Friday, April 01, 2005

The trouble with European mediocrity and centrist compromise

Politicians and scruples are a contradiction in terms. People generally regard politicians and political parties with mistrust. Too many lies, too much corruption etc. etc.

People are disappointed and they no longer bother to vote. They are disappointed with politicians because they mistrust them.

Here is a theory that I will admit I am not certain is correct.

There is another source of disappointment that brings this back to the issue of ‘compromise’. The cause of that disappointment is centricity and the ‘compromise’ that is inherent in the politics of centricity. Compromise means that no-one is ever entirely satisfied – concessions have to be made.

Mainstream politics all over Europe is facing the lack of distinction between left and right and the growth of the politics and economics of centricity where the differences are more in the minutiae and nuances of policy. Politicians and their economists are more interested in GDP growth, headline inflation, fiscal and monetary responsibility and, keeping up the appearance of being economically competent.

I did not write the above quote but I didn’t save the url and cannot remember where it came from so regret I cannot provide the source. But it seemed to be spot on.

People are disappointed with the choices that face them on the ballot paper – there is a choice between more of the same non-committal centrism or something that is only marginally less non-committal. Centrist politics has become the norm because it is largely non-partisan and follows the middle of the road path; that is the essence of its success. It is what is fashionable today but will it always be like that. Agreed it is better to have more of the same Centrism if the alternatives are extreme but it does nothing to stimulate people’s interest in participating in the political process - “why bother to vote? It doesn’t matter who you vote for the government still gets in and all government is the same these days” – “even if I do not vote I know that I can trust those who do to elect more of the same” – “politicians are all the same they’re only out for what they can get for themselves.”

Centrist politics removes the differences between political parties to the extent that many registered voters don’t bother to vote because there is no need; the product is the same the difference is in the packaging and the packaging has become transparent. Turnouts have been decreasing in elections because of centricity and disappointment at the lack of choice.

There is no alternative to Centrism. I would agree with this in one sense but disagree in another because there is always an alternative, at least there should be, and, if there is no alternative then we could be in trouble.

Centricity is a refuge. It offers stability in the face of extremism and makes sense; it is the wall behind which we can retreat and it is a known quantity. But look carefully at what is happening within the walls and it appears that centricity is in itself giving birth to extremes. Centricity at the macro level is starting to be controlled by minorities at the micro level who are exercising power beyond their democratic franchise and disproportionate to their size.

In itself this is not a crisis for democracy as long as Centricity holds sway. Maybe we are entering the ‘age of centricity’? However, Centrist politics means there is no real opposition and that can be dangerous.

Writing with reference to Russia the authors of an article that appeared in Izvestia a few years back made the point that “Countries without a recognized political opposition are likely to find that the social and political space such groups normally occupy will increasingly be filled by extremists” and that “they are likely to play a role far out of proportion to their numbers and poison the political system that gave them birth.” The article concludes that:

"Initially, such extremists may appear to both the leaders and the broader society to be of little more than unwanted nuisances. But if the regime does not allow the emergence of and more importantly the institutionalization of a genuine political opposition, one that is expected and allowed to challenge the current government and even seek to replace it, such extremists are likely to serve as magnets for others in society who may be disaffected.

And because the movements that form around such people are inevitably going to be coloured by their attitudes, such new movements will be even more threatening to the prospects for democracy than anyone might have expected."

The full commentary on this article can be found by clicking the link - When There Is No Opposition

While there are no ‘regimes’ as such in the EU that deliberately stifle opposition the growth of centricity achieves the same end. Minority rights are championed with positive discrimination and political correctness. Look at what has happened to Huntingdon Life Sciences and, the fear that all too many corporations, including Banks, have of targeted campaigns by ‘activists’. Observe too, the often dis-proportionate influence groups like Anti-Globalisation, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Vivisection, Anti-etc.etc. have been able to gain – sometimes this can be a force for good but not often. Is it only a matter of time before this spills over into the wider political spectrum and gives birth to an extreme left or right political group that is able to exercise an influence far beyond its’ mandate?

It is not that the conditions for a ‘normal’ opposition to emerge do not exist, they do. The problem is that centricity obviates the need to cast a vote and pushes the disaffected to extremes and extreme movements tend to orientate around the attitudes and opinion of the leaders. Should a charismatic leader come to the fore and express in a seemingly reasonable manner the darker side public opinion, something always more likely to surface during times of economic hardship and high unemployment, the possibilities of that leaders election and their ability to wield power beyond their true franchise becomes a real possibility. Milosevic was an example, Haider in Austria is another ever hopeful that his time will come and, I have no doubt others will emerge and exercise power with varying degrees of success.