Defending representative democracy: parties and the future of political engagement in Britain

2015-07-13T14:50:04Z (GMT) by Phil Parvin Declan McHugh
Democracy in Britain would appear to be in decline. Fewer people are joining political parties; fewer people are participating in general elections; and mass protest on a wide variety of issues is rising. This apparent breakdown in formal political engagement in Britain and other liberal democracies has led to a renewed claim by many critics inside and outside of academia that traditional representative forms of democratic governance have had their day and need to be replaced by a more direct model of democracy. This paper argues that this would be a mistake, and that moving to a more direct form of democracy would in fact do more to undermine the needs and concerns of minority groups and others than the conventional representative system. It claims that the key lies in addressing those issues which underlie political disengagement, strengthening existing links between the electorate and decision makers, and making sure that political parties adapt to the profound social changes that Britain has experienced in the past few decades. Parties need to reform themselves in order that they are better able to embody the ideals and aspirations of a new, consumerist, disengaged public. Failure to do so will lead to their continued demise and a further weakening of democracy in Britain.