Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Fine Gael: A threat to real democratic choice?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 25, 2010 in Irish Politics |

FG: Heinz or Bachelors, they're still just offering beans.

FG: Heinz or Bachelors, they're still just offering beans.

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.


M Collins
Sep 26, 2010 at 8:50 am

How can you say “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.”? I am neither a diehard nor a member but I remain convinced that FG would have given us a significantly different “government experience” over the past 10 years (and not just because they would have been in coalition with Labour).
I know that integrity is not meant to be a policy, but the level of croneyism and corruption in FG is nowhere near as egregious as it is in FF. Decisions would have been taken by FG to cool down the property market, for instance, and the worst of the property bust would have been avoided. I also suspect that bank regulation would have been treated with a bit more seriousness.
FF has been essentially corrupt for 40 years, and the present situation is an almost inevitable result of that.
FG is not afraid to adopt the “moral high ground”, which is regarded as a mortal sin in FF. See http://puckstownlane.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/ff-and-high-moral-ground/
Where there is a broad consensus on economic/social policy (as there is in Ireland), then specific party policies, such as you are seeking to identify, become secondary to ethical standards.

Jason O
Sep 26, 2010 at 2:49 pm

You say all that, but what unique FG policies did FG in government bring in to reduce the possibility of cronyism in politics? Did it change how state boards are appointed? No. Did it ban corporate donations? No. Did it reform Oireachtas expenses? No. Did it cut Oireachtas members salaries? No (it actually increased them, as did FF).
FG talks about being cleaner than FF, but aside from the fact that FG through most of its history has not actually been worth bribing because it kept losing elections, there’s nothing actually tangible. It did appoint Michael Lowry to cabinet, I suppose. Let’s see whether that turns out to have been a banking style scandal.
Show me the FG policies issued before the crisis calling for a cooling of the property market or more banking regulation. I don’t recall them.

M Collins
Sep 27, 2010 at 7:02 am

The point I was addressing was whether FG would have handled the last 10 years differently from FF. This is as much, if not more, about integrity and straight dealing as it is about legislation and policy. Also, I strongly suspect FG in government *would* haved cooled the property market, regardless of what it said, or failed to say, while in opposition.

Jason O
Sep 27, 2010 at 7:17 am

“integrity and straight dealing” are just empty slogans. What anti-political corruption measures did FG bring in in govt? I’m sorry, but the phrase “I strongly suspect” just isn’t enough. Which actual policies would they have brought in to cool the market? You seem to have the same blind faith in FG that those people who always vote FF no matter what have in FF. I’m sorry, but I want hard fact. I know what FF would do, because we are living it.

What are FG’s unique values that differentiate them from FF?

M Collins
Sep 27, 2010 at 7:47 am

I’m exercising my judgement in an uncertain world, based on (too many) years of experience. You are looking for black and white answers, and an unreasonable degree of certainty. Our electoral system (possibly our biggest national problem) does not reward parties that produce detailed, costed, policies as a political platform.

And again: the unique value that differentiates FG from FF is that the former is nowhere near as corrupt (admittedly not a very challenging benchmark). And not just because it hasn’t been in power to the same extent. That, at least, is my judgement. Yours is obviously different, or you are being provocative for the sake of good copy.

Jason O
Sep 27, 2010 at 8:17 am

The evidence that FF is more corrupt than FG is the number of corrupt FFers outed at various tribunals, which exceeds quite substantially, the numbers of FGers, which by the same measure, means that FG is more corrupt than Labour, by the way. That’s fair enough. That’s actual evidence of some sort that a different mindset exists in FF. But why is it that you are willing to judge FF on black and white facts (evidence at tribunals) but object to FG being held to the same regard? There is no actual evidence that FG would have run things differently had they been in power. That’s not me being provocative, that’s a fact. If FG actually called for mortgage lending to be resticted, or for tighter lending practices, fair enough, but where’s the proof? Where’s the policy document? What is your judgement actually based on?



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