“What we have at the moment in Europe are two political currents colliding and clashing … On the one hand, you have the traditional powers that be – the bankers, big business, the traditional political parties imposing their will from above – and on the other, you’ve got grass roots movements, people-driven, saying no to the status quo and with an alternative vision of society like we see in Spain, Italy and France.”
So said Katya Adler on the Today programme this week, talking about the Greek debt crisis and the upcoming referendum on the Greek bail-out package.
It resonated with the concept of everyone that I’ve written about before (see the entry in October 2014) – the idea that everyone’s view is equally valid and that everyone is entitled to have their say.
The comments in Katya Adler’s piece supported a wider case that disaffection with the EU is now infecting the whole of Europe. Whether that’s in the form of anti-EU backlash in the UK, protesters on the streets in Spain or other unease elsewhere, a common theme can be detected.
But I’m also sensing a wider issue: that the popular view of everyone (or, at least, anyone who voices an opinion) is potentially more valid than the view of traditional – and traditionally-elected – governments. It’s further fundamental questioning of the establishment.
I’m not clear whether this is a temporary trend or part of a longer-term and potentially seismic shift in political behaviour. It also appears to be more pronounced in some countries – Greece, Spain and Italy spring to mind – than in others.
There might, though, be a correlation between the level of austerity imposed by a government and the perceived authority of the popular response. In other words, the greater the sacrifices the government asks people to make, the more likely people are to consider that they therefore have a right to express their opinion, for that opinion to be recognised as valid and for their opinion to be taken into account.
If a government were to take account of the voice of the people and alter its stance, that austerity or other area of dispute would ease and the popular voice should then subside. If the government continues to think that it knows best and runs counter to the popular voice, tensions can build, resulting in the colliding and clashing referred to by Katya Adler.
So, should there be strong government, one which always knows best? Or should the government be the organ of the people, doing what the people have told it to do, even where that message is given on the street, rather than in the polling booths?
Would that be a pure and distilled example of democracy, a version of communism or a temporary aberration? I don’t know – and I also don’t know how this particular story ends.