There is a widespread view that local democracy in Britain is in deep trouble and that people face a crisis of civic engagement and political participation. This book counterweighs the many negative accounts that seek to dominate the political discourse with talks on political apathy and selfish individualism. It commences with an examination of theoretical debates as to the meaning of local democracy and related concepts. The book looks at the policy agenda around local democracy in the context of the developing nature of central/local relations since 1979. It considers the available evidence on level of political participation and civic engagement by looking at eight themes. These include the state of formal politics, forms of civic engagement, community identity and the emerging world of the internet/world wide web. The book also looks at nine key aspects of the reform of local democracy over the last fifteen years, including local democracy and the New Labour reform agenda; the constitutional position of local government; and double devolution. It focuses on the so-called 'crisis of formal democracy' at the local level. The book ascertains the recent developments beyond the realm of elections, political parties and formal political institutions. It then concentrates on local services and policy attempts to widen public participation in the shaping and delivery of such services. Finally, the book discusses the concept of sustainability and regeneration strategies to build sustainable communities, both physical and social.
In the early years of the century, formaldemocracy in many
of the advanced societies was extremely shaky, or even
non-existent. The rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s
led many to conclude that democracy might be little more
than a historical anomaly in visible decay, a perspective
epitomized in the works of German novelist and social
thinker, Erich Junger (1970). However, this was followed
by fascism’s equally rapid demise (outside the relatively
peripheral Iberian peninsula), the redemocratization of
much of Western and Central Europe, and the triumph of
Local democracy at the
This chapter will focus on the so-called ‘crisis of formaldemocracy’ at the
local level. First, the decline of political parties in terms of membership,
activism, resources and public regard will be considered. The factors in this
decline will be analysed, together with possible solutions for a reinvigorated
local party politics and the key role this might play in boosting civic engagement and democracy.
Second, attention will be given to the perceived problem of declining
electoral turnout at the local level
less than 35 per cent. Such figures do not stand comparison with our
European counterparts, where turnout is considerably higher.
What factors, then, lie behind such apparent disengagement with the
formal electoral process? Findings from the Power Inquiry are illuminating.
Power took evidence from a wide range of organisations, groups and individuals. It concluded that the argument that the ‘British people’s failure to
engage with formaldemocracy resulted from apathy, lack of interest or weak
sense of civic duty did not, however, sit well with the evidence’ which
some of the key policy initiatives, ideas and
proposals to enhance local democracy that have come from central and local
government, together with various policy think tanks and other interested
parties. Chapter 4 focuses on the ‘crisis’ of formaldemocracy at the local
level. This includes the ‘decline’ in the role of political parties and falling
voter turnout at local elections. Possible solutions for a reinvigorated formal
local politics are analysed.
Chapter 5 looks at recent developments beyond the realm of elections,
political parties and formal political
the twenty-first century is advocated.
The final conceptual part of the social justice/public administration puzzle
is added in Chapter 4 with an extended discussion on the role of civic engagement as a component of social justice. Again, this chapter highlights that a
range of opinions and experiences exist on the issue of citizen participation and
its importance or otherwise to the operation of democracy. So, for those who
endorse a more limited form of representative, elitist or formaldemocracy,
civic engagement may, at best, be a way to stimulate citizen
will be analysed in
Chapter 4 when I look at formaldemocracy.
We can draw a distinction between indirect (or representative democracy)
where we elect our representatives, such as members of parliament and local
councillors, and more direct forms of democracy, such as referenda where
specific questions are put to the electorate. Representative democracy has
Local democracy, civic engagement and community
been the traditional model adopted in the UK but over recent years referenda and other forms of direct democracy, such as citizens’ panels and
evidence that it
received ‘confirmed that the majority of citizens are attracted by such direct
mechanisms and that many are willing to engage with them’ (Power, 2006:
Local democracy, civic engagement and community
Another mechanism employed by local councils to gauge public opinion that
sits outside traditional representative formaldemocracy is the referendum.
Unlike citizens’ panels, all locally registered voters can have a say in referenda.
They are an example of the direct democracy that I looked at in Chapter 1.
Unlike a number of
Italy, became the backdrop for
an indefinitely postponed revolution; this was for discussion in the latter pages
of the party newspaper as an enduring and crucial objective that was not, however, immediately achievable. The innovative potential of ‘progressive democracy’ lost its sense of immediate relevance, and was replaced by a defence of
the pillars of ‘formaldemocracy’, such as the centrality of parliament and the
constitutional guarantees of legitimate opposition, against creeping ‘Fascism’
or ‘Christian Democrat totalitarianism’. The claim to fully represent
‘civicness’ in southern Italy is the patronage system and
the clientelism established by the Italian state during the postwar period.18
Another factor that has not been sufficiently considered in
Putnam’s explanatory model is the presence of the Mafia. The
effects of organised crime on democracy are often ignored in
the literature on social capital, but of course central in the liter
ature on southern Italy. Although southern Italy has enjoyed
formaldemocracy, democratic practices have been undermined
and distorted by the presence of the Mafia. In this context