A Dreadful Election, A Bizarre Result
by Brendan Strong
An Irish election that seems so typically Irish. With the results coming in thick and fast every one of my ponificated predictions have proven false. I made many, so I couldn’t possibly expect them all to come true. I often made them with a pointed finger (for effect) on a hand wrapped round a pint of Guiness, while the other hand traced out diagrams (foe even more effect). Almost all of those have been forgotten, and I hope whoever I was talking to forgot them as well. A friend calls on Friday afternoon, and all I can think of is the old maxim: The definition of insantiy is doing the same thing twice, but expecting a different outcome. Most of the people I talk to, read and listen to are wondering have we really voted for trolleys in A&E, loose cannon gangsters and an uncomfortable whiff of the possibility of corruption lying under what appears to be a shiny new nation? It’s taken everybody by surprise, and I’m told even some Fine Fail TDs are marvelling at the achievement.
So, the inevitable question is, “What does this all mean?” Ironically, as I have just finished reading The Crying of Lot 49, my initial thoughts are “It means nothing at all; why should it mean anything?”
Having (hopefully) learned my lesson, I shall not pontificate with this one. My only pontification (d’oh! Failed already!) the outcome of this election is not to start concluding, but to start questioning. Not questioning the results, no. Questioning the motives. Over the past ten years, much disatisfaction and concern has been expressed about the Fine Fail government, yet when put to the test, the overwhelming truth is that much of the country want to keep this underwhelming performance going (woops, more pontification!).
Here are my questions about the motives. Please bare with me (no typo, I’m writing this in my underwear):
Have we started voting “Nationally”?
The almost complete decimation of smaller parties and independents leads one to wonder whether the political psychology has shifted. No longer is the primary worry the state of the road that leads past the church to the community hall. Have we started voting for GDP, economic well being and the face we wish to present to the world as a whole. In fairness, one thing that cannot be taken from Bertie Ahern is that as a representitive for this country, he has done us proud. In the UK, US and especially when holding the Presidency of the EU, he has pulled our image from the pub in the bog to a café bar in a clean, well lit, urban street (how close this is to the truth is another matter). The fact that Fine Gael have had a marvellous resurgence would also indicate that the country is now looking for the “Big Parties” to represent our interests on a larger stage.
Have we reverted to Civil War political ideology?
Back in the day, women were for cooking, sheep were for shagging and Fine Fail (or Fine Gael) were for governing. In intervening years, parties from further left and further right have joined the fray, and played a growing part in the governance and opposition roles in the country. Of course, one great argument through the intervening years is that a vote for this smaller parties and the independents (who generally started off as disgraced and demobbed members of the larger parties) is wasted: Only by voting for the “Big Two” can anything get done. Have we bought this argument? The success of the PDs would indicate there is some falseness to it, however, it does also explain why the smaller party and independent votes collapsed, or remained stable, across the board. Have we decided to revert to a ‘Two Party’ system, based on who your grandfather fought with (or, now, your great-grandfather). I admit this is a bit far fetched, but I do believe the numbers dictate the question is asked.
Is it Just Bertie?
We’re talking about re-electing a Taoiseach who signed blank cheques as a Minister for Finance. And the man for whom he wrote those cheques called him “The most cunning, the most devious of them all.” The tribunals that he set up (as he is quick to point out) fiercly jostle with journalists and columnists to get some of his time, ask him some questions, maybe straighten out a few things. I completely disagreed that ‘revelations’ should have been made public in the first week of the election, believing that given this is a process of deciding who will run the country for five years, the argument should be based on the following five years. Many argue against me that we have a right to know about such questionable private fincancial deals. I would argue, well if the Tribunal finds something amiss, a vote of no confidence could be used to reject the authority of the sitting government and trigger a new election. My point is, I wanted to hear what all the leaders had to say about how the country should develop in the next five years. Bertie hardly said anything. Not until the debate with Enda. I accept some believe Bertie won this debate, I would have seen it as a tie. So, could the people be a little ‘star struck’ by Bertie? Could all the bad things that were said about him, and happened to him have worked in his favour, as the Plain People of Ireland drove up to the polling stations in shiny cars and thought “Jesus, he had an awful time of it… Sure I’ll give it to him…”? My understanding is that Bertie’s election argument was: “Sure I’m f***ing sound, vote for me! Lookit, I even curse, the regular man that I am. Vote for me!”
An Appetite for Change, A Fear of the Future?
Did the Irish people have an appetite for change that Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party mentioned, but that this was countered by a fear of what might happen in the future? Is it a question that we’d all like to have seen a new government brought in, but on the way to vote in BMWs, clutching a mobile phone in one hand and a frappaccino in the other we thought “Can I really risk all this?”
Is it All Now Money, Money, Money?
While Fine Gael and Labour banged on about hospital waiting lists, shools, creches, gangsters, house prices, commuting times and other quality of life issues, Fine Fail (and indeed the PDs) jsut kept saying “But sure, you’re all rich enough to deal with these issues yourselves. Thanks to us. And we’ll make you even richer.” Now, the decimation of the PDs means this question is a bit peculiar. They were the only truly right-wing, national level party going. So why would we get rid of them, if the issue was all Money, Money, Money? Are Fine Fail now seen as the only party that will deliver good economic policy coupled with good social structures? If this is the case, why would anyone believe this, based on the past ten years? This is the government who brought in an extra €1000 per anum for parents to pay for creches, the day before nearly every crech in the country, unhindered, brought in an €83.34 per month raise in their charges. Sorry, spilled out into pontificating there. I’ll let it stand though, as I believe it is a problem. On paper, ten years of Fine Fail have brought great changes for this society. In reality, there have been loopholes, badly worded legislation and poor implementation. I’m not saying the alliance for change would have done better. I am saying after ten years of the current lot not working very well, would we not want to give it a try?
Is The Meeja COMPLETELY Out of Touch with Common People?
This may seem another example of me harping on about it. Brendan’s age old theme of “The Media”. I have ranted about them, cursed, spat and been completely insulting. But, here, in the cold light of actual numbers, we find once again that the media neither represent the people, nor the real world. The election was reported as a close tie all the way through. How could this have happened? Bad polls? Or was it the media trying to reflect their own opinion of the world back to the world? In my usual rants, I also blame readers. I have a fear that we are in a state of ideological masturbation (great phrase, eh?): we revel in hearing only that which we want to hear. We don’t just dismiss, but avoid those arguments that we don’t want to hear. This is a dangerous state for a country to be in, and I believe most of the Western world are in it. We are no longer connecting with what is outside of us, unless it reinforces what we believe ourselves. I’ll stop there, definite pontification. Back to the question: The media got it completely wrong – did the people deliberately mislead pollsters on their intentions, did they change their minds closer to the day, or is the media in this country just completely out of touch with common people?
These are my questions. If I have more, I’ll add them here, or in new postings. Something to think about anyway.