One of the interesting features of the acclaimed Danish political drama series “Borgen” is that the prime minister, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, does not have a majority in the Folketing, the Danish parliament. This is quite normal in Danish politics, and means that the government has to interact with parliament and the opposition parties in order to get legislation through. This involves debates, compromises and occasionally accepting opposition amendments and bills that the government would ignore if it had a majority. The flip side of this is that the serious opposition parties, whilst occasionally proposing bills, have to be careful because there is a chance that their bill could become law, and could effect Danish voters despite the fact that they are not in government.
As I watched this, I wondered would such a scenario really be such a bad thing in Ireland? Supposing FG and Labour lost their majority at the next election. Now, it’s true, we have been here before, when the first Ahern administration was propped up by independents demanding stuff for their constituencies. But that was when we had loads of money. Would Irish voters be as easy on a government in the current climate which gave in to similar electoral blackmail now? I’m not so sure. I could be wrong, but given that pain is now so widespread, I suspect that blatant pandering to one area over another might cause a government as many problems as it solves, especially with its own backbenchers who will be labelled as useless in their own constituencies.
But look at the other option: remember the Tallaght strategy. Supposing FF or even Sinn Fein in opposition abstained on electing a minority government in return for week by week negotiation on legislation and the budget. I’m not sure that would be the worst thing in the world. Some will say that we need “strong” government but that’s actually rubbish: The US president has no guarantee over what gets through Congress. What’s wrong with a government actually having to debate and argue and negotiate in the Dail? Isn’t that what it’s for?
Of course, this all assumes that FF and SF (or any party in opposition, in fairness) change the opposition mind set and become parties that actually want to get things done. Both parties have introduced interesting bills. Do they regard passing those bills as a worthwhile endeavour, or is the priority of opposition parties just to trigger general elections as often as possible? That is the question that will need to be answered.
As for the voters, will they appreciate a responsible opposition that actually gets to legislate. Probably not. If anything, such a measure will probably help the government, because it calls the opposition’s bluff. Did it help Alan Dukes in 1989? Some say no, but he gained seats, winning 55 seats in that election, a tally of seats that in recent pre-2011 times would be regarded as a very respectable haul for Fine Gael.