Wednesday 26 October 2016

Rise of 'New Politics' totters on the brink of something terrible

Published 15/07/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Ken Lee
Cartoonist: Ken Lee

Enda Kenny has been snubbed by two women in the last few days; first by Northern Ireland's First Minister, Arlene Foster, and then on Tuesday by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

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Enda's proposal for an all-Ireland forum to discuss Brexit was shot down by Foster and his wish that Ireland be given a special place in Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK was then shot down by Merkel.

This has the unfortunate effect of diminishing the claim by Kenny's supporters that even if he has lost authority at home, he still carries weight overseas.

But Fine Gael should think long and hard before replacing him.

Did Labour's fortunes revive when Joan Burton replaced Eamon Gilmore? Are they showing signs of reviving now that she has been replaced by Brendan Howlin?

Running Ireland - or running a major political party - for that matter, is even worse than managing the England football team.

In football, a manager is expected to pick the right players, get them motivated and train them effectively, and to get his match tactics right. That isn't easy.

But at least in football you know the rules of the game. In politics, no one seems quite sure what the rules of the game are any more.

I think there are two big reasons for this. The first is the economic collapse of 2008 and the resultant and still-continuing hangover.

This makes people feel insecure.

The second, somewhat related issue, is the effect of globalisation, which has lots of winners, but has also created victims, chief among them those who have seen their jobs go overseas to cheaper countries.

This also makes people feel insecure and many of the victims of globalisation are supporting Donald Trump in the US and voted for Brexit in the UK.

Once upon a time, we were presented with two basic visions of politics. To quote the BBC's Andrew Marr, the left-wing story was that "the public sector and public servants could be trusted to deliver a fairer and more decent society".

The right-wing story was that "if you simply taxed people less and regulated business more lightly, you would find a stable, relatively fair and prosperous society growing".

Several things have smashed the left-wing narrative in the minds of many ordinary voters.

It has become undeniable that the public sector can be manifestly self-serving, inefficient, bloated and that it gets many things wrong.

In addition, out-of-control public spending contributed to the crash.

The behaviour of the banks during the boom, the fact that we had to bail them out afterwards, the failure to regulate them properly and the bloated pay of those at the top of the corporate ladder are some of the things that have turned many against the free-market story.

On the left, the answer of some has been to move further left. The centre-left parties are castigated for being exactly that - centre-left.

People Before Profit at el want to move us towards 'peak State'. Their belief in the power of the State to bring about justice is completely undiminished.

In Ireland, at any rate, there has been no concomitant rise of right-wing parties saying that we need to make the market freer still.

But other countries have seen the rise of right-wing parties that are nationalist and anti-globalisation. These parties can hardly be called free-market parties at all.

They believe that letting too much of the world in, in terms of both people and goods, has served the people of their own nations badly.

Those nationalist parties are picking up lots of votes in working-class areas because the parties that were supposed to represent the interests of the working class are now more interested in social issues, like abortion.

In Ireland, instead of turning to right-wing, nationalist parties, some of us have done the opposite by turning to the far left, while others have opted for Independents.

The result, as we saw in the last election, has been huge political instability.

In the US, millions have given their votes to Donald Trump. In Britain, we got Brexit. The Spanish can't seem to put a government together. And so on. The February General Election has given rise in this country to something we like to call 'New Politics'.

It is increasingly clear that 'New Politics' equals instability and populism.

Katherine Zappone might believe in abortion, but at least she didn't copy the likes of John Halligan, Finian McGrath and Shane Ross by voting last week for an abortion bill that was certainly unconstitutional, quite apart from the issue of Cabinet collective responsibility.

How can a Taoiseach, whoever he or she may be, operate successfully in such an unstable political environment in which populist politicians could pull the plug on the Government at any moment?

What do they do when conventional politics, with its conventional answers of either more State or more market, seems to be increasingly unconvincing?

The biggest factor leading to the dissolution of the 'Old Politics' and the rise of the unstable, populist, unpredictable 'New Politics', is the profound insecurity that is being felt by more and more voters in Ireland and elsewhere.

If people can be made to feel economically secure again, then the Old Politics might be able to reassert itself.

If not, then God knows what is in store because 'New Politics' might morph into something very, very bad and we then might end up yearning for the days of 'safe pair of hands', Enda Kenny.

Some of us might, anyway.

Irish Independent

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