Saturday 1 October 2016

Crackdown on free thinkers has spawned rise of renegade TDs

The most radical thing the Reform Alliance could do is to not set up a party, writes John Drennan

Published 09/02/2014 | 02:30

Boss man: Enda Kenny is ‘reinforcing herd instinct’. Photo: Collins
Boss man: Enda Kenny is ‘reinforcing herd instinct’. Photo: Collins

THERE was probably more than a hint of self-pity surrounding Swift's warning that when a true genius appears into the world you shall know him by the sign that all the dunces appear in confederation against him.

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Whatever about the genius element of things a fine confederation of dunces is up in arms against the Reform Alliance (RA).

The articles of complaint are simple; centring on the refusal of the RA to acquiesce to the Mrs Doyle-style queries of, "You will set up a party, go on, go on, go on".

But could it be the case that the sheep are actually bunched in the wrong part of the political parkland.

Irish politics may have traditionally been a simple affair where you were either a pork-barrel loving Independent or a respectable party member.

Suddenly, though, as the evolution of the RA gathers pace, could it be the case something new is stirring?

Like all innovations the apparent determination of the RA to not become a conventional political party has been greeted with the sort of angst previously reserved for couples who chose living in sin over marriage.

Their indulgence in new-fangled notions like being "a momentum for ideas" has seen them being slammed for being all about "show-time" rather than substance.

However, the wails of "why can't you just be like the Progressive Democrats and form a nice right-wing party that we can pigeonhole?" are missing one critical point.

The conception of the RA was informed by the inability of Fine Gael, whose 'Dear Leader' Enda is now deferentially called "the boss man" to deal with any form of independent thought.

Given that the genesis of the RA consists of a rebellion against free thought in politics, increasingly its members are asking how a new form of politics is to be facilitated if any new grouping merely apes the old way of doing things.

The revolt of the RA against this way of thought is about more than internal Leinster House politics.

The old Haughey-style hierarchical culture Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore appear to have adopted with such enthusiasm represented and reinforced the Irish "herd instinct" where we all, or large numbers of us, partied until most of us raced off the cliff together.

Given that context it could be the case that the most substantial response to the failure of the Irish political system might be to break away from the concept of the traditional Irish political party.

After all when it comes to the respective virtues of, party versus a momentum for ideas, we have no shortage of parties.

But there is a serious shortage of ideas.

Significantly, the RA is not the only party coming to that conclusion courtesy of the revelations that a new Left Alliance (LA) is also evolving.

The embryo is somewhat less advanced, but, the potential exists for a gathering of like-minded Independents of a radical and leftish hue incorporating John Halligan, Tommy Broughan, Roisin Shortall, Finian McGrath and Catherine Murphy.

And the language they are using about how "what started as a financial crisis with the ending of the housing and credit boom in 2008 has exposed a crisis in political life in society" is remarkably similar to that of the RA.

The RA, the LA, Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly for that matter all share the belief that "the political system that has developed in the State has shown itself to be devoid of principle and unable to reform itself for the benefit of citizens in the State".

Though the Left Alliance has not, despite their potentially larger numbers, received a similar level of attention as the RA, the belief that "our common aims will ensure our cohesiveness, thus eliminating the need for a whip system" is remarkably similar.

But those who pine for a new PD manque or Democratic Left should be encouraged by the fact that there may be more similarities between the RA, the LA and the PDs than is first apparent.

What those former PDs sniping from the ditch fail to realise is that all new radical movements, be they Tories or Fabian Socialists, must fight the battles of their own age.

The PDs took on a failed economic policy and the authoritarian, corrupt Haughey wing of politics.

In the case of the RA and the LA, they are dealing with a political system that failed to such an extent the outside world had to rescue us from our incompetence.

And the key strategic fault line of this failure was the Prussian ethic in Irish politics where everyone must march in a straight line, go where they are told; think what they are told to think and always obey the 'boss-man' if they want to go far.

Yet despite this failure the school of politics that led us to the land of "we are where we are" has not been swept away.

The same Kaisers who led us to the equivalent of a war-time defeat and who signed the peace treaties that have condemned us to generations of reparations are still swanning around.

The RA and the LA are tapping into different streams of radicalism. The concept of the old fashioned parliamentary party of willing sheep has become utterly discredited.

In a different, more diffuse, fast-moving, inquisitorial world, this Victorian English politics with its obedient workers bees and social gradation is looking obsolete.

The defenders of the old ways will of course claim that the evolution of the anti-party will result in political chaos.

The RA and LA are engaged in a reinvention of the role of the Independent beyond their traditional role of devotees of the parish pump for, should the Tory radicals of the RA go before the people, their objective will be to ensure that the conventional parties do not resile back into their old bad habits of indulging in parish pump politics on a national scale.

When it comes to the LA meanwhile those who think left, but, cannot vote for Labour because it "broke all its promises" and who find Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett to be a little politically gamey for their tastes have the choice of voting for the Roisin Shortall school of politics.

It is a measure of the state of our "democratic revolution" that increasingly the only citizens' watchdog left in Leinster House is the Public Accounts Committee.

The evolution of the RA and the LA offers us a real opportunity to create political ideologues who will act as a choke chain on the incapacity of our centrist politicians to ever think or act bravely.

Indeed, should the next government fail to secure a majority those ministers who chuckle about how the RA, or the LA is more of an ugly duckling than a black swan may start to sing a different tune if the votes of a coherent group of Independents are needed.

On far too many occasions in Irish politics' radical developments have actually been a case of the same musty old wine in shiny new bottles.

History should not dissuade us from hoping something new and intriguing is challenging the old certainties.

Irish Independent

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