Sunday 23 October 2016

Diversity is rewriting the rules of politics everywhere you look

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Veteran socialist Eamonn McCann, who was elected to Stormont this week Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Veteran socialist Eamonn McCann, who was elected to Stormont this week Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Diversity is the new politics. Not just in Ireland, but everywhere, it seems. Diversity in every direction too: Independents, Greens, Sanders socialists, Trumpiteers, Brexiteers, ScotsNats - you name it, change and fragmentation of the political map are everywhere.

  • Go To

Look at gender politics: then look at Scotland, where all three main parties are now led by women. Moreover, Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale all got there on their own merit - not a hint of strategic gender balance, or being put in place for reasons of tokenism.

And just to confound the rainbow-Left, Ms Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, is both a cheerful lesbian and an affirmative Conservative. She has just "put the Tory party back on the map" in Scotland, leapfrogging over Labour's poor performance in third place. (Kezia Dugdale, the 34-year-old Labour leader in Scotland, needs to up her political game, however: by coincidence, she is also in a relationship with a woman, although beyond that statement, she likes to keep her private life private.)

And then, at Leinster House, there's 'Enda's Babes' - the phalanx of women he has brought into government in his New Politics. All very able, but they must stop gazing at him in that adoring manner, like proud mammies at their sons' ordinations.

Diversity in age: with young Simon Harris, just 29, at Health and Michael Noonan still at the helm at Finance at 72.

And how gratifying to think that Shane Ross has waited 35 years to place his derriere on the front benches of government! Transport Minister is, to those of us who travel by bus, a very important job. More buses, Lord Shane!

In Northern Ireland, even more impressively - from the viewpoint of longevity - is our old comrade Eamonn McCann, who, at the age of 73, after a 46-year-wait, has finally made it to Stormont as a People Before Profit member in the Assembly. Sinn Féin has lost a bit of ground there, on the Left.

For some time now, Eamonn has proudly borne the title of being the oldest Trotskyist in these islands. But fair play to him - he's stuck to his guns. At 73, he holds exactly the same Marxisant ideas as he did at 23.

A philosophical question here: is life's journey about learning from your mistakes or sticking to your guns? Discuss. And if your ideas at 73 are the same as at 23, does that make you, perversely, a conservative?

Still, the story of Eamonn McCann and Bernadette Devlin (McAliskey) is the stuff of sagas. They were comrades and university firebrands in the 1960s, but it was Bernadette, who electrified the House of Commons as the youngest MP, with her Joan of Arc oratory, while Eamonn seemed to go to the fringes of politics. But her career faltered and now Eamonn is set for the seat of power.

(Bernadette has turned to good works, and ministers to African migrants in Northern Ireland with, I'm told, great dedication.)

'People Before Profit' is a high-minded aspiration. It would appal Eamonn the atheist to be told that it could even be described as a Christian mission (you'll find such ideas in the New Testament), but we will see how this pans out in political life.

The greatest test of radicalism is taking responsibility. When you have to take responsibility for the consequences of your decisions - and face the consequences for other people too - this tempers the processes of your thoughts and actions.

I spent the weekend at a reunion of school pals - old gals, all of us, from our convent schooldays (but hey, still younger than some of the new 'diversity' politicians!) and the discourse around the new Dáil diversity was, as it probably was around the country, mixed.

Simon Harris was praised for his 'hands-on' approach to coping with the floods crisis. But was Katharine Zappone a little too radical for the Children's portfolio? And did she have enough actual political experience to run an important government department?

Well, as the aforesaid New Testament counsels: "By their fruits ye shall know them."

The diversity show rolls merrily on. In London, the first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been elected with a landslide majority. The bus driver's son from Pakistan has done well, although his opponent was hardly inspiring: Zac Goldsmith, the posh-boy zillionaire who couldn't name the next stop to Holborn on London Underground's Central Line. No, definitely not in the diversity category.

But surely, on home ground, Danny Healy-Rae is the very emblem of the new diversity politics. He adds immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation and if it's Danny against Naomi Klein, I'll take Danny any day of the week - the countryman's lore against the metropolitan cosmopolitan's trendiness.

Diversity is dandy, but in the end, the question will be - can it work? Perhaps the greatest example of diversity was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was so diverse that every army command had to be issued in 17 languages. And we know what happened to the House of Hapsburg.

Irish Independent

Read More