Total membership of political parties in the UK has declined, very steadily and inexorably, from about 3.3 million in 1968 to about 500,000 in 2010. That is even worse than it sounds because of course the population grew substantially in the same period. That is one of the fascinating facts in this report by Democratic Audit.
That is just one of a large number of PDFs that comprise the total report. It is well worth reading and it reinforces the argument, consistently made on this blog, that democracy has failed in this country.
There is one constituent of a genuine democracy that the report does not seek to measure, but which I think could usefully be quantified by political scientists. That is the degree of real choice being offered by the political parties. I am sure that this has very substantially declined as well. There is no real choice on offer nowadays between the various neo-con parties. The differences on the timing and depth of cuts in public services, on continued privatisation of health services, on Trident nuclear weapons, on Afghanistan, on the money men who control the politicians, are miniscule. Only in Scotland do voters have a genuine choice of a different direction, and they take it.
This is a direct consequence of the other trends the Democratic Audit does measure. They show that the parties are more than ever, and constantly more, not avenues for popular participation but the domain of a political class and controlled by a wealthy “elite”. It is no wonder that they all have the same programme of promoting the interests of that elite.