At the start of last week I was a guest lecturer at Roskilde University, presenting about blogging and the EU. You can find the slides I used on Slideshare here.
In the discussion following the presentation I was posed a question by Angela Bourne, one of the academics that had invited me. Her assertion was that I presented a very EU-Institutional concept of blogging, and asked what connection – if any – did my blog, or the blogs in BloggingPortal.eu, have with alternative social movements such as Occupy, 15-M etc.? The answer, in short, is none, at least from the blogs I follow closely.
But that set me thinking, inspired further by this tweet from Tim Hardy attending the 20th October march in London:
What if, essentially, we are just looking in the wrong places for the solutions to the problems of legitimacy at EU and national level? Are we facing the situation where political parties, traditional NGOs and trade unions are beyond repair?
In this regard the recent work by Mary Kaldor on what she calls ‘subterranean politics’ is interesting. A summary of her work is here (inc. a disturbing table on trust in political systems), and the full paper is here. I am especially struck by the words Kaldor draws in from Pleyers: the idea of prefigurative action, described as the attempt to practice the kind of democracy that the participants imagine. For this is surely the heart of the problem in party politics at all levels – party politics is not conducted in the way we conduct the rest of our lives. Most of us engage with party politics and with elections because we feel we ought to, not because the processes are ones that we can relate to any more. This becomes even more problematic in the networked world – where connections between people are easy and swift, yet connection to the political system feels more distant than ever. It’s clear that even the German SPD’s candidate for Chancellor still has a lot to learn.
This further passage from Kaldor et al’s full paper is also interesting, setting this problem in the wider context:
What we discovered was a fundamental mismatch or chasm between what we describe as mainstream politics, elite trans-European policy making circles, including what are sometimes depicted as ‘expert’ activists, and what we are calling subterranean politics – various forms of grassroots activism and protest.
At the level of mainstream politics, the crisis is portrayed primarily in financial terms and there has been a proliferation of conferences, reports, appeals and manifestoes that put forward proposals about how to reform the European Union and save the Euro.
At the level of subterranean politics, our research revealed a shared trans-European concern among very disparate groups across Europe about the failure and indeed corruption of political elites, especially but not only at the national level, and about the lack of meaningful participation. Moreover, among the groups and individuals engaged in subterranean politics, what was remarkable was the invisibility of Europe; the absence, by and large, of any mention of Europe, let alone debates, initiatives and campaigns.
There are related works by Counterpoint and Demos that look at why disaffection from the mainstream can also lead to a rise in support for populist and xenophobic parties, rather than the subterranean politics that is the focus of Kaldor’s work.
So here is the chasm: between the way the party political mainstream conducts its business, and the way people go about their everyday lives. The disaffection from the mainstream is not an anti-politics sentiment, but more a feeling of powerlessness and distance. Many politicians at national and EU level pay lip service to dealing with this disconnection, but have any of them really understood the problem in an adequate way?