Continuing our series of blogs on the UK General Election, today we bring you an extract from Peter Mair's Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. Peter Mair was one of the leading political scientists of his generation before his death in 2011. Posthumously published, Ruling the Void offers Mair's chilling diagnosis of the EU and the slowly eroding mass democratic politics of Europe since the 1970s. Perfect reading before you cast your vote!
The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form. Ruling the Void is about this problem. It deals with the problem of parties, of governments and of political representation in contemporary European democracy, and stems from a wider concern with the fracturing politics of popular democracy. It deals with how the changing character of political parties impacts upon their standing, legitimacy, and effectiveness, and thereby also on the standing, legitimacy and effectiveness of modern democracy. Although focused on Europe, and highlighting problems that are of particular relevance to Europe, the implications of the argument run much more widely.
Syriza coming to power in Greece at the end of January has finally disproven the argument that it is possible to implement an alternative to neoliberalism within the framework of the European Union. The EU treaties are neoliberal, in their very DNA. Since the 1986 Single European Act, or even before then, we have seen constant proof of the EU’s neoliberal DNA, and even its hardening. Up till now, the untrammeled hegemony of neoliberalism could have been blamed on this or that government coming into office: in this view, the reason why austerity policies reigned across Europe was that a François Hollande, a Matteo Renzi or some other social-liberal lacked courage or betrayed their campaign commitments to reorient European policies.
But with Syriza, that argument has collapsed. After all, Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis have clearly been working with some determination to try and bring about change at the continental level; but they have done so in vain. Since 4 February the European Central Bank has cut off the main source of financing for the Greek banking system, while the payments from Europe itself were broken off in summer of 2014. The noose is tightening, pushing the country toward a disorderly bankruptcy and chaos, unless of course it accepts the humiliating terms imposed by the EU.