Monday, 8 December 2014

Ruling the Void

Ruling the Void, a posthumous sort of finished book by Peter Mair, is one of the most interesting things I have read recently. It covers similar issues to Colin Crouch's Post-Democracy but with a) some analysis of electoral behaviour to underpin the argument and b) a focus on the EU as an example. If you don't know about it, the book is basically about the hollowing out of Western democracies, with declining political participation and loyalty leading to more volatility on the one hand but less accountability on the other.

Particularly interesting to me area the comments about the state becoming primarily a regulator rather than an instrument of politics. This is exacerbated by the tendency of governments to seek to demonstrate the ideology-free nature of their offer by appointing third parties to develop and oversee policy. In practice this means that often only corporate interests get a look in since only they have the resources to devote to such work. Therefore, in my opinion, you should shudder when someone suggests that we need to "take the politics out of" a given issue, as this will likely mean hand it over to industry interests to do as they see fit with little accountability.

Anyhow, well worth a read. Below are a few good snippets.

[P]ublic policy is no longer so often decided by the party, or even under its direct control. Instead, with the rise of the regulatory state, decisions are increasingly passed to non-partisan bodies that operate at arms length from party leaders... [T]he officials who work within these delegated bodies are less often recruited directly through the party organisation, and are increasingly held accountable by means of judiciary and regulatory controls. And since this broad network of agencies forms an ever larger part of a dispersed and pluriform executive, operating both nationally and supra nationally, the very notion of of accountability being exercised through parties, or of the executive being held accountable to voters (as distinct from citizens or stakeholders) becomes problematic.
[T]raditional politics in seen less and less as something that belongs to the citizens or to the society, and more and more as something done by politicians. There is a world of citizens - or a host of particular worlds of them - and a world of politicians and parties, and the interaction between them steadily decreases. Citizens change from participants into spectators, while the elites win more and more space in which to pursue their own particular interests.
[I]t is possible to speak of a growing divide in European party systems between parties which claim to represent, but don't deliver, and those which deliver but are no longer seen to represent.   

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