Listening to Drive Time last night, I heard a discussion between Mary Wilson, John McGuirk, Niall Crowley and Elaine Byrne about political reform. Aside from Elaine Byrne’s unintentional but funny sideswipe at Mary Wilson talking about the excitement around the formation of the PDs (“Actually Mary, I was only eight at the time”) what was interesting was the underlying assumption that the Irish people are actually looking for change. The constant refrain that polls show that 61% of voters want a new party is never examined in detail. No one seems to have polled what such a party would actually be for, and like the PDs, I suspect that if such a poll started to attach actual values to such a party (Pro Public Sector/Pro Private Sector) that party would plummet in the polls. As a people, the Irish are curiously repelled by all but the most vague political ideas.
It reminded me that over the Christmas break I had been watching an episode of Diarmuid Ferriter’s “The Limits of Liberty”. I was struck by the tone of the programme, where the newly independent Irish government were painted as bastards but where the Irish people were not held accountable for actually electing them. Maybe I’m doing Ferriter a disservice, and I know it is a hobby horse of mine that I constantly harp on about on this blog and elsewhere, but it is a constant theme of Irish society. Even in voluntary organisations like the GAA, which have fairly transparent elections, people take comfort not in the fact that they cannot convince others of the merits of their case, but that there is some unseen clique (I much prefer the Dublin word “click”) manipulating everything in the background.
In this country, electing the Dail is how we as a society, in free elections, declare what sort of values we aspire to. Now just think, going on recent polls, what that says about us:
17% of us will vote Fianna Fail, of which there is no more conservative change avoidance party available on the ballot. So 17% of us do not want any change if possible.
35% of us will vote for Fine Gael, which means some change but mostly just in the faces of the people at the top. Certainly the second most anti-change party available. The broad values of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are the same, in the same way that Coke and Pepsi are. When a restaurant does not have Pepsi, they offer you Coke. They don’t offer you tomato juice.
So already, that’s 52% of voters voting for minor change at best. We have been through the worst economic crisis of our history, and a majority vote for minor change at best. At the moment, over half the Irish people, and that’s not counting people who will give a number two vote to FF or FG candidates, will vote for parties that pretty much defend how we got where we are today. I know my FG readers will go ballistic at me saying this, but the fact is, Ireland under FG will look 90% like Ireland under FF.
People often wonder what sort of Irish people, knowing what was going on in the industrial schools and the Catholic Church, could have voted to preserve the status quo in the 1950s and onwards. You can see your answer in the mirror. Dem’s the fellas right there.