It’s the little differences…
1. Ideological parties. It is not true to say that there is no ideology in Irish politics, because there is a left-right divide. It’s just not accepted by most parties. As in the UK, you can vote for conservative status quo candidates or trades union friendly candidates, only their parties will deny that those divisions exist. Unlike Labour or the Tories, there is no major party in Ireland that does not claim to speak for every section of society from public sector workers to business.
2. Thanks to the voting system, there is a wider choice of electable candidates in Ireland. This may come as a surprise to Irish voters, but ask yourself this: when was the last time you saw elected MPs on NewsNight holding positions like Richard Boyd Barrett or Joe Higgins?
3. Irish politicians have a much larger personal vote than most British politicians to the extent that not only can they lose their party label, but can actually defeat their old parties in following elections. It is quite rare for British MPs who choose to change party to keep their seats. In Ireland, the majority of TDs do.
4. Irish politicians, like their US and French counterparts, are expected to deliver locally, especially if they become ministers. As minister for urban renewal, Gay Mitchell openly boasted how he had directed large amounts of money to projects in his constituency.
5. British politicians can build a career in parliament, on national issues, something much much less likely to happen to an Irish politician. In fact, it may even cost him his seat. Jim Mitchell, the chair of the Irish Public Accounts Committee (and brother of Gay, coincidentally) lost his seat after chairing a high profile investigation into tax avoidance, due to spending less time in his constituency.
6. There is no such thing as a safe party seat in Ireland. The PRSTV voting system means that Irish voters think nothing of voting for tiny parties, because under STV voters do not waste votes as in British elections. Also, because Irish voters are used to coalitions, a vote for a small party can still be a vote for government.
7. Candidates can very rarely be parachuted into Irish constituencies close to election time, as say, Tony Blair did in Sedgefield in 1983. Most Irish candidates have to spend years building up a personal vote. Irish candidates are much less likely to have come from a “Miliband” professional politics route through special advisor or parliamentary assistant position, although this is beginning to change.
8. Local government and the upper house of parliament, the senate, are the training grounds in Ireland for contesting parliamentary elections. Most TDs have served in one or the other.
9. Unlike in the UK, where MPs rebel over issues like Europe, Irish parliamentary rebellions are almost never over principle but local issues or the concerns of a noisy vested interest. Whereas hardly any Irish TDs rebelled over paying billions to bank bond holders, they did break ranks over dog breeding and the inspection of septic tanks.
10. The Irish political class is much more united in defending its perks than the British one is, with voters far less likely to expel local TDs for cheating on their expenses or being found to be corrupt.