Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
Menu
October 13th 2017 print

Peter Arnold

‘Winning’ by Default

Brexit, Trump, Macron, Wilders -- the final tallies list them all as winners, but the real victors have been the disgust and despair that directed voters to outsider alternatives. Democracy in action? Absolutely, but why does Lord Acton's famous maxim keep coming to mind?

bums outDonald Trump did not win the US election. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s an accurate description of what happened in November, 2016. All the politician candidates lost. The prize went, by default, to the one non-politician.

Mimicking ‘the Trump phenomenon’, Emmanuel Macron did not win the French presidential election. The politicians who had, for decades, governed the country, lost.

Mark Rutte’s governing party lost seats in the Dutch parliament to Geert Wilders and other small parties. Matteo Renzi’s governing party lost the 2016 plebiscite to change the Italian constitution. Theresa May’s governing party lost ten seats to minor parties. Malcolm Turnbull’s governing party lost seats to minor parties. As further proof my thesis, Angela Merkel will lose seats next month.

What is it about governing politicians in these democracies that has caused their electorates to vote against them? The French have a word for it, a word which emerged after Mr Macron, although lacking a political party, saw his opponents fall by the wayside – dégagement. ‘Disengagement’.

The driver of a car equipped with manual gears (a rare bird nowadays) knows what happens when you disengage the clutch. There is now no connection between the motor and the wheels. What we are seeing in politics around the democratic world is a disengagement of the engine (the power of the electorate) from the parliamentary wheels which move the country.

If the electorate has, indeed, become disengaged from the politicians, why?

Edmund Burke made it clear to the electors of Bristol that he was not, in parliament, a mere mouthpiece for their views. If they had confidence in him, if they trusted him, then, once elected, he would do his utmost in the best interests of the nation as a whole.

Trust, confidence, faith.

How do today’s electors view our current politicians, whether in government or thrusting to become the next government? Federal members of Parliament ranked 23rd out of 30 professions in a recent Roy Morgan poll. State MPs took 24th place.

Reinforcing the dégagement is the spectre of senior politicians in a number of countries being successfully prosecuted for corruption or other crimes. What happens, in such circumstances, to trust, confidence and faith?

Is it any surprise that, when polls turn into elections, small parties, even small single-issue groups, take away votes from the ‘disengaged’ major parties which have presumed an entitlement to govern?

Aided and abetted by an uncaring, disinterested internet, bereft of moral scruples or ethics, facilitating the spread of ‘fake news’, ‘ false facts’ and anonymous libellous ‘blogs’, many voters now focus, when casting their votes, on “What is best for me?”, rather than “What is best for the country?”

Adding to their moral confusion is the new ‘identity politics’. Not simply the selfishness of “What is best for me?”, but also the selfishness of “What is best for people like me?”

And who, today, are ‘people like me’? Decades ago, Australian politics was torn by Catholic/Protestant rivalry. Today, in our multi-ethnic, multi-coloured, multi-religious and multi-sexual society, this last question has come to the fore. We are identifying ourselves with the narrow group to which we feel we belong (or to which, to be politically correct, we think we should belong), rather than as seeing ourselves as individuals concerned for the wellbeing of the nation as a whole.

Regrettably, many democratic electorates have, when similarly disengaged from their politicians, opted for strong leadership of one sort or another. They want to know that the person in charge actually cares about them. They turn against the democratic process to appoint, sometimes through revolution, a strong leader whom they believe will actually ‘deliver the goods’. However, as GK Chesterton put it:

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

Is the ‘Trump phenomenon’ reversible, and if so, how? How can public confidence be restored to a cadre of men and women who are held in such low esteem by the people who installed them in their powerful positions? Frighteningly, the process might only start with a strong leader prepared to clean out the Augean stables.

But then, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Comments [7]

  1. MOAB says:

    The strengthening of the “ruling class” is definitely something we need to worry about. Career politicians with global corporate interest links cannot possibly be doing their job of representing people, because they answer to a different boss. The whole capitalist system is under threat because the global shift to “crony capitalism” suppresses competition which is the core of any capitalist system.

  2. Keith Kennelly says:

    Ten blue bottles sitting on the wall
    If one blue bottle should accidentally fall
    There’d be nine blue bottles sitting in the wall
    ….

    Until ….

  3. Davidovich says:

    Let us just consider Australia. The Party system is, by and large, what determines the government be it State or Federal and it is the Party system which is a major part of the disenchantment with politics here. Senior operatives dictate who is preselected and most members are regarded and treated as useful idiots but not who should have a real voice in preselection. Consequently, we are lumbered with candidates and politicians who sing the tune of their masters, not that of the Party membership. Thus, many people look elsewhere for a genuine person to support but that is becoming increasingly difficult and many false messiahs get undeserved support. People such as Abbott and Howard in NSW are trying to reform their Party but, even if they do, there will arise insiders who will eventually control the Party and its directions. Do I have a solution? No, other than to withdraw support for any politician who does not follow the principles which brought initial support.

  4. whitelaughter says:

    Edmund Burke defied his electorate – and so was kicked out, and spent the rest of his political career holding a pocket borough provided by a patron. It’s easy to be brave when the system is rigged in your favour!
    The vermin we have in politics today can claim with honesty to be his successors, depending not on the goodwill of their electorates but instead on their positions in the political machines. They’d also agree on policy: sodomy, foreign religions and free trade.

  5. Jody says:

    Apparently Austria is headed for a right wing government. I knew this would happen after the arrival of so many muslims, uninvited. That country has always been a very safe place to live. Not any more, I suspect. The people want a government who will return it to safety and the Left can never guarantee that. The left prefers a body count to show the people how ‘free’ they are.

  6. Julian says:

    The issue of immigration and demographic transformation is no doubt central to this phenomenon of disengagement; as well as the connected tyranny of things like multiculturalism, enforced tolerance.

    Politicians view immigration as a way of continually expanding the market, hence keeping people employed (in albeit often horrible service jobs) etc. However, the problem with this is that human beings are not like lego blocks where you can just tip a whole bunch of new ones in to the pile and the whole economic pile just grows happily bigger. No, we have a nature and character (which includes a fair bit of inherent and ‘natural’ xenophobia) as well as cultures, religions, languages etc, so we segregate, we form groups, we are distrustful and uneasy about some outsiders more than others, etc.

    And well, the electorate know this, have seen the effects on the ground, and have voted for ‘none of the above’ – and, justifiably. They didn’t ask their politicians to import crime, a lack of social cohesion, and to completely transform the character and demographics of their society. And, now with Trump, Brexit etc, people finally have an outlet to say ‘no more’ (after years of being told by their so-called superiors that these concerns were illegitimate and ‘beyond the pale’ etc. The fact that Pauline Hanson never really went away (in spite of what those idiots at Fairfax and the ABC say, is evidence of that )

    Immigration aside, I think the issues of: gay marriage, excessive liberalism, etc – are also part of the general disengagement.