Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Political technology

Back in 2011, Andrew Wilson wrote a piece in opendemocracy about political technology in Russia.

"Political technology" – a term largely unfamiliar in the West - is the euphemism commonly used in the former Soviet states for what is by now a highly developed industry of political manipulation. There is a general understanding that elections are fixed in most countries of the region, from Russia to Kyrgyzstan, but we still do not look closely enough at just how they are fixed.

Although Wilson's piece mainly concerns Russian politics with it's more ruthless and almost openly fraudulent manipulation of political power, there are wider implications too.

As a term to describe the activities of modern political fixers, "political technology" is also useful here in the UK and EU. Here, political control also has its purely technical aspect. Maintaining the power of unelected stakeholders has become an apolitical matter of manipulating human behaviour rather than promoting an ideology.

From the above link.

One advantage of political technology is that it is ‘dry’. It helps regimes function without ideology, and move from one option to another. Ivan Krastev claims that authoritarian regimes may actually be more stable without an official ideology, which gives oppositions something to mobilise against.

Political technology may have an inbuilt tendency towards drama inflation, or at least towards inventing a new drama for every election, which is likely to be destabilising in the long run. The electorate can sense a lack of competition, and political technologists constantly have to fight against the declining turnout they themselves have caused – either with more drama or more fraud. 

It seems to me that Tony Blair was our first exponent of "dry" political technology here in the UK. He created the first government with no ideology and no interest in governing democratically. Not that UK democracy has ever been strong or effective - and that of course may have been the vacuum into which Blair's political technology was bound to exploit.

UK and EU political technology is undoubtedly softer than the Russian version in that it is more covert and less reliant of crudely fraudulent techniques such as vote-rigging, although that too has become an issue of concern. Postal vote scams have now become somewhat notorious in the UK.

Postal voting is open to fraud on an "industrial scale" and is "unviable" in its current form, a top judge has said.

Richard Mawrey QC, who tries cases of electoral fraud, told the BBC that people should not be able to apply for postal votes as a matter of course.

But the Electoral Commission said it would not be "proportionate" to end postal voting altogether.

The government also said it had no plans to abolish the current system, saying it had made it easier for many people to vote.

Yet as regimes become apolitical and as they base their power on political technology rather than ideology, then perhaps electoral fraud becomes politically unimportant. After all, we are now perfectly familiar with major league vote-rigging by or on behalf of the EU. From the BBC.

When it comes to rejecting European treaties, Ireland has a long track record.

Both the Nice Treaty (2001) and Lisbon Treaty (2008) referendums were lost, forcing the governments of the day into the embarrassing position of having to re-run the votes to get them passed.

This is political technology in action, but usually it isn't so transparently fraudulent. Usually, political technology here in the UK and EU seems to revolve around narratives and what Wilson calls dramaturgiia, or a fake drama designed by political technologists to manipulate popular sentiment

Often, as in Russia, the drama seems designed to create a dichotomy between the devil you know and the devil you don't, insinuating a sense of unease about the prospect of change.

Next year's general election should be interesting. Watch out for the political technology. If you are a mainstream voter, your party will make energetic use of it.


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