Democracy’s dark days
Democracy is facing a complex of identity as its influence becomes increasingly undermined both externally and internally. From the exterior, democracy faces threats from groups such as IS and the growing influence of powerful developing economies such as the “new G7” (Russia, India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey) where 2 of the 3 most influential in that group; Russia and China are not democracies and the remainder are far from model democracies. Internally, citizens of the biggest exporters of the democracy brand are increasingly identifying with and looking in non-traditional places for ways to express themselves, whether it’s the SNP in Scotland, UKIP or the Tea Party in the US.
Part of the package of being in a democracy is of course freedom of expression. However, as these groups have grown, they have been rejected, belittled and sidelined by establishments all in a bid to protect the system of democracy which we are pushed to experience in very narrow terms. But it appears the hull has most certainly been breached and the admirals are looking bewildered.
In the UK, Labour and the Conservatives are running around in circles trying to stem the flow defecting voters and in the latter’s case, MPs to UKIP. The Kippers have their first MP and the fact that they are now in parliament means you will undoubtedly see them treated in a different way by the 3 main parties. In a bid to win back voters who have openly switched to UKIP, the silent voters and the ones who are seriously considering changing their votes, the establishment will be changing the tone of their criticism of this once fringe party and find new ways to try and curb their growth.
While Red and Blue (the Lib Dems have largely escaped the threat in the vast majority of their stomping grounds and target seats) scratch their heads to find a solution, they continue to overlook the obvious in treating voters with respect. The rise of UKIP has been fuelled by disrespecting those who identified with some of their ideas by saying that support for UKIP was merely a protest and wheeling out the tired rhetoric that “we should address these issues”. Essentially what’s been said is “forgive the plebs for they know not what they do (or think in this case)”. And unsurprisingly people have kicked back and we are seeing people becoming increasingly more vocal.
This isn’t just about UKIP. All over the globe people have been moving away from traditional and established sources to find ways of expressing themselves. Eastern Ukrainians have looked to the Kremlin in a bid to make their lives better as the Ukrainian government has failed them. Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) in Germany has won regional seats and continues to grow its supporter base and in Scotland the membership of SNP has gone up by triple figure percentage points since the Scottish referendum.
These issues aren’t issues of micro economics but issues of identity and the inability of traditional institutions to answer questions of real moral imperatives that are of concern to the populous. The most dangerous thing that can happen in this situation is to fail to address these issues when they have been so publicly heard and noted.
So how are these domestic and international issues related? Well, Francis Fukyama claimed that the “end of history” had arrived and the triumph of liberal democracy was complete and that was around 25 years ago. But what we have seen instead is the backlash by people and states who do not believe this triumph to have taken place and are far from willing to roll over and let it, plus the economic power and continued growth in geopolitical influence of states that are not characterised by the values of a liberal democracy.
However you look at it, a change is needed and a change is being cried out for across the globe. It begins by having respect for the individual and valuing the right to self determination. No simple task by any stretch of the imagination, but as the old adage says, “democracy is messy” and similarly change is messy, galling and often seems impossible.