OPINION: Thinkpiece - The sector can help rejuvenate political feeling

The last General Election was marked by considerable media and public cynicism and the lowest turnout rate in UK political history. More than a year on and little seems to have been done to combat growing political disengagement. A political environment in which government is becoming increasingly severed from the public should be of grave concern to all of us.

Civil society can act as a balance for this political disengagement with its own "participatory democracy

involving and representing groups which may be excluded or would otherwise go unheard, as they often exist at the margins of mainstream society. Recent research shows that people are increasingly likely to make a contribution through giving time and money.

An ICM poll commissioned by NCVO confirmed that there is widespread public distrust of politicians. Six out of 10 thought it was very or quite unlikely that a political party spokesperson will be honest when interviewed on the news. It also revealed a lack of confidence in the political system's ability to represent ordinary people's interests effectively. Nearly seven out of 10 opted for an alternative to their local MP for help in preventing the planned building of a waste incinerator in their area.

In contrast, 82 per cent of respondents said that they thought it was very or quite likely that a charity representative would be honest in an interview. Meanwhile, almost one in five respondents said that an environmental pressure group was best placed to prevent the building of the waste incinerator.

Earlier this month, NCVO held a conference in London on the state of the political process. I took this opportunity to express my view that civil society and politicians need to work together to become the catalyst for addressing these challenges. We need to maximise the opportunities of new developments, for example, the exciting local-to-global citizenship education programmes, the parliamentary modernisation programme and, above all, a better quality public debate.

Clearly, the voluntary sector can play a leading role in bringing the state and its citizens together to focus on building and sustaining trust and help replace the current disengagement with political life with a new engagement.

STUART ETHERINGTON, chief executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations

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