Our democracy is in crisis. Party membership is falling; electoral turnout in Britain appears to have bottomed out at a new low and, when asked, we say we distrust governments like never before.
Political leaders should worry about this because their ability to lead effectively is being seriously undermined. But when we withdraw our trust in leaders or opt out of elections, we make our democratic institutions less effective. So we should worry about this too, since we risk making ourselves ungovernable.
Lack of legitimacy cuts both ways and this essay argues that in the end we get the politicians we deserve. The answer lies in ‘everyday democracy’, which reconnects people to their communities and the institutions that shape our daily lives. As the essay explains, workplaces, schools and even families should be based on democratic principles.
"Without renewing democracy at every level, our capacity to succeed as societies, and then as individuals within them, will drain away. And without a new level of direct citizen participation the legitimacy of our representative institutions will continue to diminish."
We need new forms of political leadership that help us confront the major issues such a climate change or inadequate pensions, which require us to change the way we live. Simply switching party leaders will not renew democracy, without a sustained process of political renewal. But democratic renewal also requires us all to play our part if we are to get the politicians we really deserve.
Tom Bentley is the former director of Demos.