An interesting piece from Anthony Barnett on Comment is Free about how the net can enhance democratic participation raises a number of important issues. I don't really agree with his argument- people just don't use the web like the techno-elite who do things like write blogs do.
He makes a good point though when he says you have to go to where people are already congregating and they already have commitment to get them to engage. Well, what is wrong with doing that at a local level and through established democratic institutions like parish or local councils?
There is a whole industry of creating new forms of democratic engagement from on-line consultations to citizens' juries, to public bodies engaging in community consultation. I'm not saying that any of these are not worthwhile but they are no replacement for good, strong local democracy. In other words, you can only guarantee accountability if you can vote at the end of the process and someone's position depends on it.
Primary Care Trusts, Police Authorities, regional bodies are busy trying to demonstrate that they are democratically accountable and responsive to local needs. Why not put all these bodies under local (or regional) democratic supervision and then have local elections that really matter to people?
The web is a collective space, it offers new opportunities to engage, but there is no substitute for genuine, responsible and responsive local democracy.