Today I will be voting for the best candidates, not for the 'best party'
Published 26/02/2016 | 02:30
If I lived in, say, Germany, I would have a party to vote for. If I lived in northern Germany I would vote for Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, and if in the south most likely for the Christian Social Union.
These parties are members of the European People's Party, the biggest bloc of parties in the European Parliament. Fine Gael belongs to that bloc. There are quite a few parties in the EPP that I could vote for. Fine Gael is not one of them because Fine Gael has not been a Christian Democratic party, or anything like it, for quite a while now, and under Enda Kenny has moved even further from its roots.
That is not to say I would not vote for a given Fine Gael candidate, but the vote would be for the candidate, not for the party. I won't be voting for any party, per se.
This is the first election I have voted in when I will be voting for the candidate first and foremost. I have been a floating voter for years, but I have sometimes voted for Fianna Fáil and sometimes for Fine Gael, often influenced by who was in the charge of the party at a given time.
A lot of people are in my boat, and for all sorts of disparate reasons. We all have one thing in common, however; we have become disenchanted with the main parties.
For a long time, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael between them commanded the allegiance of around eight in every 10 voters.
The decline of Fianna Fáil has been much sharper than the decline of Fine Gael, but Fine Gael hasn't been able to take advantage of the decline in support for Fianna Fáil in the way it should have, not even in the last election, when it attracted 36pc of voters. It should really have breached the 40pc mark. Under Garret FitzGerald in the November 1982 General Election, Fine Gael managed 39pc of the vote.
When you think about it, the combined support for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael until recent times resembled the sort of Mass attendance figures the Catholic Church once enjoyed.
The floating voter is analogous to the person who says 'I'm spiritual but I'm not religious', which is to say they believe in God but don't identify with 'institutional religion'. The floating voter is political but doesn't identify strongly with any party. My family roots are in Fine Gael. I guess these days I'm a sort of non-practising Fine Gaeler.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has declined in popularity and influence for many reasons, not least the scandals. But one big reason is that people no longer identify with institutions the way they once did.
The rise of individualism means they are less likely to belong to a given religion, to a political party, to a trade union, or even to the institution of marriage for that matter. (There has been a sharp decline over the last few decades in the number of Irish people who are married. It is now about 50pc of all adults, which is about the same as in America). It's a bit ironic that politics has been affected by one of the social trends that has also affected the church, given the number of politicians who like to gloat about the decline of the church.
I would love to be able to vote consistently for a given party. But how can I, especially now that not a single party is willing to unambiguously support the pro-life amendment to the Constitution? All the parties on the Left want to repeal it, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have placed an each-way bet.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could also do much better in terms of their family policies. Last year, the aforementioned EPP issued a top-notch document on the family, almost no part of which Fine Gael would be able to sign up to because the document is so suffused with Christian Democratic thinking. Angela Merkel, on the other hand, would have no difficulty giving it her seal of approval.
Both parties could do more about the injustice of tax individualisation, which imposes a far greater tax burden on one income married couples, than on two income married couples.
Nor do they have enough to offer couples who want to raise their children at home rather than put them in day-care centres where they will be looked after by strangers. Polls show that only a small minority of people think day-care is the best place for small children but every party wants to subsidise day-care.
Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have signed up fully to a total redefinition of the family that attaches no importance at all to motherhood and fatherhood and very little to the nature ties.
None of the main parties has anything good to say about denominational education and several are hostile to it. This is despite the fact that there is little evidence of a big groundswell of public opinion against denominational education.
I can't think of a single party that even understands what freedom of religion is, or freedom of association for that matter.
So what I will be doing today is voting for those candidates in my constituency who most resemble a Christian Democrat.
I will be voting for my local Renua candidate, but I will also give high preferences to my local Fianna Fáil candidates and one of the Fine Gael candidates. Among other things, these candidates have either said they support the pro-life amendment, or else have not campaigned against it.
Why would I give a preference to someone who is not unambiguously in favour of the pro-life amendment? Well, that's how tactical voting works. It is is to keep out candidates who are unambiguously in favour of removing that amendment, and I have plenty of those in my constituency.
Does this mean I am voting for instability? I don't believe so. I have never voted for Labour and I don't want a stable government with Labour in it. Stability is not everything. You can have a bad stable government. I am not a social democrat and I find it very strange that Labour, like the other parties of the Left, professes belief in 'equality' but is so dead-set against the equal right to life of all human beings.
In the interests of stability, it would probably be best if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil went into coalition together. That combination is the least bad of the available options.
The main argument against this combination is that it will make Sinn Féin the main opposition party, a terrible prospect, but every other combination of parties in government seems even worse.
My election choices today are aimed at strengthening Christian Democrat-type voices in the Dáil while at the same time hoping to ensure a lasting, stable government.