Ireland's political class has failed to keep its promises – giving Lucinda her big chance
Published 30/05/2014 | 02:30
IF politicians want to do right by their country there are a few simple principles to follow. One is to look after the money. Another is to look after the family. A third is to keep your promises. A fourth is to put your principles before your career and before your party, that is to say, follow your conscience, do what you believe is right.
Taken as a whole, but with individual exceptions, Ireland's political class has failed to do all of these things. It did not look after the money. Instead it gave us the property bubble (and so did the German banks), it increased public spending enormously and it wasted lots of that money.
It has failed to look after the family in multiple ways. It thinks it is looking after the family via child benefit and the like, but in reality the philosophy behind tax individualisation reigns supreme. Instead of reducing the tax burden on families according to the number of dependents each one has, the family is regarded mainly as a group of largely disconnected individuals who are not dependent on each other and is taxed accordingly.
In addition, there is a complete refusal to face up to the consequences of marriage breakdown. Ireland's marriage rate is low. That is not new. Over 250,000 people are divorced or separated. That is new. Tens of thousands of children are growing up without a father. That is also new, or at least newish.
There is a direct link between marital breakdown and poverty. Poverty helps to increase marriage breakdown, and marriage breakdown then helps to increase poverty in turn.
A study by Isabel Sawhill of the left-of-centre Brookings Institute in the US estimates that if poor Americans were marrying at the same rate as 40 years ago, poverty in the US would decline by a quarter. That would make marriage the most successful anti-poverty programme ever.
Our political class will acknowledge none of this. Besotted with or paralysed by political correctness, it calls family breakdown "family diversity" instead. But it is the poor who suffer most of all from family breakdown. Despite this, the left-wing parties in particular laud "family diversity", even though they are supposed to be pro-poor.
The broken promises need no elaboration.
The country has more broken promises than it has potholes.
The ascendancy of the party whip over conscience is a scandal. Few other parliamentary democracies crack the party whip with quite as much sadistic pleasure as our own. The members of the Reform Alliance plus Brian Walsh deserve huge credit for being willing to break the party whip over abortion.
It could have been over something else. But it showed that they were willing to pay a price in order to keep their promise over abortion, which was also their party's promise. This gives Lucinda Creighton, Fidelma Healy Eames, Terence Flanagan, Billy Timmons, Paul Bradford, Peter Mathews and Brian Walsh, who all broke the whip, a fantastic brand.
It tells the public you believe that breaking your promises is much more serious than breaking the whip.
There is now an immense fight taking place in Ireland over the working-class vote. The fight over the middle-class vote hasn't begun in earnest yet.
Labour has made the awe-inspiring mistake of making the middle-class vote its base by giving it our recent law on abortion and by promising it same-sex marriage and the Constitutional Convention. None of this saved it a single vote. Making Alex White its leader will only compound the error.
By making its social agenda more important than its economic agenda it has chosen the path to ruin and conceded the working-class vote to Sinn Fein, Joe Higgins and his Socialists, People Before Profit, and the Anti-Austerity Alliance.
They share the same social agenda as Labour but they put their economic agenda first, or at least that's how it appears to voters.
The battle over the middle class is still a fight – more or less – between Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the tendency in Labour best represented by the likes of Alex White, who betrayed the man who promoted him, Eamon Gilmore, and was an ally of James Reilly in the medical card debacle.
But the tectonic plates will not shift in the same way they have with the working-class vote unless and until the Reform Alliance enters the fray properly.
Basically, Lucinda Creighton needs to declare her intentions soon or make clear that someone else needs to set up a party that will seek to reward work, will allow a free vote on social issues, will make a pact with voters to keep its promises, and will eschew populism as distinct from policies that are both sound and popular.
It should also promise that it will belong to no government that includes Sinn Fein.
Fine Gael will make some of these promises as well, but this is where the Reform Alliance brand is a huge advantage; Lucinda and co can turn around and tell voters they have shown they keep their promises and Fine Gael has shown that they break theirs.
In the end, this is actually not a contest for working-class votes versus middle-class votes at all. Rewarding work, keeping your promises, allowing more free votes and reducing the power of the political class have appeal across the board.
The party that can best persuade voters it will deliver on all these things and can put up a broad spectrum of candidates will reap the electoral dividend, and hopefully spike the guns even of Sinn Fein as well.