Saturday 21 April 2018

A 'mock' election that may hold up a straw in the wind for the Big One

The Carlow-Kilkenny by-election is anything but irrelevant, writes John Waters. It may portend the imminent normalisation of Irish politics for 2016

Kathleen Funchion with John Waters
Kathleen Funchion with John Waters
David Fitzgerald
John Waters

John Waters

Elections bring for candidates an odd shift of grammar. Normally, a politician is called upon to be unwaveringly serious, to absorb with due gravity every detail of each voter grievance and reprimand. Arising from this demand of their calling, the more successful politicians acquire an outward demeanour often indistinguishable from priestliness.

An election requires this demeanour to be maintained, while at the same time requiring the politician to act the fool for the benefit of photographers at a nanosecond's notice. There's an unwritten rule of campaigning that no football manifesting within the vicinity of a candidate should remain unkicked. Hard hats have an invisible notice, seen only by canvassing politicians, commanding: "Wear me and grin."

The protocol of the photo op is nowhere written down, but is understood by everyone, despite its attendant absurdities. The politicians know the rules: the madder the pose, the more likely a show in the paper. The public recognises the meme but knows that this is "the kind of thing you do during elections". It's as if we require of our politicians to exhibit simultaneously both gravity and a capacity for silliness - perhaps because this reassures us that they are human underneath their competence.

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