More generally, old traditional political parties are struggling to survive and in Europe many have been wiped out by emerging left and right populist movements. In the United Kingdom and the United States, they continue to survive thanks to first-past-the-post electoral systems, but all of these parties are struggling to gain credibility.
This growing cynicism about political leaders has come at a time when more women are engaged in politics than ever before and politicians themselves are better educated than ever before. These factors seem to have had no effect on the general loss of confidence in the political class.
Lack of belief
It may be that increasingly sophisticated campaigning methods and the influence these campaigning methods have on the perception of politicians have done a lot of damage. These days, highly paid political consultants are hired and they tell aspiring candidates what the public thinks. Candidates in turn repeat these messages to the audience. We might assume that would work – but it doesn’t. It just demonstrates that our political leaders lack conviction, only tell us what we want to hear, and have no better insight than we do on the wise and practical path to charting the future of society.
Unsurprisingly, this political methodology has led to a number of absurd political contradictions. Politicians tell us how concerned they are about climate change and that dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced. The public is, in general, convinced by this broad argument. This led to a significant decline in oil and gas investment. Over the past five years, there has been a 50% drop in investment in gas development. Large corporations and pension funds are divesting assets in the oil and gas industries.
For the audience at first glance, everything sounds good. And then there are huge subsidies for renewable energy and financial penalties are imposed on the use of oil and gas.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to a substantial increase in the price of fossil fuels and, more generally, has contributed to an almost unprecedented increase in government spending, borrowing and taxes. Add to that the money spent to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the EFFECT of the war in Ukraine – which is conveniently exaggerated by politicians – and we are left with a hell of a mess with a return of inflation. and a steady rise in interest rates.
You can’t blame the public for being told by politicians that anything they want can be done, and then suddenly the downsides of those policies come back. As gas and gasoline prices rise, the public is complaining again, not surprisingly. As interest rates rise, they are unhappy, and who can blame them.
I am not a fan of Essendon Football Club but how they sacked the CEO because he was a Christian will go down in history as one of the important stepping stones to the new illiberalism.
The political class discovers all this pain and decides to respond by completely contradicting their previous policies. President Biden is pleading with the Saudis and the Emirates to increase their oil production. The Germans are running old coal-fired power stations, and in Britain they are opening up gas fields in the North Sea. Yet the same leaders are telling us that there is a climate crisis and that we must reduce fossil fuel production.
Add inflation and rising interest rates, and politicians are in a state of chaos. They were taken aback by popular sentiment without ever explaining what can and cannot be done. It is undermining democracy.
In Australia, the Albanian government is considering abandoning one of its main election promises, which was to fully respect the Morrison government’s tax cuts. Now they think they are unaffordable given their new spending priorities.
I think you can see the theme here. Policies are driven by polls, not by conviction or rational, thoughtful policy-making. The result is a hodgepodge of conflicting policies and an increasingly cynical and exasperated public.
When people like Donald Trump, Giorgia Meloni and Marine Le Pen do well in elections, the status quo political class howls in anger like children whose toys have been taken away. What they don’t do is wonder why these people are elected. The only thing the public can see is that the political class has lost focus and abandoned conviction.
Liberal democracy also depends on freedom of expression and public debate about ideas, plans and proposals. We used to believe that this was fundamental to the successful progress of society. But now, exasperated and in a desperate attempt to appease aggressive and vocal minorities, politicians are beginning to grow increasingly intolerant. And society in general.
I am not a fan of Essendon Football Club, being a Crows supporter, but how they sacked the CEO because he was a Christian will go down in history as one of the important stepping stones to the new illiberalism. Even Christians cannot be CEO of a football club! It’s amazing. And although the decision was not made by the government, it was supported by the Victorian government and more tacitly by the federal government.
None of this means that liberal democracy is dead, but it does point to a disturbing trend. And where are the emerging politicians of conviction? Who will fight to preserve the best of liberal democracy? What is frightening is that politicians of conviction are more on the far left and on the far right than on the center left and center right. They only study polls, not read books. It’s not healthy. One day, all of this could lead somewhere very wrong.