Two types of candidate dominate modern Irish politics. The first is the crook, who is actually in it for the cash. The money is good, and if he plays his cards right, there could be an opportunity for more.
Then there’s that curious creature: The politics free candidate. The enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a ballot paper. The man or woman who goes into politics even though they aren’t actually that interested in politics in the first place? Surely the same as the first type, you say? Curiously, no. They get the good money, but often they spend much of it getting reelected. They aren’t particularly corrupt, so what are they in it for?
Sometimes it’s family. The father was a TD or councillor, and so they will be. It’s what they do. But ask them where they stand on elected mayors, or a carbon or property tax, or neutrality, and they’ll look at you with the face that says “Why are you asking me this? Why don’t you ask someone in authority?” In short, they tend to not actually have any opinion on the issue. Many of them become cabinet ministers, and still, on day one, arrive in their new departments not with the thought “Finally! Now I can do something about X!” but instead tell their secretary general to keep on doing “Whatever the last fella was doing.” The party tells them what they believe, they memorise the talking points, and you see them three weeks later on The Frontline blankly declaring that loading Jews up on to trucks for “evacuation” is a perfectly reasonable policy. Not because they are bigots or intolerant, but because that was what it said on the piece of paper.
But here’s the thing: Never mind them. To them, it’s a 9 to 5 job, a means of paying the bills. Ask yourself: Who are the f**kwits who vote for them? Who are the people so devoid of any idea as to what they would like their society to look like that they vote for these guys, the equivlent of a jug of tepid room tempeture water, because iced water would be leaning too much to one side of the water tempeture issue?
See them? We should be rounding them up on trucks.
It’s a uniquely Irish concept. In other countries, parties brag about how well their candidate is doing. Not in Ireland. In Ireland, candidates, especially ones defending a seat, play up how desperate things are, how bad the campaign is going, how “the seat is gone”. There is nothing a candidate hates more than people saying she’s a dead cert, because in Ireland that’s political death. More people have gone into an election as the dead cert and come out with less votes than Gary Glitter at a National Association of Creches AGM.
It’s all to do with the second guessing poker nature of the Single Transferable Vote system. STV is a logical, rational and fair voting system which gives voters a wider choice than almost any voting system in the world. It asks voters to select their candidates in order of preference. As a result, there’s little chance of wasting one’s vote on an unelectable candidate.
But it never expected that it would have to deal with the Irish psyche, and voters who don’t just consider who they’d like to elect, but who they think other people are going to elect too, and so discount their own vote and transfer their vote to their second choice in the hope of getting a second bite of the cherry. It’s hardly surprising, as this is exactly the same way Irish people choose their third level educational future through the Central Applications Office. They’re asked to pick what course they really want, and instead enter what course they think they’ll get, and are then disappointed when they miss the course they actually wanted in the first place. They then vote the same way.
As a result, you have party voters who decide that Party X’s candidate A is a definite, and so instead gives their first preference to candidate A’s running mate, to give her a chance at taking a second seat for the party. The problem is that large numbers of candidate A’s loyal voters are all thinking the same thing, and so the running mate gets elected and candidate A is surprisingly defeated to the shock of all, with voters looking blankly at each other with a “Jaysus, if I’d only known. Sure everybody I know said they wanted him in!”
How do you prevent it? Vote for your favourite candidate first. It really is that simple. Really.
It’s a hard wired genetic response, whether it is to exploiting natural resources offshore or fracking or even postcodes. A section of the country just can’t help itself, and comes out in opposition to everything. There is even a standard pattern:
1. A proposal is made by a company or body. The benefits in terms of revenue or employment tend to be so over-hyped as to trigger scepticism everywhere, even amongst people in favour of the project. Why do we have to oversell everything?
2. In the area concerned, muttering starts, normally led by a local nut who votes No in every referendum and disconcertingly mentions the Bilderberg Group and fluoride in every conversation. But he’s retired with time on his hands and is a wiz with mail merge, having the database from previous local campaigns such as “Stop Dublin stealing our clouds!” and “No to WiFi near St. Enda’s. There are children there for God’s sake!”
3. The usual malcontents, Sebastian from South Dublin, furious with Daddy for running away with Olga from Olgastan and making Mummy cry and tell them that “they have to be the man of the house now” after a bottle of Tia Maria during Murder She Wrote, arrive to “smash capitalism” (Daddy was a capitalist) and stand up for the “ordinary people” in the area.
4. The local opposition TDs and councillors start calling for an independent public inquiry because that’s what they always call for, and it’s not like they have to fund it out of their expenses, is it?
5. The planning process gets bogged down in court injunctions and walkouts and demands for a tribunal into the planning process. Vague allegations of corruption are applauded by the usual paranoid mob. The integrity of the process hinges entirely on whether it agrees with the No side.
6. Planning permission is granted. It is appealed to An Bord Plenala. They approve it. It is appealed to the High Court, then the Supreme Court, then the European Court. Judicial corruption is alleged every step of the way. Huge legal bills are run up by the protesters who then complain of being economically ruined by huge legal bills they ran up travelling through a legal system they “knew” to be corrupt in the first place.
7. The opposition wins the general election, and sets up a public inquiry because it has nothing better to do. The opponents of the project do not contest the election declaring the political process corrupt and “exclusionary to ordinary people”. You know, like voters. On polling day a group of young protesters meet to beam positive energy at the ballot boxes as they are carried out by the Guards.
8. The public inquiry approves the project. The protesters accuse it of being corrupt, and announce a campaign of civil disobedience, which seems to involve a lot of interpretive dance and giant Macnas style heads. One protester sprains his wrist when a giant Che Guevara head falls on him. He sues the state for not banning giant heads of South American communists.
9. The project starts with much civil disobedience, delaying the project’s completion by years. When it is completed, and starts providing tax revenue to the state much later than planned because of the delays, the people who delayed it are first in the queue with demands as to how the money should be spent.
10. 20 years later, when the project is no longer viable, the people who originally opposed it demand it be subsidised by the state as a vital contribution to the local economy.
“We’re not taking it any more! It’s time the country be taken back by the ordinary people! Feck the bankers and the political parties! It’s time for a country based on social justice and equality and housing and health and education as rights! Yes to free healthcare! Yes to free education! Yes to…sorry, say that again…you want to pay for free healthcare by doing what?…means testing children’s allowance….now, hold on a minute there…putting Capital Gains Tax on private residences…wait there one minute now…the rich should pay higher taxes, but not ordinary people like me, yes, I know I bought my house for €300k and it’s now worth €500k, but that’s MY MONEY….tax MY profit???….to fund free healthcare and social justice?…….get away from MY money, d’ya hear, that €200k profit is MY money, not yours! Get your stinking thieving hands off my filthy lucre!”
I knew your father/mother/social welfare officer well!
The first election campaign I was ever directly involved in was the 1991 local elections, where I canvassed for Jeananne Crowley in the Pembroke Ward, a seat I’d contest myself in the 1999 elections. After that, I campaigned in local, general, European and by-elections, and in a number of referendums. And that’s not counting the internal party elections I campaigned in. Between 1991 and 2005, when I resigned from the Progressive Democrats, I experienced a fair bit of Irish politics, and came across what I would regard as fairly solid general rules of Irish politics. They are general, there are always exceptions, but broadly speaking I believe they’re true:
1. With the possible exception of Sinn Fein and the Alphabet Left, and maybe in by-elections, there is no longer such a thing as party machines in the traditional sense. Successful candidates have to effectively build their own teams of, for the most part, personal loyalists. Many if not most of the party members who turned up to vote at the convention will not end up knocking on doors.
2. Irish people vote for people over ideas nearly always. People are far more likely to vote for a person they like but disagree with politically over a person they agree with but dislike.
3. It is possible to be interested in the politics of ideas, or the politics of winning elections, and never have anything to do with the other. Indeed it is getting more and more likely.
4. The one characteristic a successful candidate absolutely must have over everything else is physical stamina, and a willingness to keep knocking on doors and talking to people over and over again. It is possible for a stupid candidate to be elected again and again. A lazy candidate will probably only be elected once, and only because he/she is related to someone.
5. The lack of knowledge displayed by voters, and their pride in that lack of knowledge, about how the political system works, and how decisions are made, will never cease to amaze you.
6. By international standards, it is relatively easy for a small group to change things in Ireland if it has determination, courage and organisation. The failure to bring change has usually been because of a lack of one of those three factors. The Provisional IRA and the Progressive Democrats proved that.
7. Irish people take a masochistic comfort in believing that an uncontrollable force, be it the Brits, the IMF, or potatoes, is responsible for their woes, and are comfortable with people knowingly lying to them.
8. “The Rich” are people who earn €15k more than you per annum. “The Ordinary People” are your friends and family.
9. The fact that we ask candidates the same questions in both local and national elections explains a lot about why Ireland is the way it is today.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 26, 2016 in Election 2011
, Irish Politics
Repost: You can hear him in a quiet room, mouth hanging open, air rushing in and out as his dull eyes stare blankly into an imaginary distance. Occasionally, the waft of stale urine will emanate from him. For him, the party is everything, and the affixation or removal of party membership decides his opinion on a person. A party man can do no wrong, and a non-party man can do no right.
The truth is that the party, with its open-to-all-with-a-pulse policy, has provided a social structure to him that exists nowhere else in his life. A two line notice of a cumann meeting is carefully scrutinised a dozen times and then placed on the carefully dusted mantelpiece over the fire where his mother knows not to touch it. Everyday, he takes it down to read again, to just make sure that he has the date and time and location correct, even though all three are the same every month.
He will be at the meeting at least 45 minutes early, with a Club Orange in front of him bought with the €10 his mother gave him, and will twist in the seat every time the door opens to see if a party member is coming in. Read more…
Every time you see or hear him about to speak, you give him a chance. He’s an important senior politician, a leader in our country. His opinion matters.
Forty five seconds in, you’re flicking over to something else. Anything else. It’s not that you disagree with him or what he’s saying, after all, there’s some pleasure to be had screaming “You’re a f**king eejit!” at the telly or the radio. That would mean he’s actually said something.
No, it’s worse than that.
Every single time he says nothing. Every single time. He talks and talks and you can hear the cogs in the brain lining up the next trite offend-nobody vague platitude into the breech to be fired at us.
He’s like a football pundit who doesn’t really have any interest in football.
It’s not lies. It’s not offensive. It’s just nothing. It’s all a bit of a chore, one of those offshore gas drilling platforms that has to burn off the excess gas every while, only with him it’s words, all safe and harmless and meaningless.
We’d actually be better served if he just read out funny words he came across in the dictionary, or told us about an episode of “Elementary” he watched recently, or rolled up a shirt sleeve and showed us a rash and asked us what caused that, do we think?
Posted by Jason O on Jan 11, 2016 in Cult TV
, Irish Politics
1. There was a lot more sex when the Brits were here. I think we banned it after independence, until Gay Byrne discovered it again. For telly that is, not personally.
2. Is it possible that the Holy Joe Rebels and the Workers Republic Rebels never had a conversation as to what sort of Ireland they wanted after the Rising?
3. Seriously, would it have killed them to let one woman sign the Proclamation? Don’t give me the aul “different times” argument. This was supposed to be the new way.
4. A question: what happened to all the southern Catholic unionists? All join Fine Gael?
5. Many of the same Irish soldiers fighting the same Irish rebels would do it all again, much more viciously, in the civil war.
6. If the women of “Rebellion” had been in charge we’d have a republic by the Tuesday. But it would have been a pretty dour country run by a Mary Hanafin type scolding us in a big foldy hat. And shootin’ people for looting.
7. The Brits f**ked up and effectively created the Shinner mystique, wrongly blaming them for the rebellion. Oh, the irony.
8. Surely on the day The Proclamation was just a proclamation before it became The Proclamation.
9. Dublin taxi-drivers haven’t changed: “Sorry love, I’m not going that way. Sure there’s a load of urban guerilla activity up there, and the match is on tonight.”
10. We now know why the Brits stayed so long and why we put up with them: they got to keep their beautiful but icy wives, and we got a good seeing to by someone who doesn’t regard the phrase “Brace yourself Bridget*!” as foreplay.
*Note: I cannot claim to have come up with the phrase “Brace yourself, Bridget!” I so wish I could. It’s a wonderfully evocative phrase. Hats off to whomever did.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 4, 2016 in Election 2016
, Irish Politics
So: eight weeks out, what’s the political landscape looking like?
Fine Gael: the blues are in solid form, with a clear identity, a clear pitch, and a clear electorate. Stability, stability, stability, and keep other people’s hands out of your arse pocket. Won David Cameron an election, that did.
Fianna Fail: in better shape than the media think. If you stop comparing FF to the old days, a party on 17% is doing well in a modern European multiparty democracy. Yeah, there’s a hint of the 1977 manifesto about their pitch, but guess what? There’s votes in that. Don’t forget the FF organisation hasn’t forgotten how to pander on the doorsteps. They’ll do better on the day than people think.
Sinn Fein: If you take the long term view, and they seem to, election 2016 will be another solid step in their Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey strategy. Put it another way: if Labour had been this patient five years ago, we really would be talking about Gilmore for Taoiseach.
Labour: still not sure what their pitch is or towards whom? Labour feel like the old Irish Home Rule party refusing to believe that things have changed. Pity: they haven’t been that bad in government, but they promised so so much. Don’t forget, this happened to them in 1997, and that was when the country actually had money. Labour thinks so much about getting into government they never seem to imagine there will be a moment when they have to go back to the voters.
Renua/Social Democrats: the sushi parties. An acquired taste that some people are mad about but others wouldn’t touch. Both have a fair pitch, almost a mirror pitch. But will they have enough votes to be more than just what-label-are-they-wearing-today? candidates? Would do well in a list system.
Alphabet Left: will do grand giving it loads, up the revolution and all the rest. And refuse to actually play a role in any decision making after the election. The Madonna’s “Vogue” parties. Go on, think about it.
The Independents: the entertainment. I’ll wager that some of these guys by the next election will be some of the most hated politicians in the country, by their own constituents. Mostly for not being psychic about every single on of their voters’ intimate wishes, running away from unpopular decisions, or bringing down the Dail.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 22, 2015 in Irish Politics
Repost: Despite being on the centre-right on most issues, I’m not an ideologue. There are issues where the left are right, and one of those issues, I believe, is housing.
We have, and not just in Ireland, a fundamental problem with providing housing, and it’s this:
There are two types of housing. The first is the simple provision of a home, something which must surely be close to a human right in the modern age. Everybody needs a roof over their heads. The problem is that the supply and demand of that form of housing is being perverted by the second form of housing. That is, the use of a dwelling as a store of wealth and appreciable asset.
That’s the problem right there. Now, before readers get upset, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not against private property ownership nor the right to speculate on the value of that property.
However, I do believe that they are a separate activity from the provision of a home, and should be treated as such.
The truth is that we cannot rely on the market to provide enough high quality supply of housing if the end goals of wealth storage and housing provision are intertwined. The former is making the latter unaffordable by dragging prices up. We see in New York, San Francisco and London formerly affordable working class districts becoming no-go zones to all but the very wealthy.
This is not good, and undermines confidence in the capitalist system. There is a near endless supply of capital available to price the great majority of the population out of formerly affordable parts of our cities, because that capital is seeking a different objective than those pursuing mere housing on a limited budget.
So what’s my proposed solution? Rent control? No. It doesn’t work, and ultimately leads to a reduction in available rental property.
One possible solution is the “middle-classisation” of public housing. That is, the provision, by the taxpayer, of huge amounts of high quality and affordable housing to all classes based on a percentage of income. We need to firmly declare, as a society, that public housing provision is not just for the low income sectors in our society but for anyone who wishes to have it.
It will mean, of course, that society will have to deal with the disgraceful neglect that exists in current public housing provision, and in particular the failure to address anti-social behaviour by neighbours. It means anti-social behaviour contracts that will allow the speedy removal by force of anti-social neighbours. It will mean each housing cluster having a full-time live-in US style supervisor with the ability to enforce the social orders, with security support if necessary. It’ll also probably mean higher public spending and therefore taxes to pay for it.
It doesn’t mean, by the way, that there would be no room for private sector involvement. Whilst the housing stock would be owned by the taxpayer, there’s no reason why its management shouldn’t be regularly tendered out to competitive private bids. In fact, a rental holding on this scale would almost certainly attract professional landlord companies into the Irish market, as opposed to the thousands of tiny amateurs currently in place. Large private rental unit holders may even be willing to be bound by the state rental agencies rules (and prices) and could probably participate too.
The overall objective would be to allow citizens the widest possible choice. Those who wish to own private property could still do so, in a free market made up of solely of others who share their goals, and let the market decide.
But more importantly, those who wish merely to have a home will find that goal decided by a housing supply driven purely by a desire for housing as opposed to investing in an asset, and that is essentially a good thing, surely?