The idea at the heart of representative democracy in Europe (see Chapter 6) is that citizens play a role in their own governance via the election of parliaments (and possibly presidents). It is also generally accepted that, like it or not, parties play a mediating role, helping to structure choices and to aggregate interests, be they economic, cultural or religious (see Chapter 5). At the very least, according to the Austrian economist and political analyst Joseph Schumpeter – a man who thought too much citizen participation would prove unworkable – parties provide competing teams of managers that we can choose between at the ballot box (see Best and Higley, 2010). But it would be a very ‘thin’ conception of democracy indeed that supposed citizens would – or indeed should – limit their participation to joining parties and voting or, between elections, be content simply to leave the politicians and the bureaucrats to get on with it. After all, the policies initiated and implemented between those elections will rarely suit everyone and may even be seen as unfair by some. Unless of course they happen to own a huge media empire, individuals are rarely so powerful that they can hope to influence policy on their own. Many of us also recognize that voting and political parties are not the only way to exercise that influence or simply to get involved. We are therefore likely to engage in other forms of political participation.
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