Why do we need politicians?

19 May 2017

The current election campaign is a struggle for an ideology that will be used to carry Britain through the upcoming Brexit negotiations. There are two main players in this struggle: Prime Minister Theresa May is portrayed as the strong leader who can carry Britain through tough talking to Europe. Her chief opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, with increasing confidence, presents what he refers to as a more reasonable discursive approach to politics. He prefers dialogue to confrontation. 


But, this election is part of a much larger struggle. It is in fact part of a global struggle for power that uses as its currency, political ideology which, in turn, trades in the lives and aspirations of ordinary working people. Much like the never-ending stream of washing powder adverts which all promise an even whiter wash than before, politicians promise to make our countries better, usually on behalf of ‘working families.’ In almost every nation the message is the same.


Where is the real, hard evidence that a political party, or even a politician has made life better? The industrial and technological advances of the last hundred or more years was going to happen anyway. The massive inter-connectedness of people that has emerged with the development of the internet and social media was going to happen anyway. Progress is unstoppable.


So, why do we need politicians?


Professor Peter Mair has written about the void in Western politics, lamenting the absence of real political participation amongst ordinary people. 


He suggests that this phenomenon has allowed the growth of an army of technocrats who essentially determine the political direction of countries and thus, by extension, the combined populations of the 28 member states of the EU. 


But he also reminds us that however the EU has evolved, it has done so with the connivance and explicit agreement of the national governments from each of the twenty-eight states. It is therefore rich for some governments, chief among them, the Conservative-led administration in the UK, to now start pointing the finger at the EU and bemoan their lack of power. One of the most interesting phenomena to emerge over recent years is the promulgation of the suspicion that 'The European Project' is somehow a failure. This notion has taken hold and there are those who have managed to turn Europe into a very soft political target for large groups of disaffected people. In so doing, they hope to destroy the very cohesion that has been achieved within Europe, to save their countries from the hordes of immigrants and so-called benefit tourists. People forget that these issues have been around for many decades and exist independently of the EU. Speaking about Irish migrants in the US last March, Irish Taoiseach, (prime minister) Enda Kenny reminded the US president of the real contribution made by migrants in a truly inspiring speech.


There are sections in every society whose position is vulnerable and who our deserving of and in need of state protection. There is nothing complicated about this. It simply means that there are those in society who are less fortunate or well-off who need and should get support from those of us who are better off. They should not become the pawns in a political debate whose main aim seems to be about the acquisition of power in an election; the motivation for which is unclear.


Professor Mair’s opening paragraph begins:


“The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”


A case in point is the recent and very surprising decision by Theresa May to call a general election in the UK. The received wisdom is that a bigger majority in parliament will strengthen her hand in negotiations with Brussels. It will certainly strengthen her hand in Britain, but a stronger hand in Europe; that’s a different matter. But one distinct and increasingly likely advantage will be that a Tory Government with a hugely increased majority will be less plagued by the opposition and thus less open to interrogation.  


There have been rumblings that no-one in British politics really knows what a post-Brexit Britain will look like.  Already, banks and other organisations are deciding to move hundreds of staff from London to Dublin, Paris and other European cities. The government’s belief that America would place the UK at the top of its list of prospective trading partners now seems less likely than ever. The vexed and complex question of how to manage the only land border with Europe, the one between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is answered with yet more vague promises that there will be no hard border between the two.


Mrs. May has been very forthright in saying that she and her government are committed to getting the best deal for Britain from the EU and that the negotiations are safe in her hands. They might well be, but it is hard to have faith when I am feeling so utterly manipulated. Recently, the Prime Minister made a comprehensive statement to the press suggesting that some in Europe are threatening Britain and that they are trying to influence the results of the election, while others are actually trying to ensure that Britain does not succeed post Brexit. 


Some might argue that this kind of tactic smacks of the approach to the presidential election taken by Donald Trump. His constant rhetoric of rigged elections and elite conspiracies won over many voters for whom the whiff of conspiracy was always going to arouse passions. Now, even Mr. Corbyn, speaking of a 'rigged economy' and 'elites' seems to be borrowing from Trump’s playbook. This is not policy, it is blatant manipulation.


Honest and open dialogue? I don’t think so!



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