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“A new political culture” – the solution to old problems? August 21, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics, Political Theory , add a comment

President of the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget), Thorbjørn Jagland, this week called for a “New political culture” in Norway in a feature article in the newspaper Aftenposten. He claims that the combination of media, opinion polls and opportunist politicians have displaced the political virtues of long term and larger view thinking. In his words political leaders have been made into characters in a play organized by media and opinion polls. Political leaders no longer show the leadership necessary to enforce policies that are too complex to be explained simply to the public.

His answer to these problems:

Vi trenger en annen politisk kultur enn den mediene og mange andre har forsøkt å oppdra oss til i sommer. Vi trenger en styringsdyktig politisk kultur i stedet for en galluppreget politisk elite. Vi trenger politikere som også er i stand til å se inn i fremtiden og føre an. Hvis ikke kan en stadig økende kravmentalitet ødelegge for oss alle.

My translation:

We need a different political culture than the one the media and many others have tried to educate us about this summer. We need a political culture for leadership rather than a political elite dominated by opinion polls. We need politicians that are able to look into the future and take the lead. If not, an ever increasing mentality of demands will ruin things for us all.

This isn’t a particularly novel point. Edmund Burke warned his constituency in Bristol about leaders who were nothing but slaves to public opinion all the way back in 1774. And in 1784, James Madison stated that:

Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

It may be an old issue, but it’s an important one, and one that has become very visible in Norway over the last months. A series of cabinet ministers have come and gone – not because of their policies but because of media campaigns where they have been tricked into making blunders. Over the last few years, we have also seen the populist radical right grow bolder and more confident, gradually boosting the close combat fight over next week’s opinion polls. (more…)