Monday, December 06, 2010

Asking Turkeys to Vote for Christmas - the Need for Political Reform

One of the gentlemen on Marian Finucane’s panel yesterday morning suggested that the people should vote very, very carefully the next time out, and vote for candidates who put the national interest ahead of the local interest.

Which is fine, if such candidates are on the ballot. But such candidates are very seldom on the ballot, because the system is set up to discriminate against them along every step of the way.

Irish politics is not ideological. It is local and tribal. You vote for the local man, who then goes to the tribal gathering known as Dáil Éireann, and returns on the Thursday evening train with goodies to reward the faithful. While the members of the other tribes look at the bonfires in the distance and wish that they had such a warrior who brought home such bounty. That is the system as it is, though we are loathe to admit it.

There is a theory that this exists only in rural – meaning backward – Ireland but An Spailpín reckons it’s deep in the bones of the Irish people. For instance, An Spailpín would be interested in a price on John Gormley retaining his seat in Dublin South East, a constituency noted for being as far from the backwoods as it’s possible to be.

Are there enough people in the constituency to note that, while he saved both stag and squirrel, Gormley was equally if not even more busy in defending his constituency against that nasty incinerator at Ringsend? An Spailpín reckons there are. Time will tell.

Your correspondent is most familiar with Mayo of course, and that scared land currently serves as an excellent example of the dilemma that people are in once it comes to casting a vote in the current system. Do you vote locally or do you vote nationally?

Local needs clarification here. Local does not mean Mayo; local means Ballina, Castlebar, Westport, Belmullet, Ballinrobe, Ballyhaunis, Claremorris. Mayo is a huge county and is not one tribe. It is a number of tribes, all in competition with each other for what its warriors may bring back from the Great Gathering of the Tribes that is Dáil Éireann.

There is currently talk of Dara Calleary’s, Fianna Fáil’s bright young man on the national stage, seat being in trouble. The revealing thing about this is the question of where will Calleary’s vote go? The chances are it will elected Fine Gael’s Michelle Mulherin, which the big scoreboard sees as a shift to Fine Gael.

But it’s not. Michelle only gets the vote because she’s also from Ballina. If Fine Gael did not have as strong a candidate as Michelle in Ballina, there is no guarantee that those disillusioned voters would go to her.

The party doesn’t matter. The tribe does. The resulting party alignments in the Dáil are nearly co-incidental to the deals done on the ground that get people elected in the first place. Not quite, of course, but you couldn’t tell me that Noel O’Flynn of Fianna Fáil and Michael Ring of Fine Gael share more characteristics than they have differences. The only separator is geography. The only separator.

Twenty years ago, Mayo was divided in two three-seat constituencies, Mayo East and Mayo West. Ballina was in Mayo East, Castlebar was in Mayo West and a half-hour drive from one to the other showed you exactly what having a local man in a position of power could do. The roads around Castlebar were first world, the roads around Ballina third world. So much so, in fact, that in the mid-nineties some tourist brochure described Ballina as being “only a fifteen minute minute drive from a main road.”

That’s the system. Political scientists don’t like to identify as such between elections, but when the psephologists number-crunch during the election note that they pay very close attention to where the ballot are from as they are being opened. So Beverly Flynn getting re-elected isn’t a mystery – Castlebar people voted for the Castlebar candidate. Simple as that. The rest was just white noise to them.

If people are to vote for the national interest then the voting system must prevent them for following the first rule of all living creatures, which is self-preservation. The system as it currently stands implores the voter at the next election not to vote on who will govern and how, but on whether the hospital near them or one far away with get closed. Because if you don’t vote local then the other fella will, and you get hanged. And it’s far too near Christmas for people to volunteer as turkeys.

Political reform now.