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How Democracy Weakens

Written By: - Date published: 1:45 pm, June 21st, 2022 - 31 comments
Categories: australian politics, boris johnson, jacinda ardern, Jeremy Corbyn, labour, uk politics - Tags:

It’s pretty commonplace now to observe that Prime Minister Ardern is doing well overseas but tanking at home.

That’s now a commonplace problem of many stronger democracies worldwide to look great as leaders on tv or Facebook but be increasingly unloved by their citizens.

Democratisation itself has suffered more and more reversals since early 2020, with the percentage of people living in a democracy falling to well below 50% and authoritarian regimes gaining ground. Leadership non-performance is a key part of this decline.

In the UK’s most recent elections, the British had to choose between a fool (Boris Johnson) and a flake (Jeremy Corbyn).

In the United States the Democratic choice was barely functioning Biden or the Trump Republican raging radical right. Both now poll as bad as each other.

In France the blunt centrist Emmanuel Macron is now beset by a hard left-green coalition (Jean-Luc Melenchon) or Marine Le Pen from the hard right. Macron is still the most impressive politician in Europe, but that’s saying little.

In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau now relies on the left’s New Democratic Party to keep him delivering through to 2025.

Germany replaced Angela Merkel (now fully exposed as leaving Germany dependent on Russia and militarily ill-prepared), with Olaf Scholz who has managed to split European unity against Putin often and badly, even as Europe faces its gravest threat in nearly 80 years.

Australia’s new Prime Minister Albanese is now hit with a serious and massive electricity production crisis, and his Minister is already enforcing powers not used in over 20 years. Governments have fallen for less.

So Ardern is not alone leading a democracy but not delivering well.

It is in the even more imperfect democracies of South America that something new is being tried, with leftist administrations starting up in Chile under Gabriel Boric, Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Bolivia’s Luis Arce, and odds on for Lula to win again in Brazil in October next year. Xiomaro Castro in Honduras and Andrew Obrador in Mexico’s Obrador must also be mentioned as leftie reformers.

It is of course right for voters to be impatient and change governments if it is their view that they are not performing.

Conversely, some anti-liberal democracies like Poland are now the most generous proponents of accepting Ukrainian refugees by the multiple million. That’s despite all their deeply conservative and regressive moves against judges and other key institutions. Left-leaning European countries aren’t stepping up.

When otherwise stable and prosperous governments don’t deliver, democracy itself is weakened in the medium term. It is non-democratic institutions like NATO that will start looking like they are more effective than democracies in achieving what citizens need, and that is chilling.

Our NZ Labour government is the first under MMP to have an absolute majority. It has plenty of money to spend. It is crisis match-fit. It has zero impediments to achieve anything it wanted. It is also dying on its feet, just trying to revive.

Ardern must live up to the promise she gave us all. Or else Ardern will be consigned to be yet another of the left-leaning global leaders of developed countries who helped corrode democracy itself. It is how democracy is weakening right the world over.

31 comments on “How Democracy Weakens ”

  1. Muttonbird 1

    I thought Ardern promised us incremental change, which is exactly what she is doing.

    Seems like that’s proof of very strong democracy, perhaps too strong.

    • Siobhan 1.1

      Maybe people had naively assumed it was incremental change for the better?

      • Populuxe1 1.1.1

        What a pity things like terrorist attacks, volcanic eruptions and global pandemics keep getting in the way.

        • Muttonbird 1.1.1.1

          Yep. Without even considering the Christchurch white supremacist attack and the White Island tragedy, the global pandemic has overshadowed 28 of the 56 months Ardern has been PM.

          That's a full 50% of her premiership.

        • Siobhan 1.1.1.2

          Global pandemics maybe…the rest is just ridiculous…and in actual fact a global pandemic only results in increased inequality if you actively let it…

          • Populuxe1 1.1.1.2.1

            Please. Christchurch still hasn't fully recovered from the 2011 earthquake. It's not a strong position to begin with, and then having to rapidly deploy major resources nationally in multiple emergency situations.

  2. Chris 2

    "So Ardern is not alone leading a democracy but not delivering well.

    "Ardern must live up to the promise she gave us all. Or else Ardern will be consigned to be yet another of the left-leaning global leaders of developed countries who helped corrode democracy itself. It is how democracy is weakening right the world over."

    Isn't there an assumption here that says Ardern, Labour, the Left and democracy generally will prevail, providing Ardern and Labour deliver what they'd promised? That everything will be fine provided Ardern "delivers"?

    One of the biggest problems Ardern and Labour face is the climate of political opinion and a lack of an informed electorate. When Luxon becomes PM next year he'll say "the people have spoken", then he'll cut the social welfare benefits being paid to the many who voted for him, who’ll then wonder how the heck that happened. That's what's wrong with our current democracy.

  3. Populuxe1 3

    It is non-democratic institutions like NATO that will start looking like they are more effective than democracies in achieving what citizens need, and that is chilling.

    That seems like a massive category mistake to me. Of course non-democratic institutions are better at delivering – they don't have to negotiate conflicting public opinion and their accountability operates differently. That doesn't make them good ways to run a country though – for the same reasons, which most people I would hope would understand. Not that NATO or other similar organisations can unilaterally make decisions outside of exceptional circumstances anyway.

  4. Maurice 4

    In any "democracy" the mistake made by leaders is that in playing to their supporters they piss off the opposition and a certain percentage of supporters who oppose certain policies. With 51% "mandate" that is 49/100 in opposition already only ONE supporter needs change their vote and that "mandate" is reversed.

    The other truth is that pissed off persons are usually far more vocal in opposition than smug and satisfied supporters.

    Oh! Bribing voters is all very well but all it proves is the support can be bought … they usually go to the next high payer … left or right.

  5. Stuart Munro 5

    It’s pretty commonplace now to observe that Prime Minister Ardern is doing well overseas but tanking at home.

    The observations of a lazy and venal media are indeed commonplace – and about as objective as Hosking's reckons.

    First she was attacked for not achieving anything of substance, then, as it became apparent that her trips were productive and successful to a degree self-promoters like Key could only dream of, criticism shifted back to NZ. She cannot be in two places at once.

    She will return in time of course – though that will not mollify the toxic sludge that live to sledge her. Better not to humour Whaleoilian perspectives – their foundation is in spite, not fact.

  6. Sacha 6

    It’s pretty commonplace now to observe that

    The relentless political marketing campaign has been successful, yes.

  7. barry 7

    Enough straw men there for a huge bonfire. Caricatures might sell newspapers, but they don't make the basis for a serious discussion.

    Is democracy really that much under threat? Is the Ardern government really so incompetent? Have there not always been tests of governments' credentials?

    There is a middle ground for the Ardern government between achieving everything you want, and doing nothing at all. They will be pilloried for both. There is only so much they can get across the line, even though they are no longer held back by NZ1st. Even without political opposition ministers are busy with crises and the public service is constrained. If they succeed with 3 waters, health and fair pay agreements plus getting our climate change response back on track, they will have achieved more in 3 years than any government since the Labour/ACT coalition of the 1980s. All the while saving NZ from the worst ravages of COVID.

    I think you write Labour off too early. It is clear that Luxon & National are having a golden run, but there is a lot of time until the next election, and the future of the world is very uncertain. Labour will have a very strong story to tell next year.

  8. PsyclingLeft.Always 8

    It’s pretty commonplace now to observe that Prime Minister Ardern is doing well overseas but tanking at home.

    Well….Ive seen Advantage use Ardern “tanking”…on THIS site. Cant say Ive seen that term anywhere else. …..

  9. pat 9

    As someone observed ( i cant remember who) the key to democracy is not the politicians (salespeople) but rather the institutions…and south america while democratic (in the main) lacks the institutions…that is likely our future as our institutions diminish.

    • Poission 9.1

      Niall Fergusson (the rule of law)

      • pat 9.1.1

        Bloody Scots…always punching above their weight.

        • Poission 9.1.1.1

          A lot of the arguments relate to Hume,eg

          As force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and the most popular."—(III. 31.)

          A point embraced by Huxley (TH)

          But if the whole fabric of social organisation rests on opinion, it may surely be fairly argued that, in the interests of self-preservation, if for no better reason, society has a right to see that the means of forming just opinions are placed within the reach of every one of its members; and, therefore, that due provision for education, at any rate, is a right and, indeed, a duty, of the state.

          The three opinions upon which all government, or the authority of the few over the many, is founded, says Hume, are public interest, right to power, and right to property. No government can permanently exist, unless the majority of the citizens, who are the ultimate depositary of Force, are convinced that it serves the general interest, that it has lawful authority, and that it respects individual rights:

    • Ad 9.2

      The close analysis and examples in this argument are provided by Acemoglu and Robinson in Why Nations Fail, and their next one, The Narrow Corridor.

      They set out the success of nations through growth in strong public institutions.

  10. pat 10

    "No government can (permanently) exist, unless the majority of the citizens, who are the ultimate depositary of Force, are convinced that it serves the general interest, that it has lawful authority, and that it respects individual rights:"

    Something the elites must be hyper aware of and yet still the greed blinds them.

  11. Robert Guyton 11

    A Prime Minister, responsible for managing their country, must also manage international relationships and perceptions.

    Jacinda is managing the latter superbly.

    That doesn't imply that her management here at home is poor.

    That though, is your (jaded) opinion.

  12. Corey Humm 12

    Great post.

    Leaders around the world are being punished as people around the world are suffering and governments try to cling on to the ideas of the 80s/90s as much as they can.

    Twenty years into a new millennium and with unimaginable crises like climate change, COVID , the anger and rage over the fall out of the destruction of the working and middle classes over neoliberal globalism we are still clinging on to 30 and fourty year old ideas.

    Labour has the ability to deliver and it must, it must be a future focused and people focused government that deals with the economic issues of today with new ideas, every fifty odd years there's a period of great reforming, this needs to happen now, internationalism not globalism, universalism not neoliberalism.

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