The past few months have been a worrying time for those of us who believe in the virtues of representative democracy. The long term trend of the decline of membership and support for political parties has, if anything, accelerated, and long standing loyalties to right or left have given way to a far more complicated political reality in which populist or even anti democratic voices are now being increasingly heard. The rise of Marine Le Pen in France or Donald Trump in the United States point to the failure of conventional politics to maintain a rational and intelligent framework for economic or social policy choices. Irrational and violent solutions are increasingly being touted across the democratic world.
Chat rooms have become the echo chambers of an ill informed political culture that, despite its ignorance, will brook no dissent and which reserves the right to intimidate and threaten in support of its cause. The Scottish cybernats represent a kind of intolerance that is a direct threat to democratic values. Increasingly there is little respect for dissenting opinion and little understanding of the power of informed debate.
The Labour Party in the UK is just the latest faction to be caught up in the trashing of previously sacrosanct political values. The vicious internal battles between a Parliamentary party which understands the necessary compromises required in public policy and the mass membership- many new to the Labour fold- who prefer a pure clear flame to any rational engagement with the issues or even the facts. That Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire career as an isolated puritan rather than an engaged politician is what both attracts the mass membership and appals the Labour MPs in equal measure. Of course the loathing of the Parliamentary party is also based on the fact that they know him as a serial rebel with little understanding of the compromises required to be a successful political leader.
In the United States Donald Trump may have jumped the shark through his advocacy of "some kind of register" of US Muslims, which would probably be illegal under at least two articles of the constitution that as President he would have to take a oath to protect. However, his populist irrationality has an appeal to those with a grievance, which seems to include around a quarter of the Republican party at present. In France the landslide victory of the populist extreme right wing Front National also suggest the dictatorship of the chat room may yet be a possibility.
Nor can the British Conservatives feel entirely comfortable.
The fact is that support for the Conservatives is in long term decline too- and their supposed triumph in the 2015 election was merely that the Labour and Liberal decline has been faster than the Tories.
The fact is that the social fabric that provided the pool of support for political parties has changed radically and the political system across the Western Democracies is struggling to cope. That interested parties, such as Vladimir Putin have worked to subvert the democratic process is not helpful, but the fact is that the danger was there long before subversion became a threat.
Personally I have long believed that a radical change in the form and structure of democratic politics is necessary both to engage the voters in a more open and inclusive process, but also to ensure greater accountability. The politics of the populist is the politics of the excluded. Of course these people can advocate irresponsible even counter productive solutions when the current political structure remains opaque and exclusive.
Liberals have always tried to develop rational and worked out ideas, but the fact of our being included in a coalition that did essentially nothing to reform the constitution so that voters could participate more fully in the process has been a major cause of our failure. Talking about radical solutions looked fake when the Tories were able to block by tricks and stratagems every single one of our proposals. As I have advocated before, the time has come for us to focus more or less exclusively on the democratic deficit in the UK. No one will take our policies on any other area very seriously unless we can show that there is a determination to radically reform, even overthrow the current closed political system.
The Politics of the cabal is dying anyway. Long live open democracy!