Simon Jenkins piece today in The Times caught my eye. Titled "To the sound of dull speeches, the political parties are dying" it examines the downfall of local government and the consequences this has for political parties, who, after all should rely on membership dues to stay afloat (although they don't in practice of course):
In democracies across Europe and North America millions of people feel a duty to public affairs. This is through elected local government, to which Brown and his ministers are adamantly opposed as reducing central control. The resulting democratic deficit is yawning. In France there is roughly one elected official for every 100 voters and in Germany one for every 250. In these countries local mayors and councillors are known by name and often in person to the overwhelming majority of voters. In Britain the figure is one elected person for every 2,600 voters and few can name any local community leader, let alone one to whom they might turn in trouble.
The smallest unit of democratic administration in France, the commune, covers an average of 1,500 people, in Germany 5,000 and America 7,000. The equivalent figure in Britain is 118,000 and the Brown government wants that size to increase under “unitary” authorities, thus removing government still further from voters and consumers. It is no surprise that ever fewer people want to be patronised in this way.
Local party activism is integral to the web of public service, patronage and interest on which accountable democracy depends. Its decay has not only driven British politics to rely ever more heavily on charisma, it has also made British public administration incompetent. Power is exerted by central oligarchies, with parties as no more than cliques of London-based politicians and advisers whose bond is to have been at university together.