Monday 29 December 2014

2014 - The Year of Anti-Politics

This year has seen the phenomenal rise of the anti-politics politician across Europe and, as the year is coming to a close, it is perhaps time to reflect on the reasons for this development. 

The first aspect that strikes one when looking at the European political scene is that no country has been spared the ascendance of the populist. Poor or rich country alike, austere or profligate budgets, the political elites have experienced a serious onslaught from those who claim to be standing outside the establishment. In Germany, it is the rise of the Anti-Euro party AfD and PEGIDA (the 'Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of Europe'), in Greece it is Syriza and the neo-facist Golden Dawn, whilst in the UK it is UKIP and populist comedians of various convictions.

Experts in shadow boxing - Russell Brand and Nigel Farage
Photo: JOHN DONEGAN/AAP/Press Association Images/Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Fascinatingly, this is all 'old hats' when looked at from the perspective of the US. There the main challenge to the political establishment happened earlier and has already waned again, the tea party movement. And it is this movement that may tell us something about why things are happening here in Europe and where things are likely to end up. 

 Initially, the tea party had all the signs of an extra-parlimantarian social movement, advocating empowerment of the citizens vis-a-vis the political classes. As such, it encountered all the challenges of social movements in a time of technological change, where allegiance is paid by 'likes' and collective action is frowned upon as 'old school'. This weakened the effectiveness of the movement significantly, and before long, the tea party morphed into an appendage of the Republican Party. Most observers thought this to be its natural home, its political credo echoing the messages of citizen empowerment over government, yet that is a simplification of the complex mesh of anger and frustration of tea party members who often articulated little more than a virulent anti-politics motive. 

The core of this anti-political motivation is a clue as to the kinship between the tea party and their European populist equivalents. For members of the tea party, just like for UKIPers and members of the AfD, it was a keenly felt loss of control that lies at the heart of the problem. Populists differ about what it is over which control is lost, immigration, sovereignty ('I want my country back!') or the national budget (enter Syriza: the German 'occupation'), but they are united in the desire to re-gain control over something that is close to their heart. 

This leads to an analysis of the nature of their populism. A brief survey of political realities reveals that  none of their promises can be fulfilled. In an increasingly interdependent world, the re-instatement of national sovereignty over 'international forces', be they bankers, multi-national conglomerates or 'the Germans' is wishful thinking. None of the issues that they would like to re-gain control over is 'manageable' in the old, nation-centred way. Immigration into the UK is not simply a problem of the European right of mobility, solved easily by leaving the EU as UKIP proclaims, but is a long term trend fuelled by rising wealth in developing countries that provides just enough means to ever more people to escape stagnant economies or corrupt regimes to get to Europe (or the UK). It is a product of a world becoming ever smaller in economic and geographical terms, with consequences for travel, mobility and economic interdependence. 

As for the rest of the populist messages (so-called 'Islamisation' of Europe, or German 'occupation' of Greece) there is little hope for this to change any time soon, simply because they are the results of a wrong take on reality. In essence, populism will fail because it offers the wrong analysis and hence draws the wrong conclusions. 

Having said this, all this does not mean that the anti-political mood is going to vanish any time soon. The traditional political elites in Europe and the US have proved reliably insensitive to infuse populists like Farage, the organisers of PEGIDA and Tsipras with new life at every turn. Only honesty about the impotence of political decision making can change that, but that is a counter-intuitive message for everything politician. The bread and butter of political life is the promise of a new Jerusalem, of a solution to all problems. Yet, the space for sovereign political decisions is shrinking and shrinking fast, something you wont catch a politician admit, of populist hue or not. So the political class is caught in the bandwagon of promises, and the populists are clinging on for the ride.


  1.   Procedure By Which conservatives Could Control  Parliament
    If UKIP  is  Lucky,  UKIP could  get,   perhaps,  get   five  to  ten   seats
    in  Parliament.  Do  not   forget,   the  public  still regards  UKIP  as   a
    one  issue  party.  To gain  control of  Parliament  UKIP  and  (and frie-
    nds) should  form a  new  conservative  party  with  a  platform that is 
    close to that of the existing Conservative party, omitting, of course, 
    policies that are objectionable to conservatives. The purpose would
    be to make a bed that would be easy for conservatives to slide into,
    including  the eighty  percent  of  the Conservatives who left Conser-
    vative  associations. UKIP and the  conservatives  should   then  form
     a  political  association  in  each  parliamentary  district.   UKIP   could
    merge with the new party, thus getting rid of the one issue problem. 
    Every one who would have worked  to  form  the new,  conservative,
     party   should   be   prevented   from    joining    the    new   party    for
    a  period   of time  to  prevent  the  impression  that  UKIP  controls  it.
    The two or three conservative parties should hold a primary election
    to determine who runs as the Parliamentary candidate, with the losers
    to help the winner. The cost of forming new associations can be raised
    by local contributors. It is suggested that the  new   conservative   asso-
    ciations and the political party be controlled by the lowest level of con-
    servatives, such as teachers, small businessmen, solicitors, professionals
    etc. If the  above   procedure   can  not  be  completed  in  time  to   get 
    candidates   elected   to    Parliament,  the  new  party  must  wait  until
    after the  election  and  hold  a  petition  demanding  that  the  elected
    MP  resign. Note: an MP  represents   every  person  in  his  district,  not
    just members and   supporters of his party. When the petition reaches
    fifty percent of those who voted in the prior election, the conservatives
    will be morally justified in demanding their MP"s resignation. Then the
    new party could run their  candidates  in  the  following by elections. 
    To select a candidate, a local  association should  advertise  for applicants
    or the position of candidate for  Parliament, then  select   the   best  app-
    licant  by using rigorous tests, including, most importantly,  psychological 
    evaluation. psychological evaluation is an absolute necessity as the psych-
    ological evaluation is the only way to tell who is honest and who is a con-
    artist; members of the public  cannot.  Testing  could  be  required  of the 
    association  officers,  committee  members and delegates, etc.

    The platform, selected by new party associations,  should be some what
     vague in order to facilitate integration  the platforms of the  new  assoc-
    iations into one platform. It is suggested that self forming cliques of those
    who are   honest  and   trust  worthy  be formed;  then form   self  forming
    cliques of those who have   political skills  and  capabilities,  within  the
    first described clique.

    The corruption in Ukip is a cause for concern. Information about the corr-
    uption may bee seen on the following websites:

    John Newell

    1. Hi John, thanks for your comment! That's a pretty elaborate strategy but I think politics is always a bit messier, not least because it's full of unpredictable other factors.. I agree however with your comment that UKIP is still a one issue party and that they are hamstrung by that so far. Let's see where it goes!