Monday, February 15, 2016

The Ungrateful Electorate

Nearly half-way through the General Election campaign, it's beginning to look as though the Government’s master plan was to sit back and humbly accept the gratitude of the Irish people for the fine job they were doing. If Enda and Joan have a Plan B in a filing cabinet somewhere, right about now would be a good time to haul it out.

To get elected on the basis of the gratitude of the electorate seems a tremendously stupid idea for experienced and professional politicians to toy with but, perhaps unbeknownst even to themselves, this seems to have been exactly the Government’s plan. Stephen Collins, who has given up all pretense at being anything other than a Fine Gael cheerleader as he approaches retirement, echoed this in his piece in Saturday’s paper. “The people will surely realise how lucky they have it,” was the message between the lines of his article.

Well. They surely won’t, actually. Electorates are a mean and suspicious bunch, generally. They are always on their guard against sellers of chocolate teapots, as they ought to be – they seem to buy one every time out, after all. But instead of accepting their fate, the electorate seems to insist on reacting according to how they themselves see the country, rather than as how the political insiders see it. One day, they dream, they’ll elect a real teapot, and finally have a good cup of tea. One day.

This, perhaps, is the salient point in this most depressing of elections. It’s always been the case that there has been a distance between the ruling elite and the plain people of Ireland. John Waters explains it brilliantly in Jiving at the Crossroads and, while the country is far better educated now than it was in the 1980s, the elite still seems safely cocooned from what real people are talking about in the real world.

The rise of Sinn Féin in the current campaign is the textbook example of this. Sinn Féin always under-perform their polling, says a studio expert. Gerry Adams made a shocking balls of that TV debate, thunders an op-ed columnist. Marian Finucane has a Dr Julius Hibbert-soundalike on to talk about the – a-ha-ha – long and proud history of the Special Criminal Court, making no mention of a junior minister’s husband and special assistant’s time up before that very same dock. No point muddying the narrative, after all.

And despite all that, here are those dirty, dirty Shinners rising in the polls all the time, and in line to pick up second seats in several constituencies. And every one of those bonus seats is another step closer to power.

Sinn Fein’s rise will be watched with both glee and concern by Fianna Fáil. Glee, because although they are loathe to say it, there is a considerable tranche in Fianna Fáil who will coalesce in Government with Sinn Féin in the morning if only they could. Concern, because if the Shinners could steal the SDLP’s clothes in the North, what’s to stop them doing the very same to Fianna Fáil in the south?

Sinn Féin know how close power finally is too. Reader, have you noticed Eoin Ó Broin’s absence from Sinn Féin’s media appearances? Ó Broin is the mastermind – if that’s the word – behind current Sinn Féin economic policy, but the party is cute enough to keep him under wraps during the election, for fear of his insights – ah, threatening the recovery.

If the Government were serious about taking out Sinn Féin, they would forget about the history lessons. They would smoke out Ó Broin and make him do some sums. Hard sums. Instead, they keep harping on about the past as if the Bay City Rollers were still at the top of the charts.

The Government has the same tactic when it comes to tackling Fianna Fáil. The Indo reports that Fine Gael are to remind the electorate of “the gross and abject contempt which the Fianna Fáil party had for the people of this country,” in the words of An Taoiseach himself.

Well guess what Taoiseach? The electorate gave Fianna Fáil its worst-ever kicking for that offence five years ago, and handed you more power than any other Fine Gael leader before you. You will be judged by how you used that power.

The current Government was elected at a time of crisis and had a unique opportunity to end civil war politics for good. It failed. Enda Kenny could have led a minority Fine Gael government that would reform the state as it approached its hundredth birthday.

Instead, he chose to coalesce with Labour, his theoretical ideological opposites, because that’s the way things have always been done. Anyone who had hope for reform should have got a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach when that happened. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The Government wants praise for the recovery. The recovery that was engineered by the last government, and overseen by the Troika. But we made the hard decisions! wail the Government. Yes, they did – and blamed the Troika for every lash. Those hard decisions can’t be the Troika’s fault then and evidence of Governmental prudence and far-sightedness now.

The Government says only it can be trusted to be fiscally prudent, while shooting down the best and fairest tax they have. Do they know what they’re at at all? Have they really thought all this out, or did they think they just had to turn up and wait for the cheers?

In the final days of the election, the electorate will have to deal with the prospect of a hung Dáil. A hung Dáil is infinitely more frightening to the politicians than it is to the electorate. You see, reader, for once, the Government is right. When in Opposition, the current Government made much of Ireland having lost its economic sovereignty, and this is still the case.

Every Irish budget from here on in will be signed off by a list of people and European institutions. Frau Merkel, God bless her and keep her, doesn’t care if the homework is done by Enda Kenny or Mick Wallace, as long as the sums add up. Everything else is a detail.

Besides; seeing the scoop monkeys attempting to do their sums may be light relief for her as she faces the twin threats of the rise of militant Islam in the West and a Russia desperate for a war to distract her populace from her own issues of governance in the East. Domestic Irish politics is students’ union stuff in comparison.