Two trends run the risk of derailing the upcoming European Parliament elections: the trivialisation of politics and the disillusionment of people with politics. In order to move forward, we must overcome both these trends.
Director at CONCORD Europe
Within politics, the run-ups to and consequences of 2016’s Brexit vote are merely the most evident – and perhaps the most accessible – expressions of the rise of illiberalism. As Brexiteers promised a path to a bright future for a United Kingdom outside the European Union without so much as a roadmap in mind, it became clear that their visually striking but factually shallow campaign was fed by personal and party interests. What we were faced with in these past months – continuous rejections of Theresa May’s deal, scenes of British MPs cheering, booing and ridiculing each other, and finally a Brexit delay until later this year – is the outcome of a phenomenon which is spreading beyond the British borders: politicians are not taking politics seriously.
After the final curtain call of a pompous campaign theatre, we often see politicians stuck in their stage personas, unable to act on behalf of their country or show the willingness to compromise so needed for a healthy democracy. The chaos of Brexit negotiations is one example of this phenomenon. America’s alarming descent into isolation under Trump’s guidance is another. Back in Europe, the rise of so-called illiberal democracies can be seen as the most severe outcome of self-serving politics.
But let’s not shy away from our own responsibility as the people, the electorate. Brexit happened because the majority of British people who went to the polls voted for it. We hear accounts of people casting a protest vote for Brexit, assuming that the leavers campaign could never actually win. And of course, we hear regrets of people who failed to cast their vote to remain for the same reason. Worse still, a number of voters accept that they should have questioned more some of the facts and figures flying around. Trump happened because the political left and centre of the electorate failed to fully comprehend and counter the apparent appeal of Trump’s approach.
Both are results of a major disillusionment of the public with politics and the status quo, but they also show what might happen if we as individual voters fail to take our democratic rights as seriously as they should be taken. So, what can we do now? We need to call on politicians to think beyond the campaign theatre and take the roles they have chosen with the seriousness, rigour, and – yes – dignity they demand. And we need to remind ourselves that only by overcoming our disillusionment with politics we can put those in power who will live up to their tasks. A big opportunity to do so are the European Parliament elections: let’s take them seriously. Let’s get informed, and let’s vote for those in politics whom we trust to take the most sensible decisions to prioritise the well-being of people and planet going forward!