Posted by Jason O on May 9, 2012 in Irish Politics
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.