The theory behind electoral politics is that a group of candidates, with different visions of society, each offer the voters a choice. The voters weigh up the options on offer, and then choose the candidate who most closely mirrors their values. That’s how a democracy is supposed to work.
That system is challenged when you have a political party that seems to take up space (and seats) for no good reason. Listening to Alan Shatter on Saturday View claim that FG’s policies are “diametrically different” from Fianna Fail’s is particularly telling because there is no doubt that Shatter, and others in FG, actually believe this. It’s a bit like the way Pepsi executives and Coca Cola executives are adamant that they are selling a different product from one another. In actual detail, they are different products. Their ingredients are different, but the truth is, if you are sick of drinking Pepsi all night in a bar, you don’t switch to Coke.
The values that shape the policies of FF and FG are pretty much identical. There are almost no voters outside of FG diehards and members who believe that FG would have handled the last 10 years differently from FF. This is the reality for the great majority of Irish voters. Does anyone really believe that if FF had announced a plan to abolish the Seanad, FG would not have opposed it?
As a result, we find ourselves in an odd position. Fianna Fail, through necessity rather than conviction, has been forced to become a conventional centre-right Christian Democrat party of economic orthodoxy. Labour, although more economically right-wing now than at any time in its history (and ironically, more right-wing than the PDs were at their inception in 1985) is still offering, through its trades union and public sector links, a centre-left option. What is FG actually offering? Fianna Fail values with different faces? Surely FG is just polluting the electoral pool, and contaminating what should be a clean choice without offering anything new? Put it another way: If FG suddenly vanished, what exact choice would Irish voters be deprived off? Is FG, by muddying the political waters, not actually reducing the effective democratic choice?
Of course, it isn’t really fair of me to say that FG has not changed at all, because that is not true. Having spent decades being defeated by Fianna Fail in election after election, it now looks like FG can seriously look at the (slim) possibility of getting beaten by Labour. That’s change of a sort, I suppose.
By the way, I know I’ve quite a few FG supporters reading, so if one of you wish to post a reply as to the values FG has which are different, I’m happy to post it. But one rule: No mention of FF and no policy hair splitting. I mean the actual values that exist in FG that don’t exist anywhere else.