We all know about the great business disruptors of our time — new entrants like Airbnb, Amazon, and Uber have disturbed an existing pattern of business in their respective sectors.
But it’s not just in business that disruption is fast becoming the norm. The political realm now enjoys more disruptive elements than in recent decades that can alter the course of countries.
Political leaders and their parties are shifting into new policy spaces hitherto held in relative check by competing interest groups who compromise on policy and ideology to ensure a cohesive and sustainable governing platform.
Jeremy Corbin’s election as Labour Party leader in the U.K. is the latest in a testing the boundaries trend of the existing political order.
Donald Trump’s reign atop the Republican field and Bernie Sanders equally impressive showing for the Democrats shows the trend prevalent stateside.
In Europe, far-right anti-emigration parties are fast gaining traction. From Hungary to Holland, the establishment is being tested.
Marie Le Pen and Nigel Farrage have already gained a solid populist foothold.
Why then are the centrist politics of recent decades suddenly being tested?
Perhaps this disruption simply reflects an era of broader radical change.
The effects of mass migration are now being felt on both sides of the pond. This has been a long-time in the making without adequate consideration to the eventual consequences by the establishment politicians.
Regrettably, this raises related security fears and prejudice which causes a rise in Nationalism and exclusionary politics.
Values and ethics also play a role. Younger generations — particularly in Europe — have often flirted with cause-based politics promoting environmental or humanistic agendas.
These were never able to successfully harness credible leadership or be legitimized enough for the mainstream.
A new crop of leaders are emerging that are pushing these boundaries. Jeremy Corbyn represents a social conscious lobby embedded in a socialist philosophy which decries austerity and calls for the reintroduction of the role of the state in the economy.
Again, these big-picture issues of austerity in the aftermath of the global financial crisis are cause for increasing radical alternatives.
This is therefore an era of fundamental and unprecedented shifts in almost every aspect of human endevor.
For the electorate, many concerns are not new — but they have largely been ignored in terms of public policy responses by the moderate incumbent adding to their frustration.
From climate change to technology to mobility; the human condition is changing. The rise of new economic, trade and military players is shifting the global balance of power and adding to the complexities of an increasingly competitive and uncertain world.
From robots taking jobs to China’s volatility — it’s pretty dramatic. Add in the rise of ISIS, dealing with Iran, a competitive global economy, skills disparities and aging demographics and you have an era of unknowns that amplify a call to — often extreme — action from the disruptors.
But this is only a partial explanation for the rise of these new players. If you want to disrupt, you still need political legitimacy. Disruptors are increasingly presenting a much more sophisticated message adjusting their language and tone to enhance their credibility.
Ultimately though, equilibrium disruptors face the same issues as anyone else — developing sound and rational policies likely to hold as broad a coalition as possible together.
They face very specific tests in attempting to balance their desire for real disruption with the vested interests and inertia much more applicable to the public space than in the private sector.
And, as the world does not just revolve around one nation or a sub-section of its population, global forces in a more inter-connected world curtail many of the more extreme impulses – as Greece’s Syriza under Alexis Tsipras found to its distress in a brusing contest with Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Political disruptors will also have more difficulty in staying on message. By their very nature, these are more combustible individuals less prone to worrying about what is deemed politically correct. They are more likely to invoke controversy with deeply held beliefs or potentially tactless, off the cuff remarks.
Although thee might be trend away from the mainstream centrists, the same political constraints will weight on their eventual effectiveness and the cohesiveness of their parties and political movements.
Political disruptors play a more high-stakes game than their business counterparts. There are many more moving parts as lobbying groups, special interests, funding sources, friends, neighbors — and of course, the electorate — require believable and considered outcomes.
Disruptors will add to an era of volatility and may often be susceptible to internal party revolts as policy issues become clouded in a quagmire of rhetoric and impractical hyperbole. They are sure to entertain us — but expect added instability as they do.
Daniel Silke is recognized as one of South Africa’s leading political economy analysts. He is currently director of the Political Futures Consultancy based in Cape Town. He is the author of “Tracking the Future: Top Trends that will Shape South Africa and the World.” He regularly appears on CNBC Africa, ENCA, SABC, ANN7, and Bloomberg. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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