As in other European liberal democracies, British mainstream parties are criticised as bureaucratic and unrepresentative. Electoral apathy and de-alignment combine with shrinking party memberships to raise concerns about popular support for governmental organisations.1 Much research has been conducted to try and explain these general trends. It has been argued that high levels of education and economic development have transformed attitudes towards politics. Cognitively mobilised citizens are more critical of traditional sources of authority (including government and political parties) and better informed about specific issues.2 They are more confident about their competence and effectiveness. As a consequence, they tend to get involved à la carte and focus on directing the political elite rather than responding to their calls. Mobilisation in new movements demonstrates that interest in politics remains high (Topf, 1995) and that problems are related to traditional forms of engagement (Lawson and Merkl, 1988). The alleged crisis reflects the difficulties of institutions in adapting to “critical citizens”, who “feel that existing channels for participation fall short of democratic ideals, and who want to improve and reform the institutional mechanisms of representative democracy” (Norris, 1999: 27). New social movements and parties have carried within mainstream politics the idea that “the crisis of democracy comes from its not being democratic enough” (Giddens, 1998: 71).
KeywordsEurope Propa Assure Kelly Defend
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