Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Democratic deficit

Hauss' comparative textbook (Comparative Politics: Domestic Responses to Global Challenges) described a "democratic deficit" as the EU's most vulnerable characteristic.

What he meant was that despite a parliament to represent the citizens of the EU and a Council of Ministers to represent the member states, and the Court of European Justice to adjudicate conflicts, most people didn't feel they were well-represented. The complexities of "qualified majority" and the rule-making power of the seemingly un-responsible European Commission (bureaucrats) left people feeling less like citizens and more like subjects.

Andrew Conneen, who teaches at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, posted this article to Facebook. It's great article, but most students will need a lot of help sorting through much of it.

The last sentence, though, suggests that there's a feeling of "democratic deficit" in many places in the UK as well as in the EU. How do government and politics address that feeling?

Britain’s EU Problem is a London Problem
Yesterday the UK voted to leave the European Union… In my circles—professional, well-educated, Cambridge and London—the principal reaction was incredulity… In my electoral district, 75 percent voted to Remain… But a look at the electoral map showed… that huge swathes of England outside of London voted by similar proportions to Leave—the poorer areas on the East and South coasts, depressed former industrial districts in the North, though also more prosperous parts of the West Country and the Midlands.

In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites—the economic elites of “the City” (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together.

For the rest of the country has felt more and more excluded, not only from participation in the creativity and prosperity of London, but more crucially from power…

The Remain campaign undoubtedly contributed to widening this divide. Rather like the New York Times’ attitude to Trump, Remain thought it could laugh off Leave, or dazzle it with “facts.” A very large part of the Remain campaign was focused on troupes of “experts”—investment experts, science and university experts, fiscal policy experts—signing collective petitions and open letters declaring their loyalties to Europe. This played directly into anti-elitist sentiment. A very telling point late in the EU referendum campaign came when Michael Gove, one of the right-wing Conservative leaders of the Leave side, was quoted as saying that “people in this country have had enough of experts.”…

How much of this is about inequality? The widening of the North-South divide is surely rooted in inequality. But the events of the last ten years, which have brought us to this sorry pass, have not been only about inequality in brute economic terms, they have also been about a sense of culture and community… It was not only depressed areas in the North and East but also other, more prosperous parts of Wales, the Midlands, and the West who felt resentment at remote and self-aggrandizing elites (in remoter Brussels as well as London), at the evisceration of local democracy, at what they saw as corruption at the very top—and voted Leave. A different, more durable and threatening kind of inequality is also at stake here. A majority of people around the United Kingdom are feeling like non-people, un-citizens, their lives jerked about like marionettes by wire-pullers far away. In those circumstances, very bad things indeed can be expected.

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