Watching the crowds cheering at Francoise Hollande’s election, I could not help wondering how long it would be before large numbers of his supporters (particularly his young ones) would be feeling disappointed and betrayed. Like Sarkozy and Chirac before, he has been elected on a platform of immeasurable unachievable nebulousness. Of course he will disappoint, as has Obama, Cameron and Clegg. Getting elected the way they do, they can do no other.
This is a factor that crosses the Western world which should worry us all. Electorates that are incapable or unwilling of understanding subtle, modest or technical political pledges have to be instead won over with emotive buttonpushing that leaves them ultimately unfulfilled, and so leaves an electorate feeling more cynical and bitter after each election, and more open to the heroin-like bigger better hit of left or right extremism, or religious fanaticism.
Ireland is no different. Every now and again, people lament the fact that there is “no one” to vote for. They call for a party that is sincere in its opposition to corruption, that advocates political reforms that put the community first, and that has nothing to do with the dodgy connections between business and politics in Ireland.
Then you tell them that there is such a party. Eyebrows jut up. It’s called the Green Party. Ugh! They say, and dismiss you with a wave of the hand, and there’s the funny thing right there. In the 2011 general election, the Irish electorate wiped out the one party that had been 100% clean on corruption, whose deputies had fought (in Trevor Sargent’s case, actually) in council chambers against corruption, and yet elected 20 Fianna Fail TDs. Go figure.
The Green Party is ready to reengage in the political system, but it needs to address its history and its actual purpose. Most of all, it has to deal with that perennial of Irish politics, The Curse of High Expectations. This is something that affects all Irish political parties when they enter government, and it can be particularly lethal to parties like the Greens and PDs with small core votes that rely on transfers from soft voters to win seats. In government, the Greens achieved certain policy objectives, but they failed to identify and meet the gut objectives that those soft Green voters were looking for to stay with the party. In particular, the party failed to shape, before its entry into government, the expectations of its voters. What would it specifically have to do to keep those voters on board. It’s extraordinary how Irish political parties never seem to give this much thought, especially when one considers how prone the Single Transferable Vote electoral system is to magnifying a drop in transfers into actual seat losses. Just look at how it worked with FF and Labour in 2011. Despite only a 1% vote difference, Labour got nearly twice as many seats as FF because Labour was transfer friendly whereas FF had the political equivalent of Herpes. STV is a fairweather friend voting system, which means that in the coming storm, Labour could be completely capsized.
Labour is heading in this direction, and seems unwilling to do anything about it. Like the Greens and PDs before them, they really need to look at the voting system and ask is this the best system for small ideological parties in a non-ideological country? Labour, like the Greens, needs to decide who it is for, what it must do specifically to keep those people onboard, and what voting system is the best for helping those voters deliver Labour TDs.