There has been very recently a general election in the UK in which the British Labour Party won an enormous majority in the House of Commons and now forms the current government there. In the Irish Republic an election will more than likely take place sometime in June of this year. Some reflection on the character of these elections is opportune:
The general elections are a fight for the floating vote. The election is generally fought and won over a minority of the electorate: the floating electorate. This element within the electorate tends to be fickle. It tends to vote this way or that for the most fickle of reasons such as the facial features of candidates or some such superficial characteristic. It is this element within the electorate to which the party political image industry has most impact. The image and showbiz characteristic of modern elections is, in a sense, a function of the need to win over this element within the electorate.
Since it is among the least political element of the voting electorate the floating electorate makes or breaks governments on the basis of secondary and superficial matters. This tends to give election campaigns a more superficial character.
The elections are won or loss in the marginal constituencies. And these marginals are won or loss on the basis of the how the floating vote turns. In short a small minority of the electorate, in a sense, dictate the kind of government and even society we are to have. It is to this minority that the official politicians direct most of their attention. This minority increasingly determines the character of politics during the campaign and the character of media coverage during it.
The floating vote appears to be increasing and is becoming a bigger element in elections for a number of reasons. The shift of the main parties to what is questionably called the centre is a factor in this. If there exists little difference between the principal political actors on the electoral stage then clearly their success at the polls will tend to be a product of secondary superficial factors such as image, style and personality. Since the differences between the contestants are marginal the contest tends to be grounded increasingly on marketing, on creating the illusion of real difference. As a result of this the election is fought and won on the basis of superficial issues. This means that election campaigns are increasingly trivialised so that debate turns around superficial and derivative matters while the fundamental issues tend to be increasingly submerged under a mountain of trivia such as Tony Blair’s football skills in relation to Kevin Keegan (the logic being that if you are good a football you are politically good). Instead of the election contributing to the increased politicisation of the populace the opposite dynamic takes place. Consequently politics tends to turn around superficial issues. People increasingly begin to think that superficial issues is the meaning of politics. As the fundamental issues retreat into the background superficial issues are, in a sense, transformed into their opposite, fundamental issues. On the other hand fundamental issues are turned into their opposite, superficial issues. This is why it almost considered Neanderthal and even kitsch to raise issues such as the need to eliminate market relations. Politics then turns into anti-politics. Politics looses becomes meaningless: the postmodernist’s dream (buckets of wee signifiers emancipated from signification!). What is called politics is no longer politics. Consequently the politicians elected into government are less and less politicians but theatrical figures from puppitry. As this trend develops the real politics increasingly takes place behind the backs of the people. The invisible figures in upper echelons of the state and certain other capitalist institutions makes the real politics.
Consequently the difference between the political parties continuously diminishes since they are constrained by the politics as prescribed by the invisible cliques such as the invisible administrators of the state and parastatal bodies such as the European Commission which are an expression of the objective necessities of world capitalism. The official politicians are the “frontmen” there to distract our attention while the significant activity takes place behind the world stage curtain.
In short the election campaigns rather than contributing towards increased politicisation forms part of a depoliticisation process: a retreat form the Enlightenment tradition.
The above are but tentative observations on general elections in Ireland, Gt. Britain and possibly elsewhere.