Joseph F.X Zahra's article on Newsbook.
The financial and debt crisis starting in 2008 made financial institutions, at least in words, to seek ways on how go back to basics. A return to the absolute values of honesty, integrity and transparency. All this needs to pass the test of time. Is it now politics’ turn to do the same? The failure of the old traditional models of “left” and “right” have been abandoned as socialist parties lost their credibility with the spectacular failure of Marxist ideology and the fall of the Berlin wall; while Christian Democratic parties were riddled with corruption and cronyism. The void created by the demise of these two fronts paved the way to the “grey” side of politics were the traditional parties on both sides of the spectrum try hard to outscore each other on social and economic liberalism. The economic liberalism of privatisation and the re-dimensioning of the social welfare system championed by Margaret Thatcher in the late seventies and early eighties was followed by the social liberalism of civil unions and gay marriages, liberalisation of drugs, abortion and euthanasia.
In this run towards social and economic openness, I get the feeling that we have lost sight of our destination and purpose. It is more of a fast response to citizens’ virtual needs, perhaps irrespective of considerations to values and traditions. It is a sad reminder of the declining years of the Roman Empire.
In reaction to this a new spectre is haunting us – that of populism. Populism arises with electorate discontent and the lack of integrity in politics. The rise of once fringe parties such as the National Front in France, UKIP in the United Kingdom, the Lega Nord and the Five-Star Movement in Italy are reflecting the unease of the electorate with the grey shade of the established parties. The traditional parties are failing the electorate with their lack of ideology and principles, their spinning of stories, corruption and hanging on power. Politicians are criticised for career making, and by their method of spin and manipulative use of results from opinion polls. But populism is dangerous as it crudely relies on human instinct and its solutions are superficial, partial and dangerous.
Unless politics goes back to the basics of ideals and principles, the new populist parties will be elected with a vengeance. Politics is not a career but a vocation, and it needs to welcome a new era of post liberalism when liberalism has left a trail of devastation of human misery with broken families, drug abuse, anti-social behaviour and ineffective judicial systems.
Two speakers in the recently concluded course “The Call to Public Life”, organised by the Malta group of Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation and the Pastoral Formation Institute spoke about the re-thinking of politics that regains public trust and puts integrity in its centre. Adrian Pabst of the University of Kent spoke of the restoration and replenishment of long-standing traditions that have been side-lined and eroded and yet have never completely disappeared. The task is to integrate good traditions with a contemporary approach to ideas, institutions and policies. A struggle for greater economic and social justice with a focus on social relations, greater representation and participation of civil society, the restoration of genuine and inherent culture and true market fairness. Lord Glasman highlighted that traditional values need to be recovered by a genuine approach in politics to recover the dignity of work, vocation and solidarity with the purpose of achieving the common good.
To reach all this we need strong, purposeful and virtuous leadership. Of course, with less spin, less attention to opinion polls, less career making in politics, but more genuine leadership by listening, discerning, deciding and acting while setting an example. Pope Francis can again be a role model of modern virtuous leadership.