John Keane | Hanging Parliament
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Hanging Parliament

  |   Articles & Essays JK, Democracy in the 21st Century   |   No comment

Published in The Monthly, July 2010

Last month’s hung election in Britain confirms a basic rule of modern politics:
whenever markets fail representative democracy falters. Not just in Britain but
throughout the European Union the near-collapse of the credit and banking system is producing deep public disaffection with parties, politicians and parliaments. In Iceland a whole government was sacked by angry voters. Trust in government and business among Irish citizens has dipped to an all-time low.

A sharp swing to the right in bankrupt Hungary has fuelled the growth of a sizeable neo-fascist party. Rioting and petrol bombs have meanwhile rocked the streets of Greece. Even heartland member states like France and Germany are feeling the pinch.

The drama at Westminster mirrors the trend. It is the third hung parliament delivered by an election since the advent of the universal franchise in 1928. Each was triggered by market failure. The present political crisis, for that’s what it is, is unique, partly because of the discrediting of ‘third way’ social democracy as a viable political alternative to free market capitalism in strong state form. Riding high on a bubbling economy, three New Labour governments held office for thirteen years. Much of historic importance was achieved during this time, including a parliament for Scotland and mayoral elections in London.

Yet aside from showcase support for the national health service these governments generally neglected the social in social democracy.

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