Monday 26 September 2016

Simple solutions for complex problems is proving to be new political aphrodisiac

Gerard O'Regan

Published 27/02/2016 | 02:30

Photo: Erwin Wodicka / Depositphotos
Photo: Erwin Wodicka / Depositphotos

Something is afoot out there in the long grass - and we're gonna get a very good idea what it is - over the course of this weekend. What is currently happening in the undergrowth of Irish politics might be described as our very own "Donald J Trump rumble''.

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This General Election count will, as is the norm, beguile us as careers are made, and reputations crumble. But whatever will be the shakedown at the end of it all, there will be no going back to the way things used to be.

The aforementioned Trump phenomenon is the harbinger of a political sea change which is taking place in Ireland, the US and Britain. In blunt terms, the disaffected, and those who perceive themselves to be disenfranchised, are increasingly attracted to messiah-type figures, who they feel will lead them to some Promised Land. The messiah must not only have simple solutions to complex problems - but more importantly will have a certain whiff of sulphur. For some voters, this is the heady mix which seems to make all things possible.

There are many looking at the US scene from afar, who like to jeer at "The Donald'' and poke fun at the loony hair style and his goofy asides. We can indeed guffaw at his wacky outbursts, like getting the Mexicans to build a wall to ensnare them in their own country, or his mirage of "whuppin' the ass of Isis''.

But Trump for all his meanderings, many of them carefully calculated to woo ever more voters, is a canny and shrewd operator. He knows he is tapping into a groundswell of simmering discontent. Getting down and dirty with this segment of the electorate is a task which is proving to be beyond the capacity of his opponents. No wonder the Clinton camp no longer dismiss him as some kind of headbanger who will be off the stage sooner rather than later.

And so it is with ourselves, Whatever way the swings and roundabouts work out this weekend, the failure of the mainstream parties to chime in with so many of our own disaffected means this election cannot have an outright winner. As we know, FG got much stick because of its "keep the recovery going" slogan. Yet when the party think-tank came up with this line as a call to arms, it surely seemed a more than reasonable catch cry. No doubt the party top brass's private polling and market research would have told them so. After all, even the most grudging would admit that things generally have been getting at least a little bit better.

But this ploy of lauding the return of a feel-good factor boomeranged. Party chiefs failed to realise there is a kind of echo chamber out there; it would ensure their words would only come back to haunt them. Now that the election campaign is over, we now know too many voters feel trapped on the sidelines, while the game continues without them. Not only did they not identify with the FG clarion call - but many also found it insulting. Labour and Fianna Fáil are also out of the swing of things in trying to woo this particular constituency. It means they will both lose vital seats to Independents and fringe parties.

This hidden Ireland will find its voice as the votes tumble out of the ballot boxes. Maybe in retrospect, the FG slogan should have been: "The recovery has started for some - soon it could start for you."

Yet in fairness, it took the gamut of the election campaign to portray in stark detail, the number of voters who have given up on the mainstream parties, as reflected in the fortunes of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour.

But its not only in Ireland such "instability'' is afoot. This is the era of the maverick politician. On the other side of the Irish Sea the Labour Party has Jeremy Corbyn guiding its destiny. He is not exactly in the first flush of political youth, and has some fairly out there ideas on a range of topics. But who is to say he may not yet become Prime Minister - especially if the Tories keep tearing themselves apart over the EU, Brexit, and the like?

In Ireland, there is now a clear divide between those who have some faith in the established political order and those who ache for some kind of mini-revolution. Maybe we forget how urbanised the country has become. For many in those sprawling housing estates in Dublin, and other towns and cities, the so-called civil war parties no longer resonate. And neither it seems does Labour. And we also underestimate the cold sense of betrayal in much of provincial Ireland, badly in need of jobs, and slayed by emigration.

There is historical irony in that this political cleavage is happening in the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising. But it is hard to dispute the fact the country, politically speaking, is at a major crossroads. The Tweedledum and the Tweedledee era of FF and FG musical chairs is stuttering to an end. Now the two parties must share power - or else the rainbow solution will become the norm.

This weekend will certainly paint a picture for the future.

Irish Independent

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