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Voting to change for change's sake is just political Tinder

Sarah Carey


Promises: Election posters outside the Department of Finance in Dublin. Photo: PA

Promises: Election posters outside the Department of Finance in Dublin. Photo: PA


Promises: Election posters outside the Department of Finance in Dublin. Photo: PA

RTÉ Radio 1 called, asking if I'd be available for election analysis next Sunday - the day of the count.

I accepted and then promptly panicked. While I hold strong opinions on politics, I'm a long way from Noel Whelan-style pronouncements on transfers on the eighth count in Longford-Westmeath that "those votes won't cross the Shannon".

So I began doing some homework, beginning with a glance at the results of previous elections.

I had completely forgotten that in 2011, Labour won 37 seats. Now it is reduced to a mere seven and struggling to hang on to those.

The sheer volatility of recent elections only goes to show the incredible risk people take when they decide on a career in politics. "Resilience" is a popular buzzword these days, and it takes some resilience to give up a decent career and throw yourself at the mercy of a fickle electorate.

I despise fickleness. For me, loyalty is a core value. There's no credit in jumping on a bandwagon in the good days. Loyalty derives from compassion and mercy. To stick by someone requires an understanding and forgiveness of flaws, because even the best of people can struggle or fall down in hard times.

So I think about the people who voted Labour in 2011 and promptly abandoned them in 2016 and wonder - what did they think was going to happen?

Presumably they voted for "change" in a backlash against established parties such as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. But that vote came at a time when we were officially bankrupt and depending on, if not kindness, then the mercy of strangers.

So, while Yanis Varoufakis made everything worse in Greece by selling a fairy story of rebellion against capitalism, Labour and Fine Gael knuckled down and dragged us out of bailout in record time.

Some claimed, and still claim, this amounted to capitulation. They still drool over the rock star Greek finance minister who ditched politics and rode out of town in his leather jacket and shades, leaving the Greeks foraging for food in bins.

Do those who complained back then recognise now that we took the better path?

The Nobel Prize-winning economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo say that "the best economics is frequently the least strident". So it is with politics.

The speed with which the economy recovered under the leadership of Brendan Howlin and Enda Kenny demonstrated that pragmatism and hard work, not strident demands, is the path to success. There was no magic solution. There never is a magic solution.

In 2016, those fickle floating voters once more sought salvation in change.

Outspoken Independents and popular socialists sucked in those gullible enough to believe that straight-talking and emoting count as policy-making.

But fine words don't translate into miracles. All we got was paralysis.

And now we face a new election in which apparently people are still seeking change. This time we are not in a trough of economic disaster, but the rut of success.

Our problems are not those of deprivation but excess. There aren't enough houses. Traffic ruins the quality of our lives. Parts of our health service are working well but the lack of beds and doctors creates bottlenecks.

People are frustrated, wondering why the problems that government should solve get worse instead of better. Surely change is the solution?

But change to what?

Look at America and Britain and the disasters of Trump and Brexit.

Both were driven by large swathes of people who gave up on the establishment. Their lives were so stuck, they figured that if the current lot couldn't solve the problem, surely change was the answer.

At the very least, it couldn't be any worse, could it? But it could. And so they voted for Trump in all his vile recklessness.

They voted for Brexit - an act of extraordinary self-harm. Those who believed that any change was better than no change haven't yet accepted they were wrong. That's because it is easier to blame others than admit one's mistakes, but also because economies move so slowly that the consequences of policies are slow to take effect. So how will those with this insatiable appetite for change vote this time? At this point, both the Greens and Sinn Féin are riding high on the change wave.

Let's say they do well, and let's say either or both end up in government - anything is possible at this stage.

Sinn Féin has launched a 1970s-style manifesto packed with outlandish spending that can never be delivered. Believe in that manifesto and you'll believe anything.

Other people hope that the Greens can turn the climate ship around.

But will they be the new Labour in a few years' time? In on a high tide in one election, out in a rage of impatience the next?

And so the floating voters irritate me.

Jumping from party to party hoping this is the one that will work. It's political Tinder. The 'Love Island' of governance.

When I join the other analysts on RTÉ Radio 1 in eight days' time, we'll watch the votes being counted and wonder what it all means. I say you can count on this: if you vote for an easy answer to a complex question, then the answer is probably wrong. Also, if you keep changing, by the next election, there'll be no one left to change to.

Irish Independent