Wednesday 26 October 2016

Dail a refuge from reality where only the odd survive

Our politicians have become the victims of a process that removes every iota of independent thought

Published 22/06/2014 | 02:30

Leinster House
Leinster House

LIKE Philip Larkin's essentially well-meaning parents, our politicians never mean to "f**k you up". Sadly, our failed political class do that to such an extent that they don't just "fill you up with all the faults they had" but often "add some extra, just for you".

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Unsurprisingly, when it comes to their lowly status, our political classes are always tooled up with a variety of excuses about how the media, the voters and the mandarins are to blame.

Apparently all of us are responsible for the current vast surge of alienation where the electorate has embraced a new troika of Sinn Fein, Independents and the 'pox on all your houses' party.

The one thing, of course, our politicians never consider amidst all this chaos is that 'it might just be you'. In fairness, lest we be too hard on our own, politicians across all countries, cultures and continents are strange creatures.

But our politicians, even by American standards, are uniquely eccentric: for even if they are relatively normal coming into the Dail – and that's a rare enough delight – they do not stay normal for long.

It should be noted, briefly, that our political animals do generally come into the Dail wishing to improve the world.

Sadly, despite this noble ambition, the tales of Biffo Cowen's Cabinet of the Damned, or Haughey and all his eclectic political flowers like Ray Burke, mean we have been on a bit of a bad run there.

Those ethical pious protesters who would replace the above gentlemen are little better, for most of that crew consist of martinets who want to ban everything from alcohol to ice-cream vans, or curiosities such as John Bruton who have no connection with the world as it is experienced by normal citizens.

Even 'the Brut' is a thing of joy when compared with the new generation of nice to be nice politicians such as the Simon Coveney and Simon Harris brigade in FG, whose ambition is set at the meridian of pious inoffensiveness.

In truth, as the sad tale of Enda Kenny illustrates, normality, let alone inoffensiveness, appears to be a step too far for our politicians.

A vast treasure of taxpayers' money and the intellectual capital of the best spin doctors in town have been expended upon promulgating the illusion that 'Dear Leader' Enda is a 'normal bloke'.

But that particular plan has failed utterly, for the citizens increasingly have cottoned on to the fact that there is nothing at all normal about Enda.

They instead find a strange, politically robotic creature of tics, mannerisms, appropriate smiles, wide insincere grins, stock phrases and maudlin sentiments, who cannot be let out on his own.

Kenny, in fairness, is not unique, for one of the most interesting developments of 21st-century democracy has been the increasingly strange nature of our political class of ethicists, careerists and downright oddities.

Intriguingly, Brian Cowen, of all people, let the cat out of the bag as to how this has evolved, courtesy of his definition of the Dail bar as a sort of sanctuary where you could escape from the horrors of communicating with the ordinary citizen.

Cowen was, however, wrong in one key regard – for the entire Dail, rather than the bar alone, has become a refuge from the real world.

It is instead some strange cross between one of those 19th-century Tom Brown's Schooldays-style boarding schools and a 21st-century priests' seminary.

In this walled enclosure, a mostly male priesthood nurse each other's wounds and engage in a series of political acts that are frankly baffling to the outside world.

Intriguingly, like all decaying cults, it has slowly evolved into a rare example of reverse Darwinian principles where increasingly only the odd, the egocentric and the obsessive thrive.

This is not as curious as it appears to be, for, increasingly, when it comes to success with the voters, an attitude of utter obsequiousness is the first principle of survival.

This starts at council level where after 10 years of behaving like a bleating sheep, our politician is perfectly trained for success in Leinster House.

Here they swiftly learn the only true road to advancement consists of engaging in the political equivalent of Miley Cyrus-style 'twerking' before the 'Dear Leader' and appearing to be the same as everyone else in this political fetish club.

As part of the latter process, our strange political creatures cannot refrain from wanting to talk like Pat Rabbitte even when they are only 25, or to ape the wink-and-nod school of politics practised by Enda, while others aspire, God help us, to become the new Phil Hogan.

In a classic example of the politics of 'monkey see, monkey do', our political neophytes also swiftly learn that to be successful, you must be prepared to not have any opinions.

Within the new Enda-centred autocracy, that would be cheeking 'the boss man' and, like bad girls in Fifties Ireland, those who engage in such unbecoming conduct do not thrive.

You are better instead to bleat and scrape and fawn on your little Twitter account and baste the 'Dear Leader' with compliments at party meetings in the hope that he might appoint you to some obscure junior ministry in charge of something no one has ever heard of.

Of course, one side-effect of this is that only losers, social misfits and idiots can succeed in such a world, for what individual with a degree of independence or irreverence could survive in this moral and intellectual desert?

If you are wondering why such strange creatures do thrive, the answer is simple: all 'Dear Leaders', if given the opportunity, will be chary about appointing clever underlings lest they start to covet their job.

If you are to reach middling-rank office, therefore, you are much better to come across as a flattering fawning fop who is delighted to call the 'Dear Leader' Enda 'the boss man' and who sets their ambitions at no higher a peak than to be a threat to neither man nor beast.

Of course, occasionally a Varadkar or a Deasy or a John McGuinness or a Lucinda or even a Clare Daly sneaks through. Generally, though, they are picked off or isolated by the weird dysfunctional culture of an institution that is inimical to independent thought – or women, for that matter.

One of the strange features of modern politics is that it has accelerated these flaws via a toxic union of the deferential 'herd instinct' and the new focus group 'I am the people's leader, I must follow them' school of politics.

Ironically, our politicians have now become the victims of a political process that sucks every degree of originality out of them in a manner of a deodorised Louis Walsh-style boyband.

But by reducing them to such hollow creatures, the greatest weapon the politician has, that of empathy, has been taken away.

And now, ironically, they are learning the hard way that the politician without empathy is like the snake that is short of a fang.

Some will wonder, given the inevitability of failure, the ongoing eternal contempt of the voter and the dyspeptic culture of the Dail, why do our politicians put themselves through such a life.

The answer, alas, is stark. They genuinely are fit to do nothing else.

Lest you feel too sorry for these strange creatures, do, however, remember one small fact. Ultimately, the real victims of this evolution are we poor citizens who are governed by such a caste of empty vessels.

Sunday Independent

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