The questions Simon Tormey poses in The End of Representative Politics are crucial, and we need more political scientists willing to grapple with them. His is a well-informed, well written discussion of the apparent crisis of ‘traditional’ politics, and it deserves readers beyond the academy.
Tormey’s basic argument is that the forms of representative electoral politics which were dominant in Western polities for the past century are now giving way to new forms of political activity. ‘Politics,’ he writes ‘is alive and well; it’s just changing in character and in particular becoming individualised.’ Thus the assumption that we could determine how we are governed through the structures of mass parties and infrequent elections to choose representatives, no longer holds the same sway over our imagination.
Tormey disagrees with the lamentations about growing apathy and disinterest in politics; instead he argues that the decline of party membership and turnout at elections (disguised in Australia by compulsory voting) is matched by new forms of political activism made possible by changes in communications and new forms of political mobilisation. As mainstream parties seem to resemble each other more and more, offering nothing but variants of the same basic neo-liberal agenda, increasingly we look elsewhere to express ourselves politically.