Saturday 22 October 2016

In uncharted territory, which new tribe gets your vote?

Published 25/07/2015 | 02:30

In uncharted territory, which new tribe gets your vote?
In uncharted territory, which new tribe gets your vote?

Many saw the 2011 election as the implosion of our traditional political culture as we knew it.

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In truth, it is the next general election that will demonstrate if that theory is in fact a reality or a temporal disillusionment with one particular political party at a specific moment in time.

GE 2011 delivered a seismic shift in our political landscape, but only because Fianna Fáil were decimated in terms of Dáil seats. This time the changes could be more radical and permanent. Political disruption can be pretty ugly in the short term; the aftermath of the last election has thrown up some further imponderables that leave us with a number of significant new factors that will send even the most experienced political pundit running for cover.

Celebrity candidates, Independents, gender quotas and constituency changes loom over the political landscape like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Popular engagement with politics is high: so too is a frustration with the political system itself. Political parties have understandably been fixated on restoring our economy, but in doing so they have failed to offer any social solutions or civic ideals for the future. In an age where celebrity status increasingly trumps hard work, it is inevitable that name recognition is becoming a more decisive factor.

In America, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump lead the race in their respective parties to become presidential candidates. The number one factor that puts them ahead of their party rivals (aside from bags of cash) is name recognition. Enter stage right the "celebrity candidate".

Becoming a household name as the voice of public dissent seems to be a fast shuttle service to notoriety and public acclaim for some of our public representatives. For others, a dramatic revelation while wrapped in the security blanket of privilege is proving a useful tool for hitting the headlines.

Will any of this matter when the chips need to be cashed in? In Ireland we vote local. Building a national platform of protest might be popular, but it could fail to resonate with voters when ballots are actually cast.

The prevalence of a new wave of parties here is a welcome development for public discourse. They purport to offer voters more choice and clarity, but do they? To date they are not demonstrating any new or radical ideas. In fact, they are not even offering new people. These parties are the same people repackaged in different ways. Their inception seems designed not for the electorate, but to make the post-election selection process easier for Enda Kenny.

Adopting the tactic "eye level is buy level" utilised by supermarkets, they sit like a political planogram waiting for shopping day. Neatly bundled together and packaged on the shelf, ready for government, screaming, pick me!

The enforcement of gender quotas is another new development that is already causing waves. Heretofore "shoe-in" candidates live in fear of the dreaded "female" who will be added to the ticket at convention, or worse, win it. To some, the introduction of gender quotas is simply an exercise in placatory, political correctness. To others it is a necessary development to progress the representation of females in our political system.

This week, when former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery, opined that the policy was discouraging young men from entering the fray, female candidates shouted "welcome to my world".

For good or bad, the Government have made good on their commitment on this issue. It will have far reaching, financial and electoral consequences for the larger political parties in a way that this country hasn't seen before.

Last but not least, there are the boundary commission changes which will also deliver significant change. With fewer constituencies than before, internal political battles will be fierce. The number of seats in Dáil Éireann will be reduced from 166 to 158. The only certainty now is that lots of incumbents will lose. A sea of change lies ahead for counties like Donegal, Tipperary and Kerry which will be reduced from two constituencies to one. Geographically, they are enormous areas to cover.

These known unknowns add up to the law of unintended consequences. In 2011 an old political structure shattered. In 2016 the rubble will be swept away. It lasted nearly 90 years, but those old certainties show no sign of being replaced by any future certainty. We are hurtling into the political unknown.

In uncharted territory, which new tribe gets your vote?

Irish Independent

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