There is a common perception doing the rounds that Election 2011 is going to be the change election. Yet, do we actually know what people mean when they say that “they want change”? Is there anyone outside of Fine Gael, for example, who regard Fianna Fail’s vote dropping and Fine Gael’s rising as being a genuine act of change? Yes, they have nominally different policies, but the values of FF and FG are for the most part the same. Irish society will not be that radically different under five years of FG than it will under FF. If you doubt me, just imagine how embarrassed you would be to watch Jeremy Paxman, a disinterested observer, forensically question a representative from each party beside each other on live BBC television in front of a British audience. We’d be scarlet with mortification.
But what is even more remarkable is that even in this extraordinary time for our republic, most people I meet have still not given the issue anything but the most superficial thought. Instead, they mumble something derogatory about politicians and about caring for “ordinary people” by which they mean people like them, whatever their situation. But surely if people wanted real change they would not be voting for either FF or its pale imitator?
The standard response is that there is no choice, but this is just not true. Even aside from Sinn Fein, for which many Irish people refuse to vote for historical issues (A lead allergy, for example), there are parties on the ballot paper that advocate a radical departure from where we are today. A substantial United Left Alliance result on polling day would trigger a “Holy Sh*t!” moment, and possible radical economic change. Labour emerging as the largest party would be less radical, but still a significant departure and sign of modest change.
Even if one did desire change, but not of the left wing variety, the Green Party offers a serious non-ideological left reformist agenda. This suggestion may cause guffaws, but the fact is that the Greens can claim a greater distance from the overheated property market and the over indulged public sector than any of the three main parties, and a more serious approach to reform in government than either FF or FG. They have made mistakes, including buckling to FF on Tara, Shannon, and (bizarrely) blasphemy, but on balance the Green Party in government has tried to do the right thing, including imposing unpopular carbon taxes because they believe they are the right thing to do. For the rational, thoughtful non-left voter looking for honest change, electing as many Green Party TDs is arguably the best choice you can make in the polling booth.
The fact that the party is struggling to get beyond the margin of error in opinion polls is telling us more about the Irish mindset than we realise.
Additional: TCD’s Michael Marsh makes some interesting (and very depressing) points in The Irish Times here.