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Local involvement gives hope amidst democratic malaise

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Public involvement and interest in political processes have plummeted to fresh lows, the Hansard Society’s annual ‘audit of political engagement’ has found.

However, the prospect of civic involvement at the local level has provided a ray of hope in what is otherwise a gloomy assessment of the state of democracy in the UK.

The society’s ninth audit found that the “growing sense of indifference to politics” found in last year’s report had now “hardened into something more serious”. Based on a national poll of more than 1,000 people and a series of focus groups run between November and March, the audit found evidence of a “public that is increasingly disengaged from national politics”.

The proportion of people saying they are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ interested in politics has plummeted by 16 percentage points to just 42% - the first time the figure has dropped below 50% since the audit was first run in 2004. More people than ever – 15% - claim to know ‘nothing at all’ about politics.

But the audit also found evidence of a growing willingness to engage in local civic life.

The public’s sense of the efficacy of local involvement increased by five percentage points in a year to 56%, largely on the back of an increase in perceived local efficacy among people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Despite this, just two-fifths of people (38%) said they were willing to get more involved in local decision making, down from 43% the year before.

Intriguingly, the audit found evidence that awareness of councils might be stronger in London than in other parts of the country. When asked who they would most likely contact for help if they were unhappy with their local health services, only 14% of people said their local council as opposed to 25% who said their local MP. However, in London the tendency to go to MPs above councils was less pronounced, with 23% saying they would contact their local council compared to 27% who said they would contact their MP.

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