In the end, all Sinn Fein can offer the public is a suspension of the laws of economics
Published 23/05/2014 | 02:30
NIGEL Farage of UKIP and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams have one thing in common – both have been through a media barrage and both look like they're going to come out the other side with their respective parties not alone intact, but set to do extremely well in the polls.
Farage, Patrick Wintour in 'The Guardian' wrote a few days ago, has come through "a period of probably the most intensive scrutiny any unelected British politician has faced in decades."
According to Wintour, Farage's opponents hoped that "his mask has slipped to reveal if not something dark, then at least a buffoon, or better, someone who unashamedly manipulates truths to feed fear and garner votes".
Wintour says that the accusations of racism have not stuck and may well have backfired and that this is something polling by both Labour and the Conservatives has picked up.
On the other hand, most of the Irish public accept that Gerry Adams was in the IRA and a large section of the Irish public connect him to the Jean McConville case.
But those who care about this aren't voting for Adams or Sinn Fein in any case, and many of the rest are voting for Sinn Fein because they don't care, or have consigned it to his past, or are in denial about it.
In a way, the strong media attacks on Adams and Farage merely burnish their anti-establishment credentials. A strong enough onslaught can destroy a person, but if that person is perceived as anti-establishment anyway, if their reputation is built on being anti-establishment and if they can make the media seem like part of the establishment, then media attacks can easily backfire.
Such attacks are best at destroying 'respectable' people. Farage has never sought to be respectable and Adams has only latterly sought to gain some respectability, but not enough to make him part of the 'establishment'.
In Ireland, a big protest vote is going to Sinn Fein and various Independent left-wing candidates. In other words, the protest vote, especially in Dublin, is swinging left.
In England it's going to the right. It's the same elsewhere in Europe. There is the Golden Dawn party in Greece which is much further to the right than UKIP, and the National Front in France. Right-wing parties are also expected to do well in the Netherlands and Denmark.
All of those right-wing parties are building their support by being anti-immigration and anti-EU, in other words, on a kind of ethno-nationalism.
Here in Ireland there isn't the slightest sign of anything similar developing. If it did, it would find support among the working class and lower middle class, like in England.
But some grumblings aside, thankfully there doesn't seem to be any strong anti-immigrant feelings in these sections of society. For whatever reason, they don't seem to feel sufficiently threatened by immigration to want a political expression of that.
Nor is there strong enough anti-EU feeling. Even though we have voted against several EU treaties first time around, they were more protest votes than anything else. Most of us believe we have benefitted strongly from EU membership, whereas in Britain, France and elsewhere, lots of voters feel otherwise.
So there is nothing big enough here for anti-immigration and anti-EU parties to grab a hold of. Nor do we have anything remotely resembling a populist right-wing leader in the making like Nigel Farage.
Lucinda Creighton is not a populist, and she is not anti-immigration or anti-EU. On the contrary, she is very pro-EU.
The result is that the protest vote is migrating left not right, to the left-wing Independents and to Sinn Fein.
But what both types of populism have in common is their rejection of the mainstream parties. Mainstream politics is increasingly seen in the same light as the Catholic Church, namely as something we once trusted but that has failed us badly.
Fianna Fail and Labour are faring especially poorly. Fine Gael is doing more or less what its supporters expected it to do, namely make us tighten our belts, so it will only suffer a bit today.
But Fianna Fail is still blamed for the crash, so there will be no big comeback for it, while Labour is blamed for breaking a host of promises and for failing the 'welfare class'. They're not the tiniest bit interested in Labour's social issues agenda.
The social issues aside, however, Labour is what remains of the responsible left in Ireland. With our enormous budget deficit what choice was there but to increase taxes and cut spending?
Labour can. in fact. boast that it has maintained core social welfare rates and prevented Child Benefit cuts from being even worse than they might have been. Labour argues that without them in Government, there would have been more emphasis on spending cuts and less on tax increases and that's probably true.
In the form of Sinn Fein and many of the Independent leftist candidates what we have instead is the irresponsible Left pretending to voters that a tax on the 'rich' would spare the rest of us, or that they can somehow magic up money from nowhere in order to end 'austerity', which is to say, deficit reduction.
In fact, what Sinn Fein is offering voters is a suspension of the laws of economics and unfortunately in their frustration a lot of voters seem to think it can be done. Down that road lies even more misery.