Over recent years, politics has been defined by an almost constant stream of shocking events. Events that nobody anticipated or properly understands. From the 2008 financial crisis to the Grenfell fire, politicians, journalists and the public are all asking: how did this happen? And nobody can provide a definitive answer. Politics today does not make sense. Politicians lie openly, and we know they are lying, and the politicians know that we know they are lying but yet it continues. The only thing that’s clear is that everyone is uncertain about what is going on and what is even true.
Catastrophic events have happened that nobody foresaw and for which nobody has been held satisfactorily accountable. The root of the problem stems from liberal ideas of progress which leads liberals to seek to ‘get politics out of politics’. Liberalism believes that progress is best achieved through scientific and material improvement. The best way to achieve this is to de-politicise these issues and take them out of democratic control. This idea has led politicians to decentralise all things that affect material well-being, which just about encompasses everything, to independent bodies of experts who make logical decisions because they are immune from all democratic considerations; or to the rational forces of the market. Polanyi shows us that a key tenet of liberalism even in the 19th century was that it demanded a separation of society into economic and political spheres. This idea has led to non-democratic government entities and private corporations to manage what was previously in the realm of democratic control. This de-politicisation is evident in both the financial crash and Grenfell.
There are numerous explanations as to why the 2008 financial crisis occurred:
1) Deregulation during the 1980s which allowed financial institutions to take greater risks
2) Low-interest rates creating cheap credit, allowing more people to borrow which created the illusion that there was more demand in the economy than there actually was.
3) The system of earnings tied to performance which incentivised stock traders to make riskier short term loans and lie about the fundamentals of the stock and bonds in order to make more money for themselves creating a financial system to appear to be doing better than it actually was doing in reality.
4) Government regulators forcing banks to give mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them in order to meet social justice quotas.
The validity of each of the four claims is neither here nor there. But the fact that over ten years later, there is still no consensus as to what caused the financial crisis means that nobody can be held responsible for the consequences that succeeded it. Although 47 bankers went to prison, no CEO was found responsible. This de-politicisation is evidently the cause for the widespread confusion as to what and who is responsible for the 2008 financial crash. Control of the financial system was largely delegated to independent bodies like the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, all of which were immune from political scrutiny.
Another example is the Grenfell fire. Two and a half years on, nobody has been made accountable. Numerous bodies have been accused. Despite the roles of the cladding company which made the material that allowed the fire to spread, the architectural company, Studio E, that chose the cladding, Kensington and Chelsea Council which approved the plans made by the architectural company, London Fire Brigade for its ‘stay put’ policy which advised residents of Grenfell not to leave the building, excessive regulation which made inspections much harder, and deregulation which allowed inadequate cladding to be used in the first place. The consequence of this ambiguity, as to who is responsible, is that the likely result will be that nobody will be made answerable for what happened. Here again, the delegation of powers to a number of bodies: the local council, the independent housing regulator, the private cladding and architectural companies. This decentralisation of power inhibits their ability to hold to account the people who were responsible for these scandals.
The result of a lack of coherent and accepted narrative of what is going on and why it is happening is that people will begin to believe in whatever they want. Because there is widespread confusion as to what is truly occurring, people may as well choose whichever narrative they prefer. The result of this is that politicians seemingly hold illogical and paradoxical positions and are still given support. An obvious example is the rhetoric of Spanish political leaders with regards to politicians that support Catalan independence. They claim that the independence movement must be stopped because they are subverting the rule of law. They then use this as a justification to imprison the main leaders of the independence movement and force others, including the former president, to seek asylum in other European countries. When the European Court of Justice rules that the imprisoning of Catalan politicians is itself illegal, the Spanish state refuses to comply and parties that pursued the policy of imprisoning do not lose support despite having undermined the very institution that they sought to defend. To disregard the undermining of the rule of law by Spanish politicians because it prevents Catalan politicians from undermining the very rule of law is paradoxical unless concern for the rule of law was never a real concern. The real concern was, in fact, stopping Catalans from becoming independent and using support for the rule of law was just a narrative that best allowed them to achieve this intention.
An additional example of politicians making openly known disingenuous arguments is Boris Johnson requesting the longest prorogation of parliament since 1930 in the autumn of 2019. Whilst he claimed he did this to allow for the government to set out a new legislative agenda, it was common knowledge that it was to stop Remain-supporting MPs from scrutinising the government. Even Johnson’s Defence Secretary admitted that it was really about Brexit . But Johnson’s supporters still defended the prorogation despite its blatant dishonesty and abuse of executive power because it helped improve the chances of making Brexit happen. What made the Eurosceptic position even more paradoxical was that their justification for leaving the EU was to increase the accountability of the government to the decisions they make whilst simultaneously supporting usurpation of scrutiny by the Conservative government.
Widespread uncertainty about why events are happening that are seemingly no one’s fault is making people indifferent about truth, higher principles and holding contradictory principles if it favours the political desires that they want. Politics no longer has the power to change anything anymore as everything has been de-politicised. The inevitable consequence of this is that people will support populists, who will violate democratic norms, such as Johnson when he prorogued Parliament, and tell lies while simultaneously holding paradoxical positions because that is the only mechanism to bring about the change they want.
It has become clear the pursuit of creating a rational form of government is creating an overly complex system where people are uncertain who is responsible. The consequence of this is a disillusionment with the status quo so much so that people are voting things that are destabilising and creating uncertainty, like Brexit and Trump, supporting their lies and contradictory statements because it is the only mechanism to bring about any form of change.