I was reminded recently of a conversation with a member of a successful Irish political party, where I had pointed out that I had rarely been on the losing side in politics. He looked surprised, and pointed out that I’d been a Progressive Democrat, and had, as such, lost far more elections than I had ever won.
I was taken back by this remark for a moment, before realising that both he and I had a very different perspective of politics. His was a very tribal one, of loyalty to one party and one eye constantly on the score card of “my crowd are up/in, the other crowd are down/out”. He genuinely believed that life would be different if his party were out and the others were in.
Mine, on the other hand, was of social direction. To me, parties are mere tools to allow us, the people, to shape society. As such, the PDs cut my taxes, Labour decriminalised homosexuality and legalised divorce and contraception, and reduced censorship, Fianna Fáil built infrastructure and negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, and all parties save for Sinn Fein brought Ireland closer to a federal Europe and into the single currency. A Fine Gael Taoiseach was the first Taoiseach to actually put the Catholic Church in their place. Even now, on issues like abortion, progress is being made, and the one party outside the mainstream with a serious chance of power, Sinn Fein, is hurtling towards the centre at the same speed that Tony Blair burnt his CND membership card.
In short, the Irish political system has broadly shaped this country in a direction that I’m happy with, and it got me thinking: what is it like to be a hard left socialist or a conservative Catholic, to every day see your social vision get further and further away? Don’t get me wrong: our political system is still terribly flawed and painfully slow, but on issues like abortion and gay marriage and euthanasia, I’m far more likely to get the society I want than the aforementioned.
Funnily enough, the retention of the current undemocratic Seanad, a prospect that is not exactly farfetched, would be the first time, barring EU treaty anomalies which were subsequently corrected, that I would actually be on the permanent “stuck with this” losing side of an issue.