The consequence of a retreat from politics?

Dennis Skinner - thought to be sceptical about consensus politics. (Pic: Riana Dzasta)

Dennis Skinner - thought to be sceptical about consensus politics. (Pic: Riana Dzasta)

It’s an interesting twist to the question I’ve been asking, on and off, over the past few weeks: What kind of representatives do we want?

So far, the options have included jurors, rogues and public paragons of virtue. But over on Spiked Online, Brendan O’Neill suggests a somewhat alarming possibility: Maybe we need people who are locked in a partisan struggle – people who will die in a ditch to defend the interests of a social class or ideological clique. Maybe we need (shock … horror) politicians to represent us?

In short, he suggests that the whole expenses scandal is the product of a regrettable retreat from politics – a move to make Parliament meet the petty demands of it’s rivals, and a refusal to prioritise and accommodate political conflict:

“New Labour has discovered that transparency begets, not trust, but further suspicion – the more politicians make their personal purity into their major selling point, and the more they imply that parliament is a potentially corrupt and sleazy place, the more they invite scrutiny of their every foible and Kit Kat purchase.” Continue reading

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Adversarial politics, transparency and independence – some questions.

Ding Dong! An argument can draw crowds. But can it solve anything?

Ding Dong! An argument can draw crowds. But can it solve anything?

Here’s a good post from an Australian blogger on the question: Is adversarial politics damaging to our democracy? (It’s actually an update on a previous post with that title). Here the adversarialism is opposed by a more attractive ‘deliberative’ model of the kind advocated here. The flipside of this argument is put very well by Peter Levine here:

“As I told the Christian Science Monitor in 2006, “Polarization tends to be a mobilizing factor in getting out the vote.” At CIRCLE, we helped to organize randomized experiments of voter outreach with the goal that the parties would learn new techniques and compete more effectively for our target population (youth). I believe we and our colleagues had some influence on the parties and thereby helped boost turnout. We also funded a study that found that parties were under-investing in their young members. Again, our goal was to persuade them to become more effective.”

There is, of course, the adversarial politics of Parliament and the media that we are all familiar with. These arguments are fairly well played out, though they are always worth revisiting. The obvious conclusion, for me is a somewhat muddy preference for a bit-of-both.

However, there is the often-overlooked challenge of adversarial legalism’ towards a supposedly ‘elite-dominated’ form of representative democracy in which various minority groups seek to take a role in the political process using courts to secure rights that protect individuals and minorities. Continue reading