I am associated with politics. My family, my work colleagues, my friends, people who read my blog all ask me about politics when they see me. Occasionally, some say to me “You know, you should run again!” That’s when I sigh, and tell them the great truth about Irish politics that people who have never been involved don’t know: People who are interested in politics rarely go into Irish politics.
Imagine the country appointed a new manager of the national football team. Imagine he was asked his (we still haven’t reached a her yet) opinion about who he thought was the greatest footballer of the last twenty years. Supposing he replied ” Don’t know. I’m not really into football.”
That’s Irish politics for you, right there. In the US, UK, in France, debates are had about the values that drive politicians. Republicans are against President Obama’s healthcare policies because it clashes with their values of individual freedom. In Britain, the Tories want to cut spending because they believe a big state restricts individual freedom. I don’t agree with either of these stances, but I can see where they come from, and more to the point, it is possible to read and watch politicians in those countries argue and debate the values that inform the actual details of their policies.
When was the last time our two largest parties actually debated their reasons to exist, what it was that they stand for? If you put the FF and FG parliamentary parties in two seperate rooms, and ask them to come up with the values they subscribe to, would there be any that weren’t interchangable? Labour is only marginally better. It does have values, but they seemed to have been last revised in the 1970s. Just watch the way Joan Burton spits out the word “profit”. The one party that has actually revised its values is Sinn Fein, and seems to be still doing it. Yes, history has forced that upon them, in that shooting protestants has fallen out of fashion, but as a party it is engaged in an internal debate about what, post armed struggle, it is for.
In fairness to the parties, it is not entirely their fault. I once discussed with a candidate why his election literature was so bland and meaningless, and he made the point that actually telling voters where he stood would alienate voters, as opposed to win them, because he felt that Irish voters vote against ideas. It’s a fair point. In the US, gunowners support the Republicans, and pro-choice activists support the Democrats because those parties support their values. Yet in Ireland trades union members vote Fianna Fail, and big business never supported the PDs. Is it any wonder that we as voters are constantly disappointed by our politicians? They haven’t a clue what we really want, because we don’t know ourselves. Most American voters class themselves, as conservatives, moderates, or liberals. Imagine asking an Irish voter to classify herself? Could she? Probably not, because, unlike Americans, whom we dismiss as being dumb, we don’t actually put any thought into our political convictions, and we’re suffering for it now.