How to build coherent government when power is becoming more distributed?

Suddenly, so much to blog and so little time to do it in. This from Noel Whelan is well worth a few minutes of your time on the politics of stalemate… In particular, this minor note which hints at the larger at play here…

When someone loses power it becomes obvious – one can literally see it drain away. Kenny is still in office, as caretaker for now, but he has lost power. Fine Gael lost the campaign and they lost many seats. These losses were directly attributable to Kenny, to his strategic decisions, his choice of personnel to run the campaign and his gaffes.

Noel’s a fan of get in and do what you have to do, do it quick and hammer together something that will work (because although Ireland posted a huge growth in GDP last year, Chinese storm clouds are gathering). Two quick thoughts on that.

First, what’s on many protagonist’s minds and to borrow from Jason O’Mahoney’s Twitter memory is this…

Now, I think what Whelan correctly intuits is that that’s not likely to be the same accute problem it was in the thick of the last global crisis. Particularly if lessons from that traumatic past really are learned as well as Fianna Fail has claimed.

But it ignores the problem facing the 32nd Dail which is the enormous distribution of votes across independents and small parties very few of whom have any real coherent plans of their own. Just look at the proposed composition of the Ceann Comhairle’s new committee…

This distribution represents (best illustrated in the enormous public disaffection with Irish Water) an ongoing break between the politics of the parish (despite rumours to the contrary, alive and well) and the generative powers of those in Leinster House.

That distributed disaffection is part of the problem. As I’ve said before the social and political gap between Dublin’s strategic view of the broader challenges and the parish’s often miserable experience of them needs careful bridging.

Any arrangement that does not take time for bridge building inside Leinster House is likely doomed to failure. If power is draining from one Taoiseach it remains hard to concieve how such distributed power can arise convincingly into a new one.

As Donal O’Brolchan of the Second Republic group noted in an excellent Irish Times podcast on political reform last autumn, one of the problems is the secrecy with which policy is formed and withheld a priori from the citizen.

He also made a very telling point elsewhere in that podcast that what politicians are starved of are new options and ideas to put into practice.

That won’t change overnight. But the emphasis on adjusting the democratic form (via small changes) is probably the right first move. As Noel said himself on Prime Time last night, Ireland has suffered enough from precipitous pressure from bankers.

What comes out of this will come down to numbers, but also the means of any putative government to explain what on earth it has done with the people’s trust, not just at the next election, but during its term of office.

An envigorated Dail along with an upper house given real responsibilities, is a modest but necessary to at least create some sort of challenge to the political rent seeking that has dogged much of the politics of the recession years.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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