Monday, November 17, 2014

That Troublesome Thing, Democracy

It is the nature of being a member of an elite to quickly forget what it’s like to be part of the hoi-polloi. Marie Antoinette, for instance, couldn’t conceive of a situation where people were starving. All she ever knew were sumptuous riches. She had no conception of people not having cake to eat.

Sinn Féin’s inexorable rise in the polls has the Irish political elite just as baffled as the last Queen of France. But how could the elite understand it, when they only ever talk to themselves? If they were to talk to real people living real lives in the real world, the secret of Sinn Féin’s success would be all too clear. It comes about – if you will pardon the infelicitous phrase – through process of elimination.

The current government swept to power on a manifesto of change. But all they changed were the chairs. The music remained exactly the same.

The current government did not stand up to Brussels. They did exactly what Fianna Fáil had laid out for them. The current government did not end cronyism. If anything, they brought it to newer and towering heights. And God only knows what the ongoing disaster of Irish Water will do before that debate calms down.

In the light of all this, you can see how people might be a little bit tetchy. Nobody likes being sold a pup. As for the Government’s greatest victory, the Promissory Note deal and the exit of the Troika – well, what does that mean, really?

The people were told that thirty years of hardship lay in store, thanks to perfidious Fianna Fáil and their crooked builder pals. And now everything’s grand after three years? Either the Government was lying while in opposition, or else it’s lying now. Both statements cannot be true.

So, having tried the strawberry flavour and then tried the banana flavour, the public are going to try another flavour again. And the only flavour left in the shop is Sinn Féin.

The Independents can’t form a Government. If anything, “Independent” doesn’t quite describe that eclectic group, as they nearly all have mother parties from which they are currently estranged.

Lucinda Creighton had the potential to create a new party that would, finally, end the civil war era of Irish politics. She had the moral authority that comes from giving up all she had, politically, on a point of principle, and she had a constituency desperate for change and reform.

But, perhaps through lack of vision on her own part, and certainly through extraordinary cowardice on others’ parts, Creighton could never rally people to her flag. Stephen Donnelly could have brought the Reform Alliance into life, cementing their status as fiscally responsible while take the right-wing Catholic edge off them. But he stayed put, and all Lucinda can do now is wait for Enda Kenny’s Night of the Long Knives and rejoin Fine Gael once Kenny’s head is in Mme La Guillotine’s basket.

Sinn Féin are soaking up the votes because there’s nobody else there. Fianna Fáil remain in ribbons after the 2011 election, while neither Fine Gael nor Labour realise just how betrayed so many of the people who voted for them in 2011 feel. They people didn’t get what they wanted at the last election, so now they’ll give the other crowd a try. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

The prospect of Sinn Féin in power horrifies the Irish political Establishment. As such, the media – who are as much part of the Establishment as An Taoiseach himself – have been bending over backwards to demonise Sinn Féin at every opportunity. But all they’re doing is making Sinn Féin stronger, because anybody can see the extraordinary bias in their coverage.

Mary-Lou McDonald’s expulsion from the Dáil last week is the latest case of this. All the coverage – all of it – dismissed McDonald’s expulsion as a stunt. Nobody was interested in teasing out the story a bit further.

For instance, did anybody ask if Seán Barrett is as even-handed as he ought to be in his role as Ceann Comhairle? Mary Lou McDonald’s isn’t the first name to make his bad books.

Former TD Luke Ming Flanagan has been vocally critical of Seán Barrett too. It’s not Sinn Féin’s imagination. That should make Barrett’s Ceann Comhairle-ship is a legitimate point of debate, but it’s not.

The second point is – does any of this matter? The Dáil’s theoretical purpose is to hold the executive to account, but the country is now run by a four-person junta, comprised of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The junta showed the Dáil exactly how much it mattered during the Irish Water debate. There wasn’t one. Irish Water was set up by fiat, just as things are done in any other totalitarian state.

And that’s why people are willing to give Sinn Féin a go. Because there’s nobody else there and, having been promised reform, the people still seem to kind of want it.

IN order to provide some vague alternative, the extraordinary prospect of a Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael coalition, to “safeguard democracy,” is now being floated. There is no notion that expresses the elitism of the governing classes so much as that idea.

A Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael coalition won’t stop Sinn Féin getting into government. All it will do is delay it, and ensure that Sinn Féin will have even more TDs and therefore more cabinet places in the election after next. If the people vote for Sinn Féin, they have to get them.

There is also the lesson of history in not giving the people what they voted for. Dick Spring’s Labour Party were never forgiven for denying the voice of the people in 1992.

If Sinn Féin get a mandate from the people to govern at the next election that mandate has to be respected, no matter how many stomachs churn at the prospect. That’s what democracy is – the people get to select their government, and not have their government decided by juntas and elites.

If the three establishment parties want to win more votes than Sinn Féin, they would be better off making it clear to the people why they’re worth those votes, rather than briefing against the dirty Shinners and hoping wool will be pulled over people’s eyes. The nation is sick of wool by now.