The electorate is being shamefully denied the government it voted for
It suits the body politic to interpret election results as a vote for 'stability', but the people actually voted for change, says Jody Corcoran
Published 06/03/2011 | 05:00
Nobody can say with absolute certainty what the people just voted for, although everybody will have an interpretation to fit in with what may best suit them now.
There are a few broad-sweep certainties, most notably that the people voted to be rid of Fianna Fail; with 20 seats, however, there are signs of life there yet, the faintest of a pulse in the old party.
Fianna Fail won what little it did thanks to proportional representation, a system designed to allow the people to maximise their say, usually with confusing effect, on account of its many flaws and because few fully understand it anyway.
It is likely, therefore, that Fianna Fail would have been wiped out altogether, but for a handful of seats, had the peculiarities of PR not kicked in along the line.
If that is accepted -- there is no argument against it, in fact -- then we can apply the same rule of thumb to interpret what the people voted for, as opposed to what they voted against.
Another certainty is that the people voted for Fine Gael, but they did not vote for it in sufficient numbers that it would win an overall majority, it having fallen seven seats short of a majority -- just seven. It is beyond doubt, then, that most voters wanted a single-party, right-of-centre government, but that they were looking for something else too, something small but perceptible.
The question is, what was that something small but perceptible? A melange of same old fifty and sixtysomethings, which is what they are getting in Fine Gael/ Labour ; or right-of-centre with a hint of the radical as would have been represented by FG with progressive independents?
Consensus has it that the people voted for Labour to temper the right-of-centre nature of some of Fine Gael's policies; but consensus seldom speaks the full truth.
It may be closer to the truth that the people, having sought to end Fianna Fail, really voted for Labour to lead an opposition dominated by the Left, in recognition that coherent opposition is almost as important as strong government.
If you accept that view, it may be more likely that the people actually voted, for the first time, for a proper Left-Right divide, which they are now being denied, and not, as it is being spun, for a form of national government.
The body politic has not paused to consider this possibility, however, because it does not wish to analyse too deeply what the people might be saying, in case it does not fit in with what suits them best now. And what suits them best, as ever, is power uninterrupted, for the sake of such power.
Independent TD Shane Ross was correct, in my opinion, to interpret his massive 17,000 votes as a loud demand for reform and for the radical.
The problem is that the body politic is not naturally drawn to reform, and it is deeply suspicious, to the point of being contemptuous, of the radical. That is Leinster House for you, conservative with a small 'c', to the marrow.
You need to understand this if you want to fully understand the charade going on all week, these negotiations between Fine Gael and Labour to form a Government, as if -- oh, the worry of it -- the possibility might remotely exist that the negotiations will fail.
They won't fail. In fact, here is the make-up of most of the Cabinet: Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan, Leo Varadkar, James Reilly, Richard Bruton, Alan Shatter, Pat Rabbitte, Ruairi Quinn and Joan Burton.
Now throw in another woman (Frances Fitzgerald?), a super-junior (Sean Sherlock?), and maybe a "surprise" (Simon Coveney?) -- and that's it, a collection of the usual suspects, neither radical nor yet redundant, save for this one last whirl on the merry-go-round.
Is it for this that we have had to endure the mendacity of recent years?
The body politic has chosen to interpret the outcome of the election as a vote for "stability", as if it is that the people, at this time, really want the same, and more of it. A majority of 30 seats will provide stability, but only of a kind that politicians crave; that is, a job for the next five years without the fear of an election that may threaten their security of tenure.
But such a majority is, in fact, a recipe for instability, on the backbenches, where it will ferment for a while before it is taken up by others when the going gets tough, around about next week, when the people realise that nothing has changed at all, really.
An argument could be made that the last thing the country needs right now is such a form of stability, and that the first thing it needs is a form of fresh thinking as espoused by many of what the media like to refer to as the more "colourful" Independents.
It seems to be that a TD is "colourful" if he wears long grey hair and a pink T-shirt, or wears a goatee beard not unlike a cartoon character, or wears a cap like his father, or speaks with a West Brit accent.
But a TD is not colourful, and therefore not radical, if he wears a pinstripe suit like everybody else, and is drawn from the same well of humdrum politics as just about every TD ever was; that is, that he will, sheep-like, vote through the same ineffectual compromise as all before him.
Which is fair enough, if that's what the people voted for; but it is my view that that is not what the people were looking for.
The Government we are about to get, in fact, is an indictment of the conservative nature of politics here, wherein everybody is happy to uniformly co-exist.
Already we hear it, as we have ever heard: behave, conform, compromise -- three qualities which, instinctively, Enda Kenny will take with him to Europe, as Brian Cowen did before him. Is it any wonder we are bunched?
Already these "colourful" TDs are being lined up as nothing more than entertainment for the next five years, when in fact many of them have something different to offer, something of promise to give.
I do not regard Mick Wallace, nor Ming, nor Ross, nor Stephen Donnelly, nor many of the rest of them as entertainment, no more or less than I do all of those destined for opposition in the 31st Dail.
I respect the mandate of these "colourful" TDs, a mandate granted by 12.6 per cent of the people, which is 2.5 per cent stronger than the mandate granted to Labour in the previous election.
It seems, however, that Enda Kenny does not respect that mandate, certainly not to the extent that he was prepared to pick up the telephone to establish what common ground may exist, and, more importantly, what radical ideas may emanate from a groundswell opinion which has long since tired of the inevitability of what has gone before and failed.