right now, we have a government that quite literally says not only it [the economy] is not our fault, but it’s definitely all Putin’s fault. Politicians just keep reiterating to us that the government can’t actually do anything.”

That said, one politician who is impressing Huntington at the moment is former PM David Cameron, who recently returned to the cabinet as foreign secretary.

“I loathe him from the very core of my being, but Cameron is sort of playing a blinder at the moment as foreign secretary. Often, you find Tory leaders do better when they’re no longer leading, like William Hague, who was a great foreign secretary. But yeah, there’s a man in a hurry who knows that his political legacy has divided the country roughly equally and he is desperate to clear his legacy. The situation is that the Tories are in a mess so he’s got to do that in about eight months. I was very dismissive about having a foreign secretary who is in the Lords, but actually, here is a foreign secretary who can go around the world and is not going to be called back for some debate. He’s also got a reasonable amount of authority to say things on the government’s behalf. There’s just this glimpse of here is somebody who might be able to govern in the government. I don’t think anybody else in the government seems able to govern right now.”

Part 2 of Huntington’s podcast will be released on The Drum and Spotify next week.

Agencies Policy & Regulation Politics For Drummies

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