The year we redefined politics

Enrique Dans. Professor. IE Business School

10 January 2012

Like so many other things, the art of politics is being redefined. It needs to change to adapt to the new realities that emerged with the Arab Spring and Spain’s March 15 movement.

This week Time magazine has revealed its 2011 Person of the Year - the protester. Time has used its cover to give a seal of official recognition to the importance of a plethora of events ranging from the Tunisian protests that kicked of the so-called Arab Spring, to the Occupy movement that filled public squares in the US, joined along the way by Egypt, Portugal, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Athens, Israel, and London, together with a strong show of support from the Spanish with the March 15 movement.

The message is clear. History, on many occasions, is written retrospectively, because the true significance of so many events can only be understood when you look back on them. To trivialize or write off the importance of these protests would be highly dangerous and a big mistake.

When technology enables thousands of people to coordinate their actions, organize themselves and unite in protest for reasons they see as entirely justified, politicians find themselves forced to change tack to accommodate a new concept of society. The result is not necessarily populism, although the threat is there, but rather a new scenario in which the representatives of citizens are subject to a new type of pressure which obliges them to perform their function in more unequivocal terms. Fail your citizens, align yourself with interests that are different form theirs, and you risk them coming out on to the street, organized and demanding answers.

In this scenario, the old politician would give the stock reply of “but we have to govern”. Yes, you have to govern, but for your citizens, not against them. You have to govern with constant communication, without secrets, providing transparent information, and understand that there are no unpopular decisions, just badly communicated ones.

To govern for the few by disregarding the will of the majority of citizens is no longer sustainable. There is now a need that is both peremptory and logical to keep an eye on what is happening on networks and the social mood. As has happened to so many other forms of human activity, politics have been redefined. Anyone who does not understand that will have problems.

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