Whatever happened to consensus

The recent election of Donald J Trump in the US and the vote to leave the EU in Britain has shown a change in the nature of Liberal Democratic politics.

These votes have seen a move away from the traditional values and processes in western democracies where politicians and their respective political parties fundamentally attempted to promote the consensus views held by the majority of the voting public. What the parties attempted to do was promote the policies they believed the greatest number of people agreed on. In trying to achieve this political parties of both sides would promote policies that many from all sides of the political spectrum could agree on. Policies that reflected the view of the vast majority of voters were the norm.

The recent votes have shown a shift away from this tradition whereby politicians are promoting policies which now only a very small majority agree with. This leads to the imposition of the views of albeit a majority of the voting population on a minority of voters who are almost equal to the majority vote. When this happens nearly 50% of the population is subjugated by the views of the slightly greater than 50% of the remaining voters.

As an example let’s presume that 51% of voters want everyone to go to church and 49% vote against then you have a substantial part of the population subjugated by the other half. In the words of the Brexit supporters that 49% should just “suck it up and deal with it” but hopefully people will see the fundamental flaw in that argument.

What many people confuse is that because there is a small but simple majority that this is somehow “the will of the people” and that anyone who departs from that view should shut up and put up with it. In any sense of natural justice it can never be safe that a large minority is subjugated by a small majority.

Politics used to be about finding the consensus view of a large majority and by seeking to do so the “will of the people” was more likely to be achieved. Now politics and politicians seek to achieve a small but simple majority over large, significant issues and then claim to have a mandate from the people even though the majority achieved is only 1% or 2%. Politics is being reduced to the rules of a talent competition or television game show. What this process tends to produce is a huge amount of bombast and posturing from both sides of the argument. Rather than trying to find areas on which they and the voters might agree we are left with one side or the other attempting to force through a view that a substantial and significant minority fundamentally disagree with and the ensuing divisions create a society characterised by violence and intransigence. A winner take all contest can only promote conflict.

Post war British society, although many will see it as wishy washy and a bit of a fudge, saw the majority gain. Workers became more prosperous and gained significant rights, the middle classes did well and the rich got richer. Today the rich still get richer, but the workers and middle class are squeezed. Part of that is ultimately down to the decline of consensus politics. It is now OK to disregard the shared views of all and to focus on a narrow band of opinions. People are now being asked to vote on nebulous slogans rather than constructed arguments. The words “Make America great again” or “put the Great back into Great Britain” don’t actually mean anything but appeal to a base nationalism. What politics should be about is how does society make things better for everyone not just for a narrow few but that is what we are getting.