Behind The Political Crisis, We Have A Problem With The Machine Politicians Have To Work With

Before we get too maudlin at the state of our own politics’ inability to deliver, here’s a useful broader view on how technocratic institutions are failing politics in general is leading to high signal/low impact populism:

One reading of what led up to Brexit is that mainstream politics simply ran out of steam. Coalition government left even fewer options on the menu. Imprisoned by a system that didn’t appear to listen to them, what mattered most to a large group of voters was a truer sense of choice, a genuine element of agency. The consequences of exercising that choice were secondary.

The politicians that have prospered in recent months have been those that put policy choices on the table that others won’t. “He’s only saying what others think,” is a familiar refrain of Trump, Farage and Corbyn supporters. New personalities and policies are the political equivalent of pumping the economy full of money. They are a source of fresh thoughts, new arguments.

In politics, as in economics, pumping in more money is not always a good idea. If there is no supply to fulfil it, all fresh demand does is substitute for what’s already there. What if ideas and policies aren’t the problem? What if, when it comes down to it, our institutions can’t deliver on any of them?

Failure to deliver is the now unspoken terms around which Stormont’s latest collapse revolves. Much of that is owing to the collective past of both the DUP and SF as rabble rousers and accustomed protesters. Some of it however arises from the state of a Civil Service too accustomed to running to its own needs and agendas: eg, the spike originating not, as the media falsely suggested, with DUP SpAds but with departmental officials.

This is a general problem of disconnect between a politics desperate to signal harmony with voters (sometimes at all costs, up to and including giving a truthful account) and a machine too busying protecting its own interests.