By Stuart Bruce, 22/12/2018
When I was making my way through my politics degree, I recall the popular subjects on Australian politcs where a general precept was repeated constantly – that minor parties and independents might occasionally snatch a seat or two but that invariably the real power is with the two major parties and those seats will return to those major parties soon enough. This is due to Duverguers Law where preferential single-member electorates lead to two-party systems. I suspected that this wasn’t going to be the full story at the time and I was frustrated that my lecturers couldn’t see that Australian politics, indeed the entire liberal democratic world, was undergoing a paradigm shift. Thanks to neoliberalism and the matured stage of capitalism that we were in, we were exhausting the populace’s tolerance for corruption, environmental destruction and inneficient and unfair allocations of resources (inequality, long working hours etc). Coupled with the advent of technologies that caused information to flow more freely, the people were becoming increasingly aware of the systemic challenges and how their political system was failing them. In short, the democratic paradigm itself was changing from a plutocratic, insiders-vs-outsiders-style representative democracy to a more participatory, direct democracy (without a structure to formalise this beyond increases in opinion polling).
The fact of the matter is that the out-moded systems of parliamentary representation were not meeting the expectations of the people in liberal democracies world-wide. Opinion polls would be run continually and the people’s judgment started having dramatic influence, this time between elections – akin to the principle of direct democracies. The problem is that we don’t have any constitutional structure to cope with this dramatic shift in culture and expectations and so those out-moded parliamentary systems have been put under immense strain and western democracies are almost constantly in a state of ‘crisis’ – usually stemming from the increase in the instability of the establishment parties. Given this gap between constitutional structure and culture, where does all the fury and apathy of the electorate go?
Enter the independents and minor parties who have been “snatching” seats and usurping the status quo increasingly more these past last ten years. What I believe we’re seeing is a shift towards true representativeness, that forces the out-moded parliamentary system to actually function as a representative democracy and not as a plutocracy or insiders-outsiders racket run by major parties for their respective donors. The general apathy and disgust of politics by the electorate is not just a once off that will flood back to the major parties (it might at some point but only if they reduce corruption and incompetence) but a sign of the changing paradigm of western capitalism in the age of technology and direct democracy cultures. You can’t be corrupt and incompetent in this age anymore – the people can see it and they hate it. The dramatically increased votes for independent candidates and minor parties is proof that people will force the system to change or perform differently and that is good for accountability, good for competent public policy-making and ultimately good for democracy.