Uncertain times produce uncertain politics

In the past, uncertain times have been a catalyst for the rise of strong-willed politicians. In the Great Depression there was FD Roosevelt and his New Deal platform. In WWII there was Churchill.

It’s a telling insight into the malaise of modern politics that this economic recession has produced uncertain politicians.

Uncertain austerity policies have meant the end of almost every incumbent government in Europe since the 2009 financial crisis.In the main, the winning parties have been equally uncertain.

The most recent testimony to uncertainty was the halving of support for Iceland’s Social Democratic/Left Green coalition government in the April election.

Voters swung to the centre-right Independence Party and the Progressive Party. But even the Indepdence Party, which won the most votes, did barely better than when they were chucked out in 2009.

So the president invited the Progressive Party, which won the same number of seats as the Independence, to try to lead a government.

The weirdness was exacerbated by the winning of three seats by the infamous Pirate Party, a ground-swell party standing on a broad platform of open government and direct democracy. 

The Social Democrats blamed austerity measures, but the economy is slightly improving, and devaluation, cost-cutting and capital controls have not had massive street-level impact.

The new centre-right government is wavering over its commitment to joining the EU, and has little concrete to offer in the way of economic policy.

Across Europe it is impossible to find a mainstream politician espousing unambiguous, strong willed policies to counter the recession. The EU government and the world bank have become the excuse for application of tight-wad economic policies. That has left most governments trying to find social policies as their lynchpin..

This desperation to appear certain about something explains why so many governments have latched onto the gay marriage bandwagon.

Some are claiming that these new hard times are producing polarising politics. This may be true in the US – where the two Party system gives people encourages it – but hardly anywhere else.

No, maybe the true strangeness of the time is that we’re in a recession where there’s little real harm done. In the past there was a soup kitchen line or job queue to count. When the reasons and results of a recession are socialised, politicians are uncertain what, if anything, they should do.

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