During the recent RTE two parter, Freefall, Bertie Ahern did reveal a home-truth: That there was no popular or political support for reigning in spending. He was, of course, correct. If he as Taoiseach, and a popular Taoiseach for the great, great majority of his term in office, had announced that he was going to dampen down the property market (which was building 88,000 dwellings when Sweden, with twice our population, was building 12,000) and started directing our surplus tax revenues into a rainy day fund, he would have been savaged. Nevertheless, he must have had a gut feeling, as we all did, that this thing could not go on forever, despite all our hopes.
Yet he did nothing. Nor, for the most part part, did any of the opposition parties or social partners. The whole country turned a blind eye to fundamentals that we all knew were just too good to be sustainable.
Yet, here’s the thing: For the money he was on, Bertie should have been willing to be unpopular, and here’s why:
Remember Iain Duncan Smith? Eurosceptic rebel? Disastrous Tory leader? Then he went off, immersed himself in social justice and poverty issues, and came back a radical reformer and is now social welfare secretary in the UK coalition. He’s been having a punch-up with the chancellor of the exchequer over his plans to radically reform the British welfare state.
What’s the relevence to Bertie? The relevence is the difference. Here’s a man who has re-entered political life to actually do something, and has threatened to resign from the government if he does not get his way on reforms. In other words, he is actually putting the policies he believes in ahead of his position in cabinet.
Why is that concept so alien to Irish politicians? Is it because we have a class of politicians who are, for the most part, broadly non-ideological professional public representatives as opposed to people like IDS who are actually in politics to do things?
One reason “we are where we are” is because we have a political class who are interested more in remaining in office than in actually doing something with it. Just ask most young candidates what they want to do in politics, and it will be very light on detail, but heavy on guff about “serving their communities.” Yes, that sounds shockingly trite, but you know in your heart that it’s true. Constituency delivery is not the same as doing things in politics. Fixing the system so that one’s constituents don’t need parliamentary intervention to get what they’re entitled to, now that would be doing something in politics.