Democracy and the economic crisis….
Political Betting has an interesting musing on whether democracy itself will become a casualty of the economic crisis. Firstly, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the a priori assumption that the article makes, that representative democracy is the only form of democracy is flawed. Other forms exist and as the article points out, it’s the lack of responsiveness of representative democracy that could very well lead to severe trouble.
Secondly, we have to be honest and say the most pressing threat to representative democracy is likely to come from the far-right, not the far-left or even the social democratic left. The plain fact that most on the left wont accept is that the far-right is more popular in its core constituency, the working class, than it is. This is for various reasons, not all to do with the lefts immediate failings, but the key point is that it is recognised. If an attack on representative democracy was to come from the far-right it would be right to defend it (while arguing its weaknessess are what caused the crisis in the first place). Ultimately, however, the EDL, BNP et el are unlikely to take state power, but they may pave the way for a UKIP or more ultra-right-wing Conservative government.
As the article notes, the objective conditions for a crisis in representative democracy exist;
Youth unemployment in Greece is 43% and even higher in Spain. Governments are having to cut drastically and promises previously made can no longer be kept. It is difficult in such conditions for those who have delivered them to credibly paint a rosy picture of the future. It is far easier for the whole political class to take the blame.
Where there’s been a disconnect between politicians and electorate, that becomes an even simpler message – that of a corrupt elite in it for themselves who might be elected by the people but who don’t represent them, enacting policies without popular support and delivering failure.
The poverty of the poor is pushing them to the very brink (and over) the edge of desperation. Meanwhile, the middle classes are being ruined too as their incomes are slashed, their children are being landed with debt (tuition fees) and they can barely service their own rising debt burden, let alone maintain their standard of living. It truly is a perfect storm, one that will consume entire governments whole.
All of which makes the lefts urgent rediscovery of democratic, socialist politics more urgent. We need to articulate a programme of demands that can appeal as much to the beggar on the street as much as the person struggling to make ends meet. In other words, a programme of radical social transformation, which has been urgently necessitated by this current crisis, which can address the needs of the majority. If we don’t then we may well find that even the limited democracy we currently enjoy is taken away from us and that would be a tragedy for all concerned, not just the left.