Wednesday 23 October 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Pushing back against the dinosaur parties'

Elections are part of the battle. Deep within the party results there are signs of long-term change

Cartoon by Tom Halliday
Cartoon by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

There are a lot of broken hearts around, in the aftermath of the local and EU elections. A lot of bruised egos, dashed hopes and ruined expectations.

Sinn Fein took a hiding, as did People Before Profit.

Labour seem still to be regarded as wholly unreliable. They'll not only say one thing and do another but they'll then indignantly claim they did nothing of the sort.

(And they'll immediately add that even if they did they were quite right to do so).

Fianna Fail are still being treated with deserved contempt, but not nearly as much contempt as they deserve.

And, of course, Fine Gael are currently being laughed at by most of the population. The swinger party.

The Greens got a boost, but even they were cast down when the boost wasn't as big as at first believed.

All in all, I think things are going as well as can be expected.

It helps to stand back, stop thinking solely of political parties. Look at the broader shift within society, and where it might be going.

For a start, there were lots of young people involved this time around, idealistic and energetic. The disgraceful behaviour of Labour in 2011 drove a lot of young people away from politics. It's good to see that didn't last.

Take the long view - it looks a lot better.

Take 1981. Politically speaking, 1981 was the Ice Age. If anything shifted, it did so in fractions of a millimetre. Here's a truly awful statistic: in the 1981 General Election, FF/FG/Labour took 91.7pc of the vote.

Everybody else got to share just 8pc between them.

In that Ice Age, either FF or FG governed. The Labour Party's function was to get a handful of ministerial jobs, shared among those who dominated the party, in exchange for propping up one of the bigger parties.

The fact that more than 90pc of the vote was sewn up sucked all the choice out of parliamentary democracy. You could vote to allow FF to continue doing what it was doing; or you could vote to allow FG to continue doing what FF was doing.

The good news is that by the 2016 General Election, the 91.7pc had shot down to 56.4pc.

And in the locals last week, the three dinosaur parties got 57.8pc between them, suggesting that the slide of FF/FG/Labour (the Profit Before People Alliance) isn't a passing thing.

Now, unfortunately, that doesn't mean there's been an inrush of democratic choice. A great amount of space is taken up by the people I think of as the Constituency Patriots.

They'd do anything for you if you live in the constituency. If you had trouble breathing they'd loan you a lung, in the hope you'd give them a No 1 next time around.

Their entire political existence is bound up in getting re-elected by snagging goodies for the constituency. They will vote for anything, they'll kill off anything, as long as they get some goodies from a minister.

These careerist creeps would back the removal of medical cards for the terminally ill if they could have their own constituency excluded.

The constituency patriots, and those who vote for them, quite blatantly despise the rest of Ireland. Anything going to anyone outside their constituency is a source of resentment.

It happens in Dublin, but it's a predominantly rural thing. And the constituency patriots are experts at the old, "Ah, lads, them bastards up in Dublin are out to get us, so they are".

We are a small, homogeneous country. City and country are bound by family and history - anyone falling for that nonsense is a mug.

Some of the pain and the broken hearts abounding after last week has to do with how can the electorate be so ungrateful?

How can about 50pc vote for such obvious chancers and incompetents as Fianna Fail and Fine Gael?

How can the electorate forgive the Greens their role in the great theft of public money in 2008, when they helped FF/FG stiff us, by bailing out the bankers and the developers?

How can anyone vote for the protectors of the vultures?

How can anyone vote for the Landlord Parties?

Why did three councillors who featured in a Prime Time Investigates programme top the poll?

Is Hughie 'I Want Loads of Money' McElvaney the best that Monaghan has to offer?

How come fewer people voted for Lynn Boylan than voted for Barry Andrews? She has an excellent record of campaigning on issues; he's a privileged son of Fianna Fail, rejected for the Dail in 2011 after a spectacularly unremarkable decade as a TD.

Answer: there's an entrenched FF base. They had to put someone up for the mugs to vote for, and Dustin the Turkey wasn't available. So, they slapped a photo of Barry on the posters and the mugs did their duty by the party.

Boylan may have paid a price for SF's promise to consider coalition with FF/FG.

Hopefully she'll get into the Dail.

Clare Daly is not merely radical but a parliamentarian of a standard that most of the FF/FG crowd couldn't dream of reaching. If she was in FF or FG she'd already be well into a shining ministerial career.

But she's not a constituency patriot, she's not a self-server, she's not a party hack, she wants real change for the broad mass of the people, and that's not a career thing - it's a lifetime's work.

One black woman elected - about bloody time. And at least one smug little racist shown the door.

On the night of the 2011 General Election, when FF was getting its comeuppance, poet Theo Dorgan was on RTE. He stood back from party politics and he said something this column quoted before and is about to quote again.

"People are going through a strange, slow-motion crash of the State," he said. The people broke FF, and would now give FG a chance.

"Nothing in this election has persuaded me that FF, FG or a great chunk of Labour understands just exactly truly: a) How desperate the situation is; b) How powerless the old politics is to deal with it."

Dorgan concluded: "A new way of thinking is struggling to be born." And that's still true.

The Profit Before People Alliance still dominates, but it has nowhere to go. Its great cry is "Stability!".

They warn against change, they promise stability. Their "stability" created a fake boom, from which many of their paymasters got rich. Their stability crashed the economy, broke the banks, loaded billions in debt on to the people and got us a reputation as beggars.

Their politics destabilised the housing market, made thousands homeless, knocked the floor out of the public health service, and turned us into money launderers for tax-dodging corporations.

A good one-third of the voters are cool with that. They benefit from it.

FG are angry. Not about what has been done to us. They're furious with Maria Bailey because swing-gate has people laughing at them.

Hopeless timeservers.

Tradition dies hard, people fear change. They think the good times will return.

There's hope in the fact so many of our young believe in tolerance, in change, in the urgency of saving the planet, and are not afraid of the world's beautiful diversity.

How the people vote, how they fight, will change. We're still in the game.

Sunday Independent

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