Representative versus Responsible Government
Title: Representative versus Responsible Government
Author: MAIR, Peter
Series/Number: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne; 2009/08
External link: http://www.mpifg.de/pu/workpap/wp09-8.pdf
The changing circumstances in which parties compete in contemporary democracies, coupled with the changing circumstances in which governments now govern, have led to a widening of the traditional gap between representative and responsible government. Although it is generally seen as desirable that parties in government are both representative and responsible, these two characteristics are now becoming increasingly incompatible. Prudence and consistency in government, as well as accountability, require conformity to external constraints and legacies. This means more than just answering to public opinion. While these external constraints and legacies have become weightier in recent years, public opinion, in its turn, has become harder and harder for governments to read. Hence we see the growing incompatibility. Meanwhile, because of changes in their organizations and in their relationship with civil society, parties are no longer in a position to bridge or 'manage' this gap, or even to persuade voters to accept it as a necessary element in political life. This growing incompatibility is one of the principal sources of the democratic malaise that confronts many Western democracies today.
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