Tuesday, March 15, 2011

European politics at the cross-roads

A new survey shows that there is a “crisis in European democracy” as faith and trust in politicians plummets to new lows. No surprises there but, equally, an opportunity to create a different future.

The Guardian/ICM poll of five European Union countries confirms that the sharp decline in relations between the political class and people in Britain is, in fact, a near universal feature.

Bad enough during the credit-fuelled “boom years”, when governments were singing the praises of the seemingly invincible market economy, the recession precipitated by the 2008 meltdown has obviously accelerated negative attitudes to politicians and through them to state structures.

The survey reveals:

• Only 6% of people across Europe say they have a great deal of trust in their government. Overall, the percentage of those who think politicians are not at all, or not very, honest outweighs those who disagree by a massive 89%.

• Only 9% of Europeans think their politicians – in opposition or in power – act with honesty and integrity.

• The lack of trust in government is greatest in Poland and France, where distrust outweighs trust by a net 82 percentage points. In France, the net negative score is 78 points and in Germany 80 points, while in Britain it is 66 points.

Some 78% of those questioned don’t trust the government to deal with their country’s problems, with the figure in Britain a huge 80%.

• Even fewer Europeans think their politicians are honest. In Poland, only 3% of those questioned agree; in Britain 12%. Overall, a mammoth 89% believe politicians are not honest.

• 40% of those polled think their economy will get worse over the next 12 months, against 20% who think it will improve. In France, pessimists outnumber optimists by 46%. In Britain, the difference is 40%

• Overall, only 42% of the 5,000 people questioned believe that governments should cut spending to reduce the national debt, while in Britain, more than two-thirds disagreed.

• In Britain, a majority think the next decade will either leave them poorer or, at best, no better off. Only a quarter think Britain will get richer over the next 10 years.

• Overall, 62% describe themselves as liberal on social issues - the highest percentage being in Germany.

The political vacuum that has appeared across Europe – and no doubt in the United States where one poll rated comedian Jon Stewart the country’s most trusted person – is going to be filled sooner or later.

The question is, by who and how? The poll findings can be seen as a reflection of the exhaustion of the present, bourgeois political process, with its limited, essentially superficial democracy. It provides for representation but without power, which stays firmly in the hands of the governing classes and, significantly, the financiers and corporations who dominate the economy.

Europe’s ruling classes are in general riding out the recessionary storm while ordinary people are heading for the dole queue, seeing their services smashed up and their incomes plummet as price inflation takes off. Bankers collect their bonuses while households in Britain collect their food parcels.

The survey actually reveals that the crisis is not in democracy itself but in what passes for democracy. Restoring faith and trust in an exhausted political system that is past its sell-by date is a fruitless task and would, in any case, still leave real power out of reach.

Creating more advanced forms of democracy such as People’s Assemblies that embrace the workplace and put citizens in control and charge of society’s resources, is the challenge that lies immediately in front.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

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