Today’s Politiken has an article where a number of new MPs complain about the dominant culture in the Danish parliament. Their basic line of argument is that political debate has degenerated into endless repetitions of obvious questions and arguments and that much political behaviour now verges on (if it hasn’t already crossed) the border of victimising.
It is difficult to gauge the argument without extensive studies of parliamentary debates but the observation merits discussion.
First, one of the MPs (Mette Bock) makes the obvious mistake of confusing a parliament with a business. A business corporation has a limited number of goals (produce goods or services, create a profit) while a parliament as a representative organ is one of the major arena for social conflicts. Of course power struggles are part of most, if not all, organisations, but observers of parliamentary business are well-advised to remember that behind most of the work done in any parliament there are more or less manifest conflicts of interests or values.
Second, this means that politicians in general and parliamentarians in particular face two tasks: Solve problems and mobilise voters and social interests. These tasks are not always easy to handle in isolation. Combine them and things get very complicated. We should also note, that if problem-solving gets the upper hand there is a risk that citizens will feel less engagement and perhaps even feel alienated from the policy elite. If mobilisation gets the upper hand, we end in pointless polemics – and voters may end being disgusted by destructive politics.
On the other hand, voters appreciate constructive politics and – as everyone who has checked the Facebook-pages of politicians and political commentators – polemical and condescending attacks on political opponents will invariably draw hordes of cheering supporters. If this sounds confusing, you are on the trail of something important: Voters’ preferences are contradictory.
If you – like me – have read a large number of political debates, you will be depressingly familiar with the polemical style. This is not limited to one particular wing of the political spectrum, but usually the opposition of the day is the most obnoxious part. To me, the problem is that polemics and “gotcha” questions and statements more often than not fail to bring something new to the process. Most Danish politicians are fascinatingly inept at this.
And personally, I tune out when the familiar type of polemics begin.