By Simon Basketter
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1991

Rowntree report: the power beyond official democracy

This article is over 15 years, 10 months old
A new report from the Joseph Rowntree Trust provides a damning description of the sickly state of Britain’s democracy.
Issue 1991
Around 700 campaigners lobbied over 70 MPs at last Wednesday’s Carbon Dating event in Westminster. The action was called by Stop Climate Chaos to highlight the need for year on year reductions in carbon emissions. Go to http://www.stopclimatecha
Around 700 campaigners lobbied over 70 MPs at last Wednesday’s Carbon Dating event in Westminster. The action was called by Stop Climate Chaos to highlight the need for year on year reductions in carbon emissions. Go to Lack of alternatives

“I think the simple explanation is that there are few discernible differences between the Labour and Conservative parties. Where there are few policy differences, why bother making a choice?”

“I’m more interested in politics than anyone I know, but was still tempted not to vote at the last election when I found that there was no Respect or Green candidate standing in my constituency. The three main parties follow an agenda dictated to them by the markets, the banks and chief executives. How can this possibly represent the interests of young people today?”

“I would be more inclined to vote if there was someone worth voting for. It’s no good having the right to vote if the choice is between very similar, neo?liberal parties all committed to the free market, privatisation, cuts in welfare – basically, more capitalism.”

“I feel the problem is one of broken trust. The age old problem of broken election promises has created a culture of disbelief, and after situations such as the protest over the Iraq war, people don’t trust the government to listen to their views – even when it’s apparent that the general population strongly disagree with a particular policy.”

“I think a lot of people are sick and tired of seeing disgraced MPs recycled, interminable fiddling about (such as with education), and too much power vested in the prime minister and in faceless committees. They should make it so that disgraced MPs like David Blunkett are out for keeps and not just moved around in a ‘Muppet shuffle’.”
War and democracy

“We had a landslide for change in 1997 and have had more of the same. As long as ‘whoever you vote for, the neo-liberals get in’ continues to be the case, then what else do you expect? We had the biggest movement in the history of the country against the war, and the government carries on regardless.”

“The worst thing that has happened in recent years has been Tony Blair ignoring the mood of the nation over the Iraq war and hanging onto George Bush’s coat tails.”

“We’re seen as consumers rather than participants in government now – it’s all about the spending power of individuals. That’s done a lot to break up people’s willingness to vote. I don’t like this term about people being seen as apathetic because they’re not voting. Two million people went on a march against the war and the government didn’t listen to that. So why should we listen to them?”

“A million people protest against a war and are ignored. Why would they vote? If your voice is only asked for once every five years, and then only to rubber stamp pre-arranged policy dictates, why should anyone feel that anyone really cares what they think, let alone that what they have to say would be listened to anyway?”
Possible solutions

“Making it easier to vote may help, but unless people see their vote linked to change and improvement they won’t vote. Politicians need to reconnect with people. People need to know that what they decide can make a difference. They also need to know that the parties care about who they vote for as an individual.”

“People need more democratic experience than once every five years. They need to feel engaged in local communities. This means giving local communities powers – people would then feel they should participate to ensure they are used properly. If people were given more of a voice in industry and the economy, then perhaps a more engaged and participatory population would emerge.”

“What can a bunch of identi?suits understand about real life as they sweep past, insulated and chauffeur-driven, from one junket to the next, counting their freebies and perks? I’d like to see trials of having real people elected for one year only, and not allowed to stand for at least another year, to get away from safe seat professional politicians. The dinner lady in a council flat has a lot of knowledge and experience, as does her daughter who has fought to pass exams, avoid bullies and stay off drugs at school.”
To download the full report go to


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