They started appearing through letterboxes about a year ago, and the clever ones boast all the tricks of the trade. Firstly, those from the three main parties will hardly mention politics at all. They’ll be from “Local area representatives”, which is basically a makey up title parties now use for people who haven’t been selected yet. But regardless of the party, keep an eye out for the common features:
1. You can play bingo with them. Look out for “Community”, “Working with”, “Local services”, “Committed to”, “Passionate about”, “Delivering solutions”, “Delighted”, “Resource”, “A strong voice”, “A fresh voice”, “A new voice for…”. They will also tell you how opposed they are to things they have no control over, but will avoid committing to anything over which they have any power.
2. The leaflet will have a slight air of “what the f**k can I put on this leaflet to fill space without offending absolutely anybody about anything?”. Truth is, if they could just post a giant picture of themselves through your letter box without coming across as an awful prick, they would.
3. They’ll talk an awful lot about spending other people’s money, whilst assuring you that it isn’t your money they’re spending.
4. The size of the party logo will depend on how long they’ve been in power. Some Labour people seem to have run out of red ink.
5. The date on the leaflet will be vague, or non-existent, to allow the candidates to use if for months. Yet it’ll be written in a style to give an impression that it’s put out regularly, with phrases like Community Noticeboard or Keeping You Informed or Update on it.
6. It’ll have details on something bizarre that you have never considered, which will make the candidate sound like he/she has got some form of political OCD: “I’m very excited at the news that Fecker Road is to get a new solar powered stop sign. I’ve had to loosen my trousers since I heard the news.”
7. Don’t forget the standard candidate pic: smart casual in front of a local landmark, to remind you that he’s actually been in a place you might recognise. Folded arms are meant to convey business, as if to say “See that sky? I made that.” A pose in front of something bad, like potholes or graffiti will be accompanied by a grimace or frown, to show he’s unhappy, and does not approve of bad things. If he really cared he’d fling his own body into the pothole so that people could step on his back as they pass. If he really cared.
8. He’ll namecheck local areas in a way that makes him sound like Rain Man: “I think what the people of Blackrock, Stillorgan, Deansgrange, Foxrock and Lower Earth Orbit are really concerned about is…”.
9. Just once, you’d love to see the phrase “I’m running for the council because I quite fancy being a TD, and this is the first hoop I have to jump through. If I’m lucky, I’ll be out of the council faster than Jimmy Saville at a Daily Mail readers convention.”
10. Candidates will very rarely mention other candidates’ records. Unlike in the US, where your record in office is examined, in Ireland we actually have people running against crooks condemned by tribunals who will refuse to mention it. Primarily because there’s an unwritten gentleman’s agreement amongst the parties to play nice. Sure we’re all trying to just get elected, aren’t we?
11. See on the leaflet the other party candidates? “The Local Team”? Normally at the bottom of the leaflet in smaller writing than anything else? That’s who they’re actually running against.
By the way, if you happen to come across one that actually tells you what the candidate will do with the Local Property Tax powers THEY ACTUALLY HAVE, frame it! Councillors have the power to reduce the LPT rate, but keep it quiet because it involves making spending choices. Most candidates prefer banging will on about stuff they can’t control, like abolishing the LPT. Stuff they have as much control over as your cat/dog/SkyPlus remote.
Hmmm. How to work SkyPlus? Now there’s something useful for a leaflet.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 30, 2013 in Irish Politics
“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Thomas Jefferson.
The recent poll in the Irish Times (here) provides an interesting link into what has gone wrong in Ireland in recent years. The facts revealed are one thing, in that may Irish voters are just plain wrong about many of the assumptions they make about their own country. But what’s even more revealing about this is the fact that the political establishment, from Fianna Fail to Fine Gael to Labour, seem incapable of grasping the significance of this. The reality is that there are Fine Gael and Labour backbench TDs who are going to lose their seats in 2016 because voters are actually wrong about the fundamentals of how our country is run. There are voters who think that those same TDs are basically helping themselves personally to funds equal to billions! Yet those same TDs are seemingly unwilling to confront that reality. And not just backbench TDs: just look at the government’s lacklustre response to Eoghan Murphy TD’s Tax Transparency bill, which would have addressed some of the issues.
Why is this? Why are Irish ministers of FF/FG/Lab so unwilling to deal with these issues? Some allege the usual conspiracy theories, but it’s actually worse. The reason Irish governments don’t deal with these issues is because of inertia, conservatism, fear of change (“We’ve never done THAT before, minister”) and a general lack of imagination. The truth is that the defining ideology of most of FF, FG and Labour is that This Is The Way It Has Always Been Done.
One feature of the poll, for example, is the fact that most people don’t know or believe that most politicians have taken pay cuts. Some quite substantial. Yet the government has proven almost incapable of making a big song and dance about this because ministers are still quite well paid, and so don’t want to make a big noise and draw attention. Instead they let their achievements go unnoticed and let moronic myths take root in the Irish psyche.
In my time in politics I met people who were convinced that TDs paid no tax, that every TD got a chauffeur driven Merc, that 50% of the population is Muslim, that political parties get millions to pay for election campaigns, that refugees get free cars because “Dublin Bus are racist”, and that (I’m not joking) 50% of the national budget goes on TD salaries. As a political activist, I challenged all this nonsense, and got the “Yeah, but you would say that” response.
So here’s my question: whose job is it, on behalf of the state, to wake up every morning and communicate true facts to the Irish electorate? Not spin, but actual fact about how scrapping the government jet will not allow us to create millions of public sector jobs. In the run up to every referendum, we have a Referendum Commission whose loyalty is not to parties but the voter.
Why can’t we have a permanent Voter Commission whose job is to tell the truth every day, and get those facts out?
Posted by Jason O on Nov 17, 2013 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
TMITP: Yes, we should have a new party!
ME: What should it stand for?
TMITP: Well, it should be for the ordinary people, for a start. You know, the Guards, farmers, young people, old people, unemployed, businesspeople, doctors, nurses, people with disabilities. That sort of thing?
ME: So, everybody except property developers and people associated with banks?
TMITP: Absolutely. Except for Sean Quinn, of course. Or my brother in law, obviously. And yer man who built the clubhouse for the hurlin’ in the parish, he’s a lovely fella. NAMA are giving him a shockin’ hard time, I hear.
ME: And what should the new party stand for?
TMITP: Well, it should be against all these taxes, for a start! and all these cutbacks too! Now, I’ve a sister in law who’s a nurse and she has taken a cut of……
ME: Sorry to cut across you, but you want a new party that supports cutting taxes and increasing public spending?
TMITP: That’s right.
ME: Wasn’t that basically the policy of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the PDs that got us into this mess?
TMITP: Eh…yeah…but they forgot about the ordinary people. A new crowd could, like, do it better.
TMITP: By listening to the ordinary people.
ME: Like say the bus drivers, maybe?
TMITP: That crowd! They should be put up against the wall! And don’t get me started on the teachers!
ME: So, teachers aren’t ordinary people, in your opinion?
TMITP: They’re like royalty. Ah, here’s Tom!
ME: Hello Tom. Yer man here was saying teachers are like royalty!
TOM: Are you joking! My youngest is a teacher! The teachers are carryin’ the country! Carryin’ it! If there’s anyone on the pig’s back, it’s the nurses!
TMITP: Now steady on there! The nurses…
ME: Sorry to interrupt Tom, a quick question: do you think we need a new party?
TOM: Oh, absolutely!
ME: And who would it be for?
TOM: The ordinary people, of course!
ME: Grand. What are you drinkin’, Tom?
IN IRELAND, AS IN EVERYWHERE ELSE, 1+1 MUST EQUAL 2.
A repost in honour of our exit from the Troika programme:
Every political culture has its own lexicon. In Chile under Pinochet, people feared the DINA, a secret police so lacking in subtlety that its official symbol actually was an iron fist. In Ireland, when one wants to speak of an all powerful entity, we speak of The Troika. Curiously, opinion is divided on the fiscally fastidious, neatly attired men and women from the wonderfully acronymned EUIMFECB.
The usual suspects, that section of Irish people forever bent on one knee in permanent victim status, equate them with the Gestapo or some form of evil occupying force, which would be accurate if the Gestapo had been invited into a country with vast amounts of money to spend on maintaining public services. Then there are some who say they are vampires, which is half right if someone takes into account that in ancient legend a vampire could only enter a homestead if he was invited.
There’s the problem right there, the awkward fact that grates with their opponents and negates a thousand exclamation marked People’s Front of Judea posters. The Troika didn’t arrive following massive air strikes on Merrion Square or via Tom Hanks style landings on Dollymount Strand. The Imperial March is not played when they step off their plane. They came because we couldn’t solve our own problems. We asked them to come because the people we elect were afraid to tell us the truth about what we would have to do. We needed someone else to say what we were afraid to say to ourselves. In short, we needed grown-ups.
That’s what really troubles us when he sits down with his laptop and opens his spreadsheet. He asks us questions that we don’t like asking ourselves. You want to fund that item of social spending? Sure. Just tell him who specifically is going to pay the extra tax to pay for it? It’s not an unreasonable question, but in Irish politics, where cramming the words “social justice” onto a spreadsheet is actually regarded as a mathematical answer, that is just bad manners. Hasn’t sone one told him that Irish maths is different from that maths they use in other countries?
Oh sure, there are some reading this who will be livid, but it is all faux anger. In Greece the arrival of the Troika nearly elected a communist government. In Ireland who is the most popular opposition party? The people who invited the Troika in the first place.
But what of the ugliest truth? That when we eventually exit the bailout and the Troika bid farewell, it will be their greatest opponents who will silently mourn their exit? Why? Because when Ajai & Co. have gone, we’ll be faced with an even more powerful entity that sends gut wrenching fear up and down the spine of every elected Irish leader: a body far more terrifying that the Troika because unlike them we can’t tell it to leave.
It is, in short, responsibility for our actions, and since independence, through corruption scandals and church child molestation, it has been the creature that hid in the shadows and frightened us the most. And now, when the Troika leave, and we have to survive by our own effort, it will lunge from the shadows at us, because we will be The Man from The Troika then.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 12, 2013 in Irish Politics
Repost: Originally posted May 2012.
I recently had lunch with someone not involved in politics who had been asked to consider running for a party. He refused, and was surprised at the reaction of non-political friends who encouraged him to run. What was interesting, and I’ve experienced it myself, is how non-political people’s view of going into politics differs radically from the reality.
The first big difference is the cost. It amazes me the amount of people who believe that political parties actually fund candidates campaigns. When I ran myself, friends who helped me could not believe how much time was spent fundraising, having assumed that the party just picks up the tab. I know people still paying off overdrafts from campaigns fought a decade ago. I also know a person who refused to believe that campaign workers weren’t all paid by the party.
Secondly, they couldn’t believe how many party members who demand an input into candidate selection vanish when the campaign starts, leaving candidates for the most part with their own family and friends, often running a campaign with people who are not even supporters of the party. In “The West Wing”, you never saw Jed Bartlett sitting at his kitchen table pleading with friends to give him an hour on a Saturday afternoon to drop a leaflet in an estate, or settling to bring his still half-drunk brother from the night before to drop leaflets with the promise of a dirty fry.
Finally, the sheer amount of time and physical door knocking required stuns non-political people. It always raises a smile amongst veterans when a new campaigner, when asked what they can do, suggests something like “I can help hone your message, spin, that kind of thing?”. This is one of the big jaw-droppers from people who believe that an election campaign is only a month long. That and the realisation that the most welcome contributor to a candidate is not the guy with the campaign politics degree from Harvard but the weirdo wafting of BO who religiously drops 1000 doors every Saturday.
The truth is, not only do normal people not get deeply involved in politics when they realise the sheer effort involved, and the disruption it will cause to their normal work and family life, a new generation of people are not getting involved because they…get this…are actually interested in discussing politics.
What’s that, you say? Surely people interested in politics should join a political party? Actually, no. Don’t. Because there isn’t time with all the above to actually discuss what a given party is for. A candidate who spends his time in a pub discussing political ideas will not get elected. Modern political parties are dominated not by the politically interested but the politically ambitious, people who do not want to do as much as want to be. To them, politics is not an aim but a tool.
Recently, I mentioned to someone the idea of setting up an informal “Chatham House Rule” political debate club that would meet maybe once a month to debate a political issue. No party ding-dongs, just discussion about a given issue, maybe around a motion or policy paper. What surprised me was the amount of party political people whose eyes lit up with enthusiasm for the idea. Not as a forum to further their party interest, but somewhere where they could discuss political ideas that could not be raised in an actual political party.
Somewhere outside of their political activities where they could actually discuss politics, which says it all, really.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 7, 2013 in Irish Politics
Fishambles’ “Guaranteed!”, written by Colin Murphy, telling the partly-fictionalised (although ringing true) story of the run up and night of the 2008 bank guarantee, is both informative and entertaining.
Watching it, I was struck by the atmosphere of the audience, who reacted to certain events and statements within the play in a way that a non-Irish audience would, I suspect, never grasp. For example, during the run up to the night, Murphy has his cast, in a wide range of real and imagined roles, read out actual public statements on events (such as “the fundamentals of the economy remain sound”), which on paper sound perfectly reasonable, but in an Irish context cause the audience almost to sneer.
The 2007 election, where the parties compete in an ever spiralling race to promise greater spending increases and bigger tax cuts, when looked at in this context and within the play, comes across as surreal, yet during the election itself was regarded by most people as perfectly reasonable. During the build up to the crisis, Murphy injects Brian Cowen in a series of comical scenes either singing in public or opening things in his constituency. There is a Nero fiddling air to it, yet one can’t help remembering that certainly the people voting for him (and most Irish TDs) were far more motivated by that sort of activity than the careful surveillance of our financial system.
As it happens, I personally felt that Cowen and Lenihan, and indeed even the Central Bank and the Regulator, come out of the story far better than you’d expect. As the options are laid out to the two politicians, every one of them comes with almost horrific side-effects. Faced with time running out, a serious chance of ATMs actually running out of money, both men come to the dawning. realisation that we are in fact a tiny insignificant nation afloat in a vast global financial system. For all the talk of the EU having too much power, the problem on the night is that Europe is (deliberately) just not integrated enough to deal collectively with the crisis, leaving pretty much every man for himself.
The other eye-catching nugget is how irrelevant our political system is, with the rest of the cabinet reduced to being rung by a civil servant and asked how they vote on a plan that could potentially burden the Irish people with a half-a-trillion euro liability. Sadly, watching the scene, you can’t help thinking it would not have made any difference if any more of the sort of people who make up the Irish political system were in the room or not. Christine Lagarde they weren’t.
Where Murphy really succeeds is in that difficult Sorkinesque task of taking a mass of very complex material and turning it into an engaging narrative.
Banking Inquiry? I’d give Colin Murphy an Arts Council grant and access to the DPP’s files. We’d get a much better return for our money. You can check it out here.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 7, 2013 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
The four main parties have announced plans to ensure that none of the lessons of the economic crisis will in any way affect their plans to inflict yet more damage on the country. A spokesman for the parties said: “It’s very clear, with the Troika about to leave next month and the property market in Dublin recovering, that the potential to get back to our usual short term nonsense is there. This opportunity for Irish politicians must be seized!”
Sources in both the government and opposition are agreed that the following measures should be pursued by the political parties.
1. Political reform. The government is particularly proud of the fact that after nearly three years in office, and plenty of shape throwing about “the New Politics” and that, not only has the government blocked almost all devolution of power, it has actually managed to centralise power even more, to such a degree that now even most of the cabinet are just as uninvolved in decision making as say, your average voter on the 46A, or an Irish bank regulator.
2. Economic Planning. The opposition has contributed towards the plan by telling voters that whilst property taxes are in principle a good idea, it is never a good time to introduce them. The opposition parties have also done their bit to keep alive the “Yes, you can keep your low tax cake and eat a high public spending cake at the same time” ethos of the Ahern years alive. A particular nod at opposition politicians who say that government should not be focussing on water charges but making our water system work, deliberately ignoring the fact that we don’t charge for water being the key reason our water system is malfunctioning.
Ireland’s economic competitors have applauded the stalwart efforts of Ireland’s political class to wreck the country once again. A leading member of the Lithuanian government remarked: “We’d like to thank the people of Ireland for this wonderful spectacle as to how to make an absolute balls of a really good situation with a gutless, intellectually vapid political class. A whole generation of young Lithuanian children now go to bed in fear of “The Irishman under the bed who will wreck our current budget surplus” if they are naughty!”
Posted by Jason O on Nov 5, 2013 in Irish Politics
I recently attended a seminar hosted by Dr Teresa Reidy, Jane Suiter, Prof David Farrell and others on the outcome of the Seanad referendum. One point, made by Prof Michael Marsh, which made a lot of sense, was the fact that because we didn’t carry out extensive exit polling after the vote, we have no idea what voters were thinking. It’s a very valid point. We go to all this trouble to have a referendum, and then have no scientific way of measuring the outcome.
Dr Reidy and Prof Farrell also made very solid points about the need for a proper Electoral Commission to manage elections, registration of voters, etc, and it got me thinking.
If political parties are using business-style marketing methods to influence voters, why can’t we have consumer protection style laws and agencies to ensure that the product we buy, a policy through voting, does what it is supposed to do on the (party) label? Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Oct 31, 2013 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
“We’re gathered here today to say farewell to…”
The Minister for Death, Michael Noonan, has suggested that grieving families may be permitted to use the new LUAS excavations and other roadworks throughout the state as a means of disposing of unwanted cadavers.
“It’s a question of logic, really,” the minister said, easing back into his seat and resting his feet on a grateful Fine Gael backbencher.
“We’re spending a fortune on aggregates, filling in foundations for the LUAS and new roads, and yet we have to put all these bodies somewhere, especially now as we had to abolish the funeral grant. Of course, we’ll have to regulate it. We can’t have people just turning up and chucking granny into a hole, I mean there’s health and safety implications. And then there’s the whole Love/Hate thing too. The Guards’ll want to know who is going in too, in fairness. But the basic idea works, and Leo’s got his department looking at it. Actually, now I come to think about it, I think Leo started looking at this idea before I ever suggested abolishing the grant.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs has proposed that as part of the Irish Heritage Certificate programme, members of the Diaspora could pay to be buried under a piece of Irish infrastructure of their choice.
“We’ve been missing a trick with this, to be honest,” an official said yesterday. “After all, Italian-Americans have been burying each other under roads and buildings for decades.”
Posted by Jason O on Oct 29, 2013 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Brosnan: Will cut a dash at European Council meetings.
The Irish Tourist Board has proposed that the membership of the lower house of the Irish Parliament, Dail Eireann, be replaced by well known Irish actors.
A source in the state agency said: “The thinking is that, as proven by opposition deputies reading Michael Noonan’s speeches back to him, it doesn’t really matter who wins elections in Ireland. The country’s too small to actually control its own direction, so we might as well make politics a bit more interesting for the tourists. How about Pierce Brosnan as Taoiseach, maybe Gabriel Byrne as leader of the opposition? We reckon we could get Martin Sheen to do a few cameos as minister for foreign affairs, and maybe Sharon Corr as health minister, I mean, she looks healthy!
We were thinking of Claire Tully as Science minister, but it turns out that not only is she a model, but she actually has a honours degree from Trinity in Science, so the department vetoed it on the grounds that they’re not going to set a precedent of having a minister who actually knows more about something than they do. Liam Neeson is looking good as Justice minister, by the way. Farrell has asked can he be minister for love?”