Steady state on citizenship stats

The England Citizenship Survey for April – December 2008 was published the other day by CLG (pdf, Excel data). Overall, despite the onset of the financial crisis, attitudes to and participation in politics don’t seem to have changed much.

A few headlines:

  • Only one fifth of people (22%) feel that they can influence decisions taken by national government, though two-fifths (39%) think they can influence decisions taken in their local area. 2001 (an election year) had higher numbers, but since then these figures have been stable, only moving a point or two each survey.
  • Also stable were statistics on participation. 10% of people had engaged in ‘civic activism’ (being a magistrate, school governor, councillor or in other way being directly involved in decision making). 20% had taken part in a consultation or completed a questionnaire about public services. 38% had taken part in a demonstration or protest, signed a petition or contacted an elected representative.
  • Taking part in demos, signing petitions or contacting elected representatives was least prevalent among the 16-24 age group. Only 23% of them had done that during the preceding twelve months, compared to 38% for the population as a whole.

There were some interesting results in the breakdown by ethnicity:

  • White people were by far the most pessimistic about their ability to influence events, but were also much more likely to sign petitions, contact elected representatives or respond to consultations.
  • At national level, 39% of non-white respondents thought they could influence things, compared to only 20% of whites. At local level the figures were 51% for non-whites and 39% for whites.
  • At the same time 40% of whites had contacted an elected representative, protested or signed a petition, compared with less than 30% for every other ethnic group.
  • White people were less likely to feel a strong attachment to Great Britain than Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians. Overall, 86% of non-whites (91% of Pakistanis) said they felt strongly that they belonged to Great Britain, while only 84% of whites did.

Demonstrations and democracy: Six gambits

Not in my name Pic: Rightee on Flickr

'Not in my name' Pic: Rightee on Flickr

Scottish left-wing political blogger Shuggy had a good post up about the G20 demonstrations that took place in London a couple of weeks ago. I think that he’s right about the ‘they are all just Trustafarians’ question (they aren’t), though I think that some of the critics of the demonstrators are onto something with this line of attack.

Like Shuggy, I’d suggest that, in an affluent society, protest is increasingly becoming a means by which people dissociate themselves from the decisions of a democracy, rather than a means of changing policies. Interestingly, the slogan that brought the protesters against the Iraq War in 2003 together was ‘Not In My Name.’

Put crudely, I think that good governance depends on the ability to manage and marginalise ‘active citizens’ (unless they get elected!). So the problem is affluent citizens (time-rich) but not really trustafarians.

It strikes me as, at least in part, a waste of everyone’s time.

There is no question that we have a fundamental right to demonstrate against policies that we oppose. But do we have a fundametal right to be heeded by anyone with any influence?

This raises the wider question: Should democratic policy-making simply be a means by which a process is applied mechanistically in order to produce a product? Is it simply the model whereby….

  • MPs are elected,
  • they listen to evidence and speak to the voters between times in order to make sure that their policymaking is being done properly,
  • make their decisions and frame legilation accordingly
  • face the music at the end of their term of office

Surely there is more to democracy than that? Or is this the least-worst model open to us? Continue reading