Saturday 18 November 2017

And they're off: the great election race begins but, as to where it ends, sadly nobody knows

Emptying of the ballot boxes
Emptying of the ballot boxes
John Drennan

John Drennan

Each election, they say, is the longest, hardest fought one of them all.

However, should Enda stick to his Easter 2016 pledge then our already declared clash of the coalition versus a chaotic jungle of opposition opposites will actually live up to its billing.

Politicians understandably believe every election is critical. Most though are humdrum affairs where the choice essentially is between the 'old reliables' of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

But occasionally the Tweedledumb versus Tweedledumber school of Irish politics throws up a landmark election.

It is happily a rare enough occurrence, but as election fever sweeps through Leinster House like cholera, increasingly it looks as though 2016 (or possibly 2015) is evolving into the most significant election since 1997.

Some would ask why election 2011 is not in that category.

The reason is simple.

In 2011 the result was a fait accompli for Fianna Fail was bunched.

The absence of an Independent surge and the inchoate nature of the Sinn Fein alternative meant that, despite the national trauma, we were having, the election provided us with a scenario where the grumbling Fine Gael/Labour nurses were being dragged out of retirement, to repair the damage done by the Fianna Fail frat party boys.

Outside of noting that on this occasion FF really had totalised the place the only point of difference politically to this grand routine was whether Fine Gael would be able to govern on its own.

Even when it came to policies the debate was essentially a shadow one.

The truth of the matter was that, all of the grandiose rhetoric about burning bonds could not disguise the reality where, whatever shining new administration emerged would essentially be confined to the role of being undertakers to the Troika.

Our next election is somewhat more similar to that most equivocal of affairs in 1997.

Paddy is once again facing the thing he wants least - a choice.

Europe, the ECB and the rest of the foreign devils may be playing an increasingly intrusive role in our affairs.

But, in private, none of these austere institutions want to be sucked back into the Irish swamp.

Instead, a great deal of Paddy's affairs, somewhat unnervingly given his track record are back in Paddy's hands.

Back in 1997 the nature of the choice facing the voter was summarised by a Fine Gael election advert where the voters were depicted as a nice, heterosexual family who trustingly invited a shower of dodgy FF builders into the house.

Unsurprisingly, by the time the Fianna Fail builders raced out the door the place was in ruins.

John Drennan's Guide to Politics - Spring 2015

The next election will change your life. In a special supplement with the Sunday Independent, John Drennan presents his guide to Irish politics.

The message was clear.

Even more unsurprisingly the voters ignored it.

Instead Paddy, given the choice between the respectable Rainbow sober sides of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left and partying with Bertie, went for the latter.

In doing so the voters unleashed a set of events that ensured Ireland would never be the same again though not quite in the manner that they had hoped for.

Now, just like 1997, the even more respectable Fine Gael / Labour successors to the Rainbow are making a similar pitch on the respectability front.

We are though facing into a far more speckled scene when it comes to election 2016.

The most underestimated difference is that in 1997 Ireland was a confident nation which was on the rise.

By contrast, today's electorate are, despite or perhaps because of the ministrations of our Grumpy Old Men, utterly alienated from the political process.

The splintered nature of a political landscape where the ancien regime have justly forfeited the confidence of the citizens and the final organised alternative, Sinn Fein, are viewed with the darkest of suspicion by large sections of the electorate, means politics is in a flux as never before.

The apparent determination of a quarter of the electorate to choose the Independent route has added a further texture of uncertainty to the bubbling chaos.

Perhaps the most significant difference of all, when it comes to what we shall call election 2016, is that this is the first contest since 1922 where neither the various variants of Fine Gael nor Fianna Fail, will be bidding for an overall majority or even single party government.

The political choice in 2016 will consist of either Coalition or, if our politicians fail to seduce the voters or each other, then uncontrolled unconfined chaos.

Given that our seasoned political lotharios generally find some way to end up in bed, even when they don't much like the look of each other at the start of the night, seducing the voters may be a lot more difficult.

A gentle wind of change suggests a Coalition which has squandered the biggest majority in the history of the state could yet struggle home.

But, they have to contend with an emotionally bruised electorate who have turned their face away from a political process that has destroyed their current lives and maimed the futures of their children.

There are no easy choices here, for the alternatives come trailing even darker pasts and grosser sins.

Some simply wish to overthrow capitalism, but one suspects conservative Paddy is not in the mood to embrace the anarchist road ... this time.

In a political landscape such as this, where even the hope offered by new alternatives turns to dust courtesy of the cynicism engendered by the past, all we can say with certainty is that the great election race has begun.

As to when or where it might end nobody actually knows.

Sunday Independent

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