A WIDE literature attests to the decline of democratic governance, at least in the Anglo-American world. Whether measured by turnout, perceived differences between the major parties, party membership, trust or the many indicators used to evaluate citizen attitudes, the substantial and growing disengagement between the formal political system and its publics seems clear. But there are also positive developments, particularly on the institutional front. Freedom of information has been extended. Citizen rights have, under the European Charter, statutory force. Parliamentary committees have grown in stature and influence. And devolution within the United Kingdom is extending more political powers to the Scottish, Welsh and Irish nations. So how should contemporary democracy be judged? The first part of this article explores that issue. It starts with the major parties, once basic agents of mass mobilisation and representation, and argues that a
cascading series of developments, often involving contingent adjustments to immediate exigencies, have, in a longer perspective, created a fundamental gap —perhaps even a gulf—between the
political system and its publics. This gap is the source and heart of democratic decline. A second section then sketches paths to democratic renewal. In particular, it asks: how might this gap be closed? What structures could become the platform for renewed linkage between the formal system and its publics? What other changes might be required to make this a reality? Are prospects of change fanciful?