Mission Impossible for Politics?

Is there a way to succeed for politicians in times of crisis?

by Jochen Ressel

“Politik ist die Kunst des Möglichen” said the German statesman Otto von Bismarck once – a quote which can be translated only in a humbling way: „Politics is the art of the possible.” But is there anything possible at all for politics in times of crisis, as we experience them right now? Is there any way for politicians to succeed on a broad scale, or only from the perspective of a few, sharing the same opinion?

Example Brexit

It makes no difference how it has come that Britain is facing the question how to leave the European Union – it’s just a fact and a proper solution is heavily requested. But which one? What is the best option? Take the example of the financial markets: Some may say: Politicians should tie up with Europe as close as possible as the EU is of huge importance as an economic partner and the entire referendum was a big mistake. Therefore, a new deal for a closer relationship with the EU is the best way possible for the UK. Others may say: The financial market is probably the most important part of the UK economy and it’s good to leave, because if the UK politicians follow Europe’s way of overregulation, KYC requirements (“know your customer”), AML proceedures (“anti money laundering”) and compliance laws, the UK will also suffer heavily from draining out of investment capital, private equity and venture capital – a trend which is obvious in the EU already. By leaving the EU and agreeing a framework for a flourishing capital market exchange between the UK and the EU, the UK may become the biggest capital hub in the hemisphere for globally acting financial partners and will overwhelmingly benefit. Two opinions and millions of options. And one could be as true or false as the other – as a politician you might be re-elected or not, no difference which route you decide on.

Example Covid19 crisis management

Many governments throughout Europe have taken immediate action to fight against the unknown – a new virus, where nobody knew facts about its spreading, mortality rates, how the infected suffer and what is the course of the disease, if it mutates quickly or not and so on. Others have denied the pandemic scale and did almost nothing. Some countries suffering relatively few casualties, other grieving for thousands of beloved ones lost. But whatever route politicians have taken they are the losers – either because nothing dramatic happened and they are accused of overreacting and ruining the economy at the same time, or because of neglecting the danger and causing avoidable grief and sorrow. And in the long term, it could turn out, that the so called “herd immunity” may that nations suffering most now come out better at the end. Nobody knows – but politicians can never get it right!

Additionally, the ethical question is raised: What is the price of human life? Is it adequate to calculate economic losses and mortalities caused by economic disasters versus the Covid19 caused death? Is life and its protection the highest ethic value that legitimates all cost? Tied up with that is the jurisdictional question: Is it lawful for the sake of saving lives because of ethical reasons to implement restrictions which may stand against the constitution? And even worse: How can it be that governmental decisions are in doubt, if they are lawful and in line with the constitutional framework?

From my point of view the political dilemma of being damned to lose – no difference how and what you decide on or not – is the reason for the decrease of highly qualified personnel in politics, which makes the situation even worse. It seems to be a marketing question and mathematical task to deliver solutions which will with the highest probability guarantee to be re-elected. Is this a viable, probably the only way to come to decisions? Or are there any ideas out there, to overcome the “Mission Impossible” for politicians?

Jochen Ressel is a Board Member of the Austro-British Society The opinions expressed in this article are entirely his and reflect in no way the opinions of the ABS. He worked several years for a UK company and for its HQ in London.

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