Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Boys in the Bubble

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Someone wrote once that the reason the Irish media so loves the Labour Party is that the Labour Party, above any other party, guarantees the media something to write about.

Keeping one’s own counsel was never the Labour way. The average Labour Party member seems to believe that theirs is the only party with a conscience. Not only that, but Labour must wrestle with its conscience in the full glare of publicity.

Pat Rabbitte once accused his former Party Chairman, Colm Keaveney, of regularly pirouetting on the Dáil plinth, wrestling with his conscience. It was like a farmer being shocked to discover one of his hens has feathers.

And now, where they only had a empty summer ahead of them, the political writers will have one solid month of a Labour Party deputy-leadership race with which to entertain the nation. (And isn’t it really extraordinary that there are so many more runners for the silver medal than the gold? What’s going on there?)

Once the race is won, journalism will then have a fortnight of sorting through the tea-leaves to see if dissent remains, and then there’ll be the reshuffle. And for all the biting and fighting that will occur over all of that, it’ll look like Saturday night on Lough Derg compared to the holy war that will ensue when the Government tries to cobble a budget together.

The heartbreaking thing about it is that it’s all for naught. Irish journalism is busy watching the band while the Titanic sinks beneath the waves.

Journalism is odd in that it’s both necessary to the running of the state and has nothing to do with governance as such. There is no election for Editor of the Irish Times or Senior Greyhound Racing Correspondent of the Racing Post.

Because it’s not part of official governance, journalism is as much prey as predator. It is a predator to governance and authority, keeping them on the straight and narrow, but prey to market forces, which may destroy its outposts at any time.

And this resolves itself in the eternal battle of what the public wants to know, which will also defend journalistic outlets from predators, and what the public needs to know, which fulfills the fourth estate’s basic remit of keeping the other three estates in check.

The public wants to know if Kim Kardashian had a nice time in Ireland on her honeymoon. The public needs to know what the next President of European Commission thinks about the Irish bank bailout, because that will have a much bigger impact on our daily lives than Ms Kardashian, lovely and all as I’m sure she is.

What does Kardashianism have to do with the Labour Party (deputy) leadership race? Is the race something we like to know about, or need to know about? We like to know about the race, because it’s so interesting. Politics is a real world soap opera, with all the thrills that entails. But we only need to know who wins the race, and whether the result means the Government will collapse before Christmas or battle on into 2015.

Because politics is such a thrilling and addictive pursuit, it’s easy to lose perspective. Because journalists know and socialise with the contenders in the Labour deputy leadership race, they’re drawn into the story, and every little thing seems interesting.

But being drawn in can cause journalists to miss the elephant in the room. While the cosy comforts of the Irish political system may feel like home once you’ve done your few years on the circuit, for the ordinary people of Ireland the Irish political system is a wreck.

While the same suits are shouting the same slogans at each other the country, especially the rural parts of it, is withering away. A friend of a friend is currently home from Australia and he tells a story of himself and twenty other people from his home village all happening to be in the one bar somewhere in Australia one night.

I’ve been to the home village in question. If twenty people were in Australia I am not at all sure who was left, because that place is no urban centre. The foxes will walk the streets of that village in the middle of the day if the pattern continues.

The people voted for change in 2011. They didn’t get it. All the indicators are that they’re fully prepared to take another swing at getting it once the next General Election comes around, not least if it comes around soon.

So while the political creatures cocooned in their Dublin 2 bubble think the Labour Party elections are the most important thing happening today, the people outside that bubble may think differently. The people of the nation, that homely place outside the weird triangle bounded Kildare Street in the west and Baggot Street along the south, really don’t care about political dramas or the point-counterpoint niceties of claiming credit and dumping blame.

They want to know why family occasions are conducted on Skype between the four corners of the Earth this year. They want to know why sick children are losing medical cards. They want to know why the Government can soak up so much money and the people themselves see so very little of it.

They want to know why the Government was calling itself Champion of the World for a deal on Promissory Notes when there aren’t five hundred people in the country who could tell you what those Promissory Notes are. And they want to know all these things now. They voted for change. Why hasn’t anything changed?

This isn’t discontent any more. This is rage. An Taoiseach spoke of the recent election results as an expression of rage, but he sounded like a man who expected that rage to die down. What if it doesn’t? What if it’s only building up? Wouldn’t the press be better served reflecting that, rather than the ins and outs of a competition that won’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone?