With rumours swirling about the place of an early general election in Febuary/March 2011, caused by desperate backbench TDs breaking ranks over local issues to try to save their seats, I’m quite surprised how underwhelmed I am at the prospect. I’m a political junkie, elections fascinate me, yet I find myself not enthused at all by the prospect.
One of the reasons, of course, is that unlike other countries, we don’t get as much political change as a change of personalities in general elections. A new government will have only a marginally different economic approach. In social policy, on things like drugs, abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia or prostitution it will have the same Don’t Ask Don’t Act policy as this government. On political reform, FG’s reforms, including abolishing the Seanad (which they will bottle out of. Just watch.) are tepid and will leave us with pretty much the same political system we have now. Labour’s proposals for a constitutional convention are interesting, but I suspect that the government will spend years dragging its feet over yet another report from another body.
In short, this is an election that a committed citizen could, in good conscience, not bother to vote in. Unless, of course, your motive is for pure and simple revenge against Fianna Fail. Then it’s worth your while.
The problem is that huge tranches of Irish politics are filled by highly paid elected officials telling us all the wonderful things they would do, if they were in power. Even the ones in power say that they’d do more if thay personally had more power. What’s particularly galling are the ones who say that, secretly delighted that they do not have to act, and have a viable excuse.
One possible solution is that we elect a single party minority government. We have the same hang-up that the Brits have that a government must be “strong” with a majority. Why? The Irish government does not need a majority in the Dail to deal with a major natural disaster or terrorist crisis, it just acts within its powers. Plenty of European countries have minority governments, and they are better run than we are. Look at the banking crisis. If FF had not had a majority during the whole banking guarantee crisis, they would have been forced to bring Labour and FG in to meet with the banks and question them too. What would have been the problem with that?
A single party minority government would have to debate and amend legislation on the floor of the house. It would have to agree to let some opposition legislation through, empowering all TDs, not just government ministers. And it would help ensure that we have a Ceann Comhairle whose loyalty is to the house, not protecting the government. These are not bad things. And let’s not forget the mischievous aspect: Imagine the fun of a defeated FF going into opposition after first electing a minority Labour government. I suspect the moral indignation and outrage on the FG benches would actually kill some of them stone dead.