The term ‘new’ holds a pivotal role in the public discourse surrounding politics—sometimes as an adjective next to candidates’ biographies, as a rallying cry for change, or occasionally as an essential demand of the electorate. Amidst the permacrisis that has gripped society over the past decade, ‘new’ emerges as a decisive factor for success in the electoral arena. It stands as a cornerstone in the political analysis, with strategic communication investing heavily in its allure. To the societies most affected, it can even appear as a panacea for their afflictions. Consequently, both political entities and voters find themselves in obsessive pursuit of this elusive quality. Despite its significance, however, the defining characteristics of this political desideratum remain ambiguous: does “new” relate only to age, direct communication techniques with the electorate and a spotless party record, or is it a fusion of other virtues?
Our contemporary political reality sharply diverges from the past; at the same time, the future seems utterly unfamiliar. The rapid pace of technological advancement, coupled with the ongoing degrading of the environment, is constantly reshaping policy frameworks. What appears novel today becomes antiquated overnight: the politician of 2013 applying new communication strategies on YouTube and Facebook has given way to the politician of 2023 utilizing AI to craft an avatar and engage simultaneously with voters across diverse geographical areas. Similarly, climate change is radically transforming individuals’ quality of life, with an ever-growing number of phenomena jeopardizing their very existence. Factoring the ongoing wars, increasing economical inequalities, erosion of fundamental human rights and global democratic backsliding into the equation makes for a formidable challenge for both politicians and voters. This creates an amalgamation so unprecedented, it renders any current public policy inadequate, if not obsolete.
In this context, it is logical to seek the ‘new’ as a political catalyst to foment policies capable of mitigating the impact of the abovementioned threats through skills; here, skills such as technological literacy, emotional intelligence, inclusivity and an increased adaptability to entirely new circumstances in the midst of crises emerge as particularly valuable. However, ‘new’ is still predominantly defined by surface-level characteristics and the appearance of innovation, rather than the truly modern and intricate cohesive competences demanded by today’s complex challenges.
While the qualities of the political ‘new’ which would be capable of undertaking this formidable task are still absent, the very nature of politics is undergoing a crucial transformation. And, still more importantly, our societies are increasingly being affected. The urgency of the times allows no room for experiments that prove to be nothing but deception, pure and simple: if it aspires to play a formative role rather than passively observing developments, society must employ a different compass. One that will allow us to navigate the complexities of the challenges ahead and discern the “new” in virtues and skills that will finally steer the political system beyond winning smiles and clever TikTok use to tangible policies.
*Angelos Karayannopoulos is Research Assistant at ELIAMEP and EU Youth Hub