Every now and again you see some FF or FG activist nonchalantly wave away the idea of SF in govt with a “Wait until they have to make decisions”, as if a dose in government for Sinn Fein will reset the political landscape.
FF, FG and Labour all approach government in the same way: say absolutely anything that gets you in the door, and don’t worry if you can’t deliver afterwards. Being in government is the end in itself. Maybe not Labour as much, but definitely the other two.
It’s a lazy assumption because it is based on the idea that SF are just another party like FF and FG, with their fair share of people in politics purely because the rations are good and they’re good with people.
It’s simply not true. Oh sure, there are On The Make Merchants in SF too, fellas who recognised the way the wind was blowing and got onboard early, changing their names to Irish and throwing in the odd cúpla focal. But broadly SF remains a political project with actual goals, primarily the achievement of a United Ireland. FF and FG simply don’t have a goal like that.
Don’t rely on the Venezuela assumption either. SF are not anywhere as left wing as they pretend. Indeed, unlike every other party in Irish politics, they’re the only party going the other way: pretending to be on the economic extreme when in reality their base requires a more balanced approach. Have a read-through of their Wealth Tax proposal, with its bright red cover. It’s not aimed at scaring the propertied classes in Ireland in those avenues of generous foliage. It’s a double feint to convince THEIR OWN BASE that they are far less establishment than they actually are.
Sure, Eoin O’Broin is a genuine leftwinger. But he’s almost for show, the Kate Midleton of SF to show their young air-fist-punchers that they’re being listened to. But not necessarily heeded. SF in the north are not radical Maduroistas. They’re landlords and property developers and small businesspeople and more middle class than in the south. Many would have been in FF. But that doesn’t mean they are as complacent.
President Erdogan of Turkey is the model most likely to be what you get with SF in government. People forget, Erdogan was a reformer and breath of fresh air when he first got in as prime minister. Indeed, he was a model for the west, an Islamic democrat. That didn’t last long, as he went from enemy of the establishment to creating a new establishment based on pro-Erdogan businessmen and Islamic traditionalists. He built a (popular) electoral coalition on true believers (Devout Islamists) and those simply wanting a better standard of living.
SF is building something similar: the Brit-haters along with people who simply want to buy either a house or pay rent that doesn’t feel like they have to sell a kidney to afford it.
Some years a go, a British journalist asked a man in rural Anatolia how he could vote for Erdogan given that he was appointing his cronies to office, replacing judges with party loyalists and shutting down critical media. The man shrugged, and pointed to the new school his daughter went to, and the new clinic his mother got cared for in every week. Both built by Erdogan. What did he care about some liberal secularist mucky-muck in Istanbul getting arrested?
Sinn Fein will be like that: focused on delivery to their base in a way FF/FG simply can’t grasp having spent decades pandering to everyone and never satisfying anyone. Erdogan is hated by 40% of the country, who regard him as a tyrant. SF may well be hated by 40% of the country as they carefully deliver tangible change and benefits to their base. And here’s the scary bit: they will struggle to build any more homes than FF/FG.
But the voters who get those new homes will be left clearly with the impression that it was SF who got them, for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if SF in govt arranges for SF cllrs and TDs to deliver the keys, as FF and FG go ballistic about how outrageous it all is, which will actually harden SF support.
“See,” they’ll say. “Look how angry the old gang get at you getting a new home. They never got that angry at you not having one.”