Peter Oborne the Daily Telegraph’s øverste politiske kommentator skriver i forbundelse med en ny bog af Peter Mair: Ruling The Void: The Hollowing Of Western Democracy.
In the course of two decades as a political reporter my most powerful experience of this kind came when a friend drew my attention to a 20-page article in an obscure academic journal.
Written by the political scientists Richard Katz and Peter Mair, and called “The Emergence of a Cartel Party”, it immediately explained almost everything that had perplexed me as a lobby correspondent: the unhealthy similarity between supposedly rival parties; the corruption and graft that has become endemic in modern politics; the emergence of a political elite filled with scorn and hostility towards ordinary voters. My book, The Triumph of the Political Class, was in certain respects an attempt to popularise that Katz and Mair essay.
Several months ago I was shocked and saddened to learn that Peter Mair had died . However, his friend Francis Mulhern has skilfully piloted into print the book he was working on at the time of his death. It is called Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy.
He starts with a historical paradox. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 was in theory the finest moment for Western democracy. But it was also the moment when it started to fail. Mair argues that political elites have turned Europe into “a protected sphere, safe from the demands of voters and their representatives”.This European political directorate has taken decision-making away from national parliaments. On virtually everything that matters, from the economy to immigration, decisions are made elsewhere. Professor Mair argues that many politicians encouraged this tendency because they wanted to “divest themselves of responsibility for potentially unpopular policy decisions and so cushion themselves against possible voter discontent”. This means that decisions which viscerally affect the lives of voters are now taken by anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats rather than politicians responsible to their voters.
In Britain, for example, David Cameron can do virtually nothing to head off Bulgarian or Romanian immigration. The prime ministers of Greece, Portugal and Spain are now effectively branch managers for the European Central Bank and Goldman Sachs. By a hideous paradox the European Union, set up as a way of avoiding a return to fascism in the post-war epoch, has since mutated into a way of avoiding democracy itself.
In a devastating analogy, Mair conjures up Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century French thinker who is often regarded as the greatest modern theorist about democracy. Tocqueville noted that the pre-revolutionary French aristocracy fell into contempt because they claimed privileges on the basis of functions that they could no longer fulfil. The 21st-century European political class, says Mair, is in the identical position.
To sum up, the European elites have come very close to the abolition of what we have been brought up to regard as politics, and have replaced it with rule by bureaucrats, bankers, and various kinds of unelected expert. So far they have got away with this. This May’s elections for the European Parliament will provide a fascinating test of whether they can continue to do so.
The European Union claims to be untroubled by these elections. A report last month from two members of the Jacques Delors Institute concluded that “the numerical increase of populist forces will not notably affect the functioning of the [European Parliament], which will remain largely based on the compromises built between the dominant political groups. This reflects the position of the overwhelming majority of EU citizens”.
I wonder. In France, polls suggest that the anti-semitic Front National, which equates illegal immigrants with “organised gangs of criminals”, will gain more votes than the mainstream parties. The Front National has joined forces with the virulently anti-Islamic Geert Wilders in Holland, who promises to claim back “how we control our borders, our money, our economy, our currency”. In Britain it is likely that Ukip will win in May. Anti-European parties are on the rise in Denmark, Austria, Greece and Poland.
Peter Mair comes from the Left. He was an Irishman who spent the majority of his professional life working in European universities in Italy, the Netherlands or Ireland. And yet he has written what is by far and away the most powerful, learned and persuasive anti-EU treatise I have come across. It proves that it is impossible to be a democrat and support the continued existence of the European Union.His posthumous masterpiece deserves to become a foundation text for Eurosceptics not just in Britain, but right across the continent. It is important that it should do so. The battle to reclaim parliamentary democracy should not just belong to the Right-wing (and sometimes fascist) political parties. The Left and Right can disagree – honourably so – on many great issues. But surely both sides of the ideological divide can accept that democracy is still worth fighting for, and that the common enemy has become the European Union.