We commonly assume that participation is essential to democracy. But participation in Britain has often been highly problematic. There are three kinds of barrier, and all remain live issues in creating meaningful participatory democracy. First, there are conventional understandings that have limited what participation is possible or desirable. A big theme of this chapter is the reshaping of these conventional understandings, away from a notion that participation had to be guided by party elites to a more expansive idea of participation. Second, there remain legal barriers to participation: some groups, of whom most prisoners are the best-documented instance, are prohibited from even minimal forms of participation, like voting. Third, there are big institutional barriers to participation. Take voting, the most basic form: the Electoral Commissions review after the 2010 general election estimated that over 6 million voters were missing from the electoral register - and therefore were disfranchised (Electoral Commission 2011b).
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