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.
If one were to ask a scientist to come up with a device to measure false outrage in Irish politics, you would expect the needle to at least reach 50% most of the time. It’s hardly surprising, of course, in a system as centrally dictatorial as ours. When most elected officeholders either have no power or do not want to use it (something you don’t hear as much about) they resort to spewing out vast quantities of emotion-load guff about “dignity” and ”esteem” of one group of vested interests or another.
Take almost any issue to do with old people. You can play bingo with the avalanche of grovelling pander that comes out of politicians when anyone suggests that senior citizens carry their fair share. “They have worked all their lives!” is a favourite. Some of them have. About the same proportion of non-senior citizens who have also worked their whole lives.
Then you get the “the measure of a civilised society is how it treats its old people.” Again, this is true. But if you squeeze “financially comfortable with mortgage paid off” into the gap between “old” and “people”, it doesn’t quite sound the same.
But let’s call the truth here. Dignity me eye. We all know why politicians are terrified of old people. They vote. And fair play to them, because at least old people are smart enough to scare the shite out of politicians and use the system to get what they want. For that they deserve admiration.
But please: spare us the puffed out political chests and the “look at my inflated social conscience as I parade it down the street” from politicians who start to believe their own speeches.
Because in this age of media accessibility, it’ll come back to haunt you. This is what happens:
Sure, this isn’t fair at all. Didn’t he do his bit in three county finals and two All-Irelands, and now here he is in Dail Eireann and fellas are asking him about abortion and laws and the like? What’s it got to do with him?
He was sent by the good people of the parish to get St. Handout’s grounds better drained, an extension for the Old Folk’s Home in Ballygrasping, and to get them fancy Dublin lads off the backs of the ordinary people going on about feces in the drinking water and other high falutin’ notions.
Now they’re asking him about laws about what now? Ladies private parts and what goes on it them? Sure what business is that of his, he said on the local radio, until Father Jude rang him up and told him that it is very much the state’s business what goes on in there and had he been reading dirty foreign muck like The Irish Times and Supreme Court judgements? So, you want me to vote for legislation, then, he asks, and your man in the collar goes ballistic telling him on no account should he darken the door of Our Lady of Perpetual Curtain Twitching if he does.
He’s completely confused. There should be some sort of special body set up to look at legislation, debate and vote on it, and stop troubling ordinary Dail Deputies like himself. Sure hasn’t he enough to be doing? There’s that poor woman in Feckerstown whose son keeps getting harassed by the guards just because they keep finding him, by pure coincidence, in the driving seat of stolen cars. Or that man in Goonyaboya who the county council are discriminating against because he keeps putting dead cattle out with the bins for collection. He’s more important things to be worrying about.
We must work WITHIN the alien’s human eating system to achieve change!
His father had been a socialist utopian in his youth, marching in his long hair and droopy moustache For a Marxist paradise. He grew out of it, of course, and now keeps an eye on his pension portfolio, but there you have it. What’s the old saying? If you’re not on the left when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you’re not on the right when you’re old, you have no brain?
Our hero is worse. He has no soul. From the moment he joined the party’s youth section, he was a trimmer with a wet finger in the air constantly turning political direction. He wants to be in politics, but has almost no interest in politics. Ask him what his political values are, and he comes out with phrases that sound like they were tested by a focus group in 1998. He talks about how he is “proud” to be a member of a party, like a 1980s Japanese salary-man singing the Toshiba company song.
Where’s the rebelliousness of youth? Where’s sticking it to The Man? He doesn’t do that. He works with The Man, confidant that The Man will recognise his pragmatic loyalty to the party and reward him with a nomination in the forthcoming local authority elections. Put him on the telly and he wears his confirmation suit and tries to parrot what the party grown ups say. There’s nothing, NOTHING more mortifying than watching a 15 year old come out with stuff like “what young people want is fiscal rectitude and a cut in Capital Gains Tax.”
Remember that old TV series “V”, about the giant lizard mouse eating aliens disguised as humans, who came claiming friendship, and then set up a Nazi youth style organisation? He would have signed up. “We must work with our Alien masters, and as minister of state for Human Consumption I look forward to…”
And most of all, he’ll read this blog posting and think I’m writing about him.
“Reclaim our country!” “Dignity for all!” “Social Justice does not have a price!” “People first!” When you first hear them, you assume they’re from a demonstration against something, declarations nestled in with the obligatory “Careful now!” and “Down with this sort of thing!”
But then you realise that the entire article our hero has written is just a collection of these slogans. In the same article, which seems to travel from one left wing social journal to another, he describes himself as a community activist, whatever that is. For the most part it seems to involve using someone else’s money to complain that Cause X is not getting more of someone else’s money.
He’s a perennial at public meetings and “workshops” and “People’s Assemblies” where he speaks for a good 45 minutes, full of passion and vigour, but leaves you wondering as to whether you are the only person in the audience who notices that he hasn’t actually said anything. Then it dawns on you that the audience is full of people who speak exactly like him, who regard things such as “self esteem” and “respect” as tangibles. They know more “fascists” than Martin Bormann did.
Throughout his career, as a result, he’s never wrong. How can he be? He’s in favour of people getting whatever they want, and against unhappiness. It’s all fluffy and warm and untouchable.
Except for his specific budget, that pays his salary and funds his platform for demanding more funds. He’s up and down that spread sheet with more fluidity than Ajai Chopra, and 20 years from now he’ll be on the Goldman Sachs Social Justice Fund panel.
Working to change them from the inside, obviously.
Repost: He has spent years in the Seanad blocking even the slightest of changes. What’s worse, he has pretended that he hasn’t, participating in every debate and report on Seanad reform and slowed up every reform with the “need for consensus” and “all-party agreement”. The truth is, the little people, the PAYE drones who pay his generous salary, expenses and pension should shut up and know their place, which is existing to fund him, not elect him.
On the other hand, just watch him with his councillor electorate, whom he treats like members of the Court of the Sun King, grovelling and forelock-tugging like an extra on Downton Abbey. If he had to carry a bottle of Listerine in the car for use after ensuring that the lonely farmer councillors had been satisfied, he would.
And now, abolition is on the cards, and suddenly, he’s calling for reform, proposing passionately the same tinkering minor changes that he stalled years ago. Calling for a third of the Seanad to be elected, or the Institutes of Technology to have votes, or some other gracious concession, he can feel his heart racing as he sees the ground possibly go out from under him. He knows it won’t be enough. Either the Seanad will be elected 100%, by real vocational voters, farmers and teachers and workers and artists, or it will be abolished, neither of which fills him with cheer. The Seanad has always been the preserve, for the most part, of the politician’s politician, and now the rabble are going to have a say?
It’s the potatoes, and you can see it when there’s a public demo in favour of a nominally disgraced public figure. Many of the people who march in favour of disgraced TDs or businesspeople are decent, good and honest people. Moreover, they believe in that great social glue that has made this country not the worst place in the world to live: loyalty. They do not see the cold hard facts of someone else’s money, in amounts incalculable to the ordinary individual, being misappropriated, but instead the very human story of a person who has shown them kindness or assisted them in a time of need being persecuted by faceless powerful figures who aren’t from the area. It is the classic Irish story, and it draws from the deepest well of our culture, the one with the sign labelled “dem fellas who are out to get us”.
From the Vikings to the cursed Brits to our own potato betraying us, ours is a story of forces beyond our control putting the boot in. Michael McDowell commented recently about a country that is very big on demanding rights from our institutions, yet also believes it is perfectly acceptable to decide which taxes and laws one will choose to honour. Many of the same people, without any malice, who defend those businesspeople and politicians from globally-accepted standards of law enforcement also demand that the banking system which holds their savings be protected to globally-accepted standards, and see no contradiction.
Why is this? The answer is straightforward enough. From British Rule to today, the Irish people have conspired with their elected leaders to create a society where we are all victims and thus not responsible for our actions. We elect nearly 2000 public officials paid from money taken from our wages, and yet have no problem with nearly all those same elected officials all blaming other publicly funded (but non-elected) officials for decisions that affect our daily lives. Other more logic-centred societies would ask what do we need 2000 powerless public officials for, but not us. We are quite happy with the publicly funded wailer, the Whinger-In-Office, to confirm our hard-wired DNA level paranoia that “You’re damn right! It IS those fellas in Dublin or the EU or the Financial Regulator who is screwing you over!” rather than distill measured options about the choices facing our country into options for debate.
Bitterness and betrayal is much easier to savour than the examining of sacrifice. What do you expect from a country that holds a grudge against a vegetable.
The first time you encounter his racist or sexist or generally offensive tweets you think you have his measure. He’s an arsehole, and you’re tempted to take him on, tweet for tweet. But as you read down his timeline, you realise that it isn’t that simple, because, for want of a better word, he is.
His timeline is one of threats and insults to celebrities and politicians, just barely structured in something vaguely resembling English. Such is his challenged mental faculty that he has rows with his public utilities not through customer service or by email, but by Twitter, revealing to all of us his struggle to deal with day to day life.
Your offence and anger at his obnoxious comments dissipates as you realise that Twitter is all he has, his excited just barely fingertip touch at people he sees on the telly, the only thing that resembles anything close to equality with all those people around him everyday with their newspapers and big words.
Were it not for Twitter, he’d be the village idiot in some small town, the young man “known to Gardai” not as a bad one but as a source of head shaking and sympathy for his poor parents, who are such good people. Were it not for Twitter, he could be dead in a ditch, frozen to death having been incapacitated by alcoholic poisoning, or hanging by his own belt from a door, trousers around his ankles after reading about sexual misadventure on the internet.
Twelve months in, she has that glassy look in her eye when talking to supporters. They remember her on the doorsteps, full of passion and integrity. She was THEIR woman, who was going to go to Dail Eireann and shake up the place and not put up with all that nonsense that went before. Now, as she brings them into the Dail bar, she can barely look them in the eye.
The saddest thing is that she hasn’t cheated them. When she now votes for cuts and against things she campaigned for in the constituency, she’s mortified. She knows she’s letting them down, and they know she knows too. They can see how tired she looks, the bags under her eyes, the fact that when someone walks up to her in the constituency and berates her, an almost daily event, she just stands there and takes it like a scolded dog, ashamed.
Occasionally, she’ll mumble something about “the whip” but her cheeks redden when she throws that old chestnut out. The whip isn’t legal, just a self imposed restraint that TDs cling to, and she doesn’t believe it anyway. She can vote for or against anything she wants, and nobody can stop her, and it’s that which she remembers as she drifts off to sleep and recalls first thing when she awakens. There is no whip. There’s only her.
In the back of her head a tiny voice asks “why are you doing this?” She was never on the radical wing of the party, just a pragmatic problem-solver, and so the idea of rebelling goes completely against her nature. But the little voice tells her to look at the polls and recognise that she and dozens of other silent obedient backbenchers are slowly marching towards a humiliating ejection at the next election, and for what? So that the old men in the party get to be ministers and save their seats and get pensions? Whilst she gets humiliated at the count and gets talked about for years later by her friends and neighbours as “Wasn’t she a TD once? Yeah, but she wasn’t very good. Went up to Dublin and we never heard from her again.” She is actually willing to trade her dignity for the careers of her party betters, which is a certain form of selfless nobility, in a way.
There is probably no activity as entertaining in Irish politics as watching a member of Fianna Fail and one of Fine Gael debating the differences between their parties in front of a non-partisan audience. Curiously, it is a rare enough event.
Stage 1. Both sides nod solemnly in agreement that there is a huge difference between their parties.
Stage 2. When asked about what values separate the parties, the Fianna Failer is first in with “republicanism”. A request for definition is met with a vague candyfloss enunciation, normally with the phrase “social justice” thrown into the mix. The Fine Gaeler claims the declaration as an accurate description of FG values. FF immediately launches an attack along the lines of “well then why did you cut X?” followed by FG saying “sure, what about when you cut Y in government?”
Both sides are broken up and returned to corners.
Stage 3. A second attempt is made at values. A commitment to a United Ireland is mentioned by FF as being “deeper” in FF. FG lists out everything from the declaration of the Republic to the Anglo Irish Agreement. Another fracas ensues with pointed references to personalities in other parties.
Stage 4. A foriegn member of the audience asks for a comparison to conventional parties in continental Europe and elsewhere. Both sides unite to point out that Irish politics has no comparison to any other political system in Human history. “That’s for fucking sure” a voice from the audience remarks loudly.
Stage 5. Economic values are questioned. Both parties immediately descend into a nit-picking “you did this in government” row. FF claims to be a party of the working class and small farmer. FG claims it has support amongst both classes. Both parties dispute being pro-business compared to other parties. An audience member points out that both parties received most of their funding from business. The audience member is personally attacked for having “an agenda”. The actual question about who funds the two parties is deliberately ignored.
Stage 6. Both parties are asked to cease referencing past events and address the future, with a simple declaration of the values that will shape the parties in the future. Both make statements about the future which mention dignity, employment, social justice and prosperity. They are pretty much the same statement. When challenged on this, each points out that the character of the other party means that the other party does not mean what he says. Both then launch into a point-by-point historic nit-picking contest.
Stage 7. Both particpiants take to Twitter and Facebook to attack the event as biased against one party and obviously run for the benefit of the other, accusing the moderator of “bashing” their party. Both are quick to stress that no one cares about this stuff except people “obsessed” with historical events and this has nothing to do with “real” politics.