A quarter of us (26 per cent) are either 'apathetic' or 'alienated', with a further 35 per cent either having 'no urge to get involved' or 'not very interested in more involvement'. About 14 per cent of us are 'strongly' engaged and described in this research as interested in doing more, which probably confirms Citizenship survey and other data.
The most interesting group is categorised by Ipsos MORI as 'willing localists' - 'not actively involved but willing and likely to do so locally' (emphasis added).
The category headings sent me back to research carried out by the Henley Centre a few years ago, which suggested that more than two thirds of us are either 'community bystanders' or 'passive participators'.
The Henley Centre researchers, Michelle Harrison and Michelle Singer, categorised 16 per cent of us as 'community conscious' - which may offer an interesting comparison with the 'willing localists' in the new Hansard data.
We need to understand differences in interpretation between general prosocial engagement on the one hand, and involvement that is related to the political process, on the other. This requirement applies most of all to the political theorists who seek a cure-all innovation. Harrison and Singer describe the 'community conscious' as relatively affluent, and note:
'they feel time pressure but are not low on energy. They have a very strong belief in the values of community overall, and in a sense of community where they live. This group is disproportionately female... They organise and volunteer, and are more likely to attend church or a place of worship. They are not, however, “political”: our qualitative research did not suggest that they are any more likely to engage in local politics than their less “community focused” neighbours.'
This resonates strongly with the sense that Hugh Flouch and I got from our Online neighbourhood networks study last year, that local online networks are providing a means by which this category of people can more easily and productively get involved. And the Hansard data also seems to hint at some limits to the extent to which that involvement can be politicised.
The need is to detach the community and the civic from the political. Universal politically-driven coercive messages won't work, but stimulating the local communications ecology in the civic context could be promising. This is because, as I've said often enough, there need to be conversations about all sorts of things going on at local level before we see lasting change in some of these statsitics.