You’ll have seen it in the headlines – today’s Guardian newspaper speaks of “As one EU headache subsides in Germany, another starts in Italy.”
So far so good.
If you’re a Brit, that is. Because in Britain, elections are – or at least should be – clear cut affairs with a clear cut result. The reasoning is simple: you get the most votes, you get the seat. You get the most seats you get the power. But then, this has serious disadvantages if you happen to be on the loony left or the nutty right. Or the centre party, the Liberal Democrats joined at the hip after a split in the 1980s that decimated both parties’ representation in the House of Commons. Even in the last election in 2017, they received 7.4% of the vote and got 1.8% of the seats. The system only makes any sense if you’re powerful.
Well, it keeps things simple even if it’s less than democratic. Who cares? Those who are in power because of an unequal system are hardly likely to be the turkeys who vote for Christmas, are they? Even when they did, they worded it very carefully and made sure the alternative was even worse than what they had already.
Theresa May didn’t hold a snap election to lose seats, she wanted more of them so that she could drive her policies through – policies? Well, this is British politics, there is a lot of shouting and not much by way of hard fact. Leave alone policies that look to the future. The result was that May, through some unforeseen error in the mind of the voters, wound up with fewer seats and a very real problem.
She didn’t have a majority!
Well, that’s how the British (and the Americans) do things. They expect to win the election and this implies they have full and total control of what happens next. Corporate politics for a corporate culture where nothing counts except getting your way. No worries as to how they got the vote, this is the Anglo-Saxon version of Confucianism but without the philosophical foundations. Imagine now that Theresa May didn’t have a majority…
There would be Chaos!!
The kind of chaos imagined in Germany and in Italy today. Not that there is chaos, because these are European countries where things are decidedly un-English. They don’t do chaos. Untidiness, yes. Messy, for sure. Chaos, no. Leave that to the Anglo-Saxons. The Brits can’t work without the kind of certainty offered by the ‘First Past The Post’ system – Europeans can.
Which is where the differences begin. British journalists spoke of the chaos in Germany because the AfD had taken a slice out of the sensible wing of German politics. Well, every country has its share of idiots who vote with their imagination and not their reason. That there are far more of these in Britian than there are in Germany can only be put down to the way they elect their MPs.
In Germany the MP cannot expect to be in government because if they get 40% of the vote, they get 40% of the seats. It’s as fair a system as any; if you get 2% of the vote, you are guaranteed a seat in the Bundestag. If that were brought in to the British system, no few parties would disappear altogether – some of whom had 0.7% of the vote and got 0.6% of the seats. There is an important difference, though, and it is that if a party has a reasonable chance of getting a seat, people are going to vote for them. In Britain, the large numbers of votes cast for the Centrist party, the Lib Dems, are largely wasted. Parties like Plaid Cymru whose votes are more balanced get majorities in their constituencies because of the local majority populations.
Imagine now that you’re Welsh – or Scottish – and you cast a vote in (say) Westminster. What chance would you have of influencing the overall outcome of the election by voting for Plaid Cymru? Effectively zero. Well, that’s how democracy works in Britain.
Imagine now that you are from Sicily and you want to vote for a local party who represent your views more closely than the major parties. Now to be fair, I don’t live in Italy and I don’t speak the language – so this post will be shorter on the realities, however, this is Europe and will remain European despite all the scare stories in the British press. Which are British and decidedly unEuropean in every way possible. Not imaginable, because the British are very good at imagining every kind of disaster for Europe – the kind of disaster they never speak of in Britain because life’s just too close to the bone for that kind of thing. Italy has its problems, it does not have home grown ones like the Carillion disaster that are more an expression of how Britain messes things up than any expression of how Britain can help (2).
Italy is a chaotic kind of place, everywhere they squabble and argue – but that’s how Italians are. They like a good argument about politics. But then, they have something to argue about: political policies. You can have an amicable discussion with your enemy if you both have some foundation for your argument. You can agree to disagree on certain points and still accept that the other holds a different point of view.
You can’t do that with a slogan – the kind of thing the British politicians and the Americanized AfD have. Politics really isn’t up to much if there are only slogans instead of sound policy.
What can you do with a slogan? “Better Pensions for Germany!” read one. Which is fair enough, it’s something we’d all like. Frau Merkel isn’t any worse because she doesn’t trumpet slogans in the way Mr Trump did. The problem with slogans is that they don’t take the realities into consideration, and if you’re an Anglo-Saxon politician you don’t have to. You’re not voted in on the basis of policies or facts, you’re voted in on the kind of things that saw votes cast (wasted?) for the AfD. That is to say, wishful thinking. The mind of the Anglo-Saxon is very good at wishful thinking and with your job on the line because the directors were too busy working out ways to pay the dividend out of the pension pot, then wishful thinking is a very powerful tool!
Nor does it matter if you’ve used wishful thinking to buy you the election because nobody’s going to ask any silly questions like “are you going to put your daft slogans into force?” Because you can’t do that with slogans, they’re all part and parcel of the Anglo-Saxon game. That’s why MPs shout in the Houses of Parliament. A friend of mine in Hannover thought there was the kind of riot you get at a football match where everybody was trying to shout louder than the other team. Not that this takes much intelligence even in Germany. But this, I had to explain was how Britain rules itself, and as you can imagine, it doesn’t take much intelligence to shout louder than the opposition. Which is possible because you have the majority and therefore you control more people who can shout!
It’s so easy, and it’s why British journalists can’t get their heads around the concept of reasoned debate. The kind you will get in Rome or Berlin – just as long as you forget the likes of the AfD, who were standing in the corner with their arms folded because nobody would listen to them. But then, in Germany, why would you listen to someone who only prattles on about their pretty slogans and keeps their mouth shut when they’re asked to explain…
You don’t explain slogans; put better, you can’t explain a slogan. In Europe, there is always a lot of explaining to do because you don’t have a majority and you can’t expect one. That means you have to have some firm policies in which you can create the kind of chaos the English imagine is going on because everybody’s squabbling about whose slogan is the better one and you can only do that if you have a majority of voices to drown out the opposition.
Wait a moment.
That’s total chaos.
No wonder Brexit is a total mess: the British think that their treaty obligations that are enshrined in law are just more slogans that you can twist to your own ends when you get into power. That’s a real headache for poor Barnier, and it’s going to be a cataclysm for Britain when the reality finally dawns on them. (3)
Yet the Italians, in sitting down and discussing their policies are supposed to be chaotic – when in fact, the entire British system is in total and irrevocable chaos. But then, if all you’ve ever known is all you can imagine, isn’t it fair to say that Italy’s chaotic because that’s all you know? Or fear?
Italy has its problems, they aren’t Anglo-Saxon problems and can’t be solved in the way the Americans think they can be solved by funding extremist parties to shout silly slogans. That’s how the Americans got into the mess they have. It’s not the mess that Italy is, but that’s a very Italian mess. Italians love an argument, can agree to disagree and meet the next day for another one. When an American doesn’t agree with another American, they draw a gun.
1) Meet the nuttier side of German politics here: What are the Frankfurters of German politics, are they just Wurst? No, sorry, that should have read, Who are the AfD and will they bring currywurst to the pensioners as they promised in their all-too-American slogans. Mind you, that should have been a McDonalds, Americans like American things and if there is one thing they do not like, it’s everything German. That’s why there’s a migrant problem: the Americans think the migrants are American not Syrian. Never mind the facts. The Syrians are settling down and finding themselves a corner in the less used corners of German cities, the Americans went home because they prefer driving twenty miles to the nearest Walmart. (Click Here.)
2) The mess the directors made of Carillion is more the tip of a very British iceberg where everything has been outsourced and the risks dumped on the people who are least able to deal with its reality. (Click Here.)
3) You can find my various thoughts on the mess the Brits have made of Brexit here. To someone living in Europe, the Brits are clinically insane.