From 1969 until 2002, no sitting Irish government had been reelected. Then along came The Man From Drumcondra who basically threw money at everybody until they gave in and reelected him. But generally, as a rule, Irish voters tend to be dissatisfied with the current lot, whomever they are, and throw them out first chance they get.
Why is this? In other western countries sitting governments have been regularly reelected? Why are Irish governments only seemingly capable of squandering goodwill and support?
There are a number of reasons, but for me the key one actually happens before they ever even win the general election that brings them to power in the first place. There is almost no planning put into how they will actually run the country if they should happen to win the election. In fact, people from FF, FG and Labour, all involved in the policy process before general elections, have all told me as to how casually political promises are entered into, based almost certainly on vote winning appeal rather than good planning. I know, you’re rolling your eyeballs at this point, wondering how naive am I to be surprised that politicians will say anything to get elected.
This is true, but the fact is that they then get shafted by their own promises once in office: is there anyone in Labour who doesn’t feel the heat in their face when someone quotes “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way!” at them? What about FG and their broken pledges on political reform, special advisers, Dail reduction, and all those local promises TDs made about the hospital in Ballygofeckya?
Rudy Giuliani in his book “Leadership” makes some very valid points about this, pointing out as a general rule that it is better to underpromise and then surprise people by over delivering. Can anyone imagine this government overdelivering on any of its pledges? Imagine how stunned we’d be if Enda went on the telly and said “Look, I’ve been studying this Dail numbers thing and reckon we actually could get by with 100 TDs, so I’m not going to do the usual waffle that goes on for years because we don’t want to actually do anything. In three weeks the country will vote on cutting the number of TDs by 66 seats.” But he won’t do that, because Irish politicians spend their time bending and twisting like Anne Hathaway in a catsuit but without any of the redeeming qualities.
That’s the biggest curiosity about Irish governments, in that they rarely try to actually shape the national agenda. Sure, they try to do media management but it is all short-term stuff. Take the property tax next year: An unholy coalition of spoofers (FF, agreeing to the “principle” of a property tax, just not this one), the “entitled” who believe that the rest of us exist to fund their lifestyle, and those who just want to keep their money will assemble to oppose the tax without a single alternative other than Boo! to this. They’ll hammer the government, panic backbench TDs, some of whom will go off reservation, and make the government deeply unpopular. Not once will the government make a serious effort to educate people not on the details of the tax (they’ll do that) but why we need it and what they can do about it. Without this revenue, services get cut, but the public will never be brought into that. Phil Hogan won’t even let local authorities who will apparently rely on this tax actually set it, because his own councillors don’t want to have to make decisions. Why not? why not let it be set locally, by local referendum, with the county manager obliged by law to present a ballot paper with the proposed local tax rate and a list of spending cuts if it is not adopted, which councillors can vary provided the figures balance. Yes, there’ll be war and talk of blackmail and demands for poll boycotts but it would start the ball rolling on the biggest weapon any Irish government could ever give itself: an electorate who actually have to face the same choices the government does.