British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 4 notes - Participating in Politics

Return to full list of chapter notes.
  • Democracy appears to require higher levels of political interest, knowledge and involvement than other political systems.
  • Nevertheless up to half of British adults have little knowledge of and interest in politics. A substantial and growing minority do not even vote, and the majority of the population do not participate in politics beyond voting.
  • Various practical remedies have been tried or proposed to counter this apparently widespread political ignorance and apathy, including more political education, making it easier to vote, electoral reform and the encouragement of other forms of political involvement.
  • Some argue that a decline in traditional political engagement through voting, parties and representative institutions has been offset by a rise in new forms of political activity involving social movements, campaigning groups and more direct action.
  • Democracy may be felt to require active citizenship. In practice the term ‘citizen’ has been extensively used in political debate in Britain but with a wide variety of meanings.
  • Community is another key term in the debate over political participation; it is imprecise, but carries strong normative overtones and is freely applied to different levels and types of social organization.
  • Social capital theorists have linked declining political participation with reduced levels of social interaction and community engagement more generally in modern society. The analysis is suggestive but contentious.