Former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major, of opposite British political parties, have united in wishing to nullify the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. This well illustrates the unpleasant tendency for politicians to find commonality and unity in thwarting the wishes of their electorates. Within individual countries, the strength of this tendency towards a one-party system depends mostly on the electoral system. Within the European Union, however, its underlying structure leads to an invincible tendency towards one-party “politically correct” socialism. Lovers of freedom should thus reject the EU, as irredeemably opposed to it.
Voters in the British and American political systems have historically been lucky. “Every boy and every girl That’s born into the world alive Is either a little Liberal Or else a little Conservative” as Gilbert and Sullivan put it in 1882. That dichotomy, together with a political system based on constituencies with “first past the post” voting has over the centuries produced results in which two parties dominate representation, and those parties automatically oppose most of what the other party stands for. Voters with interests or views outside the mainstream may feel poorly represented by this, but the natural competition between the two parties produces contrasting views and policies from which voters can choose. The great majority of voters fit comfortably within one or other of the political parties, and when the opposition is in power can wait patiently for their guys to triumph once more.
Even in this system, one tendency reduces ideological competition and voter representation: the tendency of parties to choose potential leaders from the extreme centrist fringe of their ideological spectrum. If both Presidential or prime ministerial candidates are centrists, they may agree on far more than they disagree about, disfranchising voters with strong non-centrist views, generally a large majority of the electorate.
That was apparent in Britain, where both John Major and Tony Blair agreed that the EU’s centralization and empire-building should not be opposed, and that no referenda should be held on the various treaties embodying that tendency. As a result, Conservatives or Socialists opposed for different reasons to further EU integration, a majority of the electorate, were compelled to suffer for an entire generation, in the Conservatives’ case through six years of their own government, thirteen of the opposition and another six of a centrist version of their own government, before finally being allowed to voice that opposition in 2016. Since the centrist David Cameron was then replaced by the even more centrist Theresa May, who whether through ineptitude or design frustrated those voters’ wishes for yet another three years, it is only in the latter months of 2019 that they have again been represented, having been disfranchised since November 1990.
Similarly, in the United States the level of free-trading, globalist, interventionist consensus between Bill Clinton, the Bush family and to a lesser extent Barack Obama was altogether unhealthy. Voters at both ends of the political spectrum, between them a majority, were disfranchised between 1988 and 2016.
In countries with “first-past-the-post” electoral systems, the uni-party problem is generally self-solving. One or other of the two large parties discovers that consensus politics is alienating much of its voter base, and in any case works very badly in solving the country’s problems. In Britain, the elections as party leaders of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and Boris Johnson in 2019 have restored a healthy differentiation between the parties, with the Liberal Democrats attempting to pick up the voters of the mushy ineffectual consensus. In the United States, the election of President Trump in 2016 and the sharp leftward turn among the Democrats aiming for office in 2020 suggests that the same dynamic is working, on both sides of the ideological divide.
The problem is much more severe in countries like most of continental Europe, which use proportional representation systems and have a multitude of parties vying for power. In theory, this should better represent all the multi-colored hues of the electorate’s opinions. In practice, it does nothing of the sort. Selection of governments becomes entirely independent of the electorate, since no party ever achieves a majority, and is carried out entirely by professional politicians, looking to their own and each other’s interests rather than to their voters. In multi-party systems, this process can be lengthy – Belgium went for 589 days without an elected government while negotiations took place in 2010-11. During these periods while governments are selected, the electorate might as well go to the beach – it has no say whatever in the outcome.
There are two further factors in multi-party systems, making them even more undemocratic. One is the tendency for existing parties to exclude a new party from consideration in the inevitably sleazy negotiations on forming a government. This often results in “Grand Coalitions” between center-left and center-right parties, that produce government entirely devoted to insiders’ interests, with no possibility of change. That has happened in Germany in the last decade, with the ex-Communist apparatchik Angela Merkel perpetually in power atop a socialist-dominated coalition, and the new AfD party completely verboten as a potential coalition partner. Denmark, Holland and Belgium have all had substantial rightist parties treated as pariahs, greatly damaging those countries’ politics. This blocking is damaging whatever the politics of the blocked party; the Italian post-war block on the Communists produced half a century of the most corrupt governments Western Europe has ever known.
The other factor, which has arisen in the last generation, is the existence of a large “green vote” which votes for “green” parties committed to state intervention and against markets. Concern about the environment would have been a distinctive political position in Pittsburgh in 1955; for the last half century it has been a universal political platitude. The only debate has been how much distortion in the economy should be accepted for the environment’s sake and the degree of credence to give to “climate change” and other media-inspired scares. There is now however about 10-15% of the electorate in multi-party systems that is committed in favor of socialist politicians’ dreams and against populist-inspired change; this new bloc is mostly young and includes many people who in past decades would have voted for change and freedom.
In a number of countries, “clown” parties have also been created, like Italy’s Five Star Movement, that give the electorate the illusion of voting against the political class and throwing out corrupt politicians, but which can be relied upon eventually to support the usual socialists and work to prolong their periods of power, as has the Five Star Movement in Italy.
The EU suffers the problem of multi-party proportional representation systems in its most acute form. Since there are 28 member countries, there are no true EU-wide parties, merely alliances between somewhat divergent national parties. Not only are national populist parties shunned when executives are chosen, but entire countries like Poland and Hungary that have voted to the displeasure of the EU apparatchiks are “red-lined” when it comes to selecting executive officials. There are also vast number of MPs from “green” and “clown” sludge parties, who use their votes only to perpetuate the existing socialist power structure.
There are additional problems de-democratizing the EU. It has multiple executive bodies, chosen by national leaders or by the European parliament through a process of log-rolling, giving apparatchik politicians yet more power in their selection and making elections even more irrelevant. It has a system of courts that are under no kind of democratic control and believe themselves entitled to nullify both national and EU laws at will. It has taken to interfering in national politics, ousting Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2011, encouraging the Five Star Movement to betray its voters and align with the leftist establishment and threatening “sanctions” against Poland and Hungary if their voters do not follow the wishes of the EU bureaucracy. Above all, there is the bureaucracy itself, dedicated only to the enlargement of its power and its budget.
As I have written, the Deputy Governor of the Bulgarian National Bank remarked to me in 1993 that dealing with the EU was like dealing with the Soviet Union’s international cooperation entity Comecon; it was equally resistant to market signals and to the needs of its member countries. Through dealing with the EU bureaucracy in the 1990s, I also found it to be more corrupt and less responsive than the bureaucracies of all but its very worst member countries. Since then, from all reports, the EU bureaucracy has grown less responsive and more corrupt. This is unsurprising; the organization is remarkably insulated from both electorates and markets. The new President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, remarked last week that the Central Bank’s resources must be mobilized in order to fight populism. Only under a truly market-resistant economic system would fighting populism be regarded as part of the function of a central bank.
The EU is anti-democratic and socialist, in the same way and to very much the same extent as the old Soviet Union was anti-democratic and socialist. It cannot help itself; its structure is designed that way. No matter what the terms, no matter how long it takes and no matter how much damage it does, British lovers of freedom or even those mildly attracted by some aspects of freedom must fight, fight and fight again to escape the clutches of this loathsome entity.
(The Bear’s Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of “sell” recommendations put out by Wall Street houses remains far below that of “buy” recommendations. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.)