Putting you money where your mouth is harder than talking about it

 I see that two ” celebrity” commentators with radical reform programmes have ducked out of standing for the Dail at this time of crisis and upheaval. This will be a gift to the cynics who shout “throw the bastards out” at TDs while sneering at anyone outside who believes that something can be done. Economist and stage performer David McWilliams offers his fans a measely two liner. Poor show David.  By contrast, Fintan O’Toole gives a full and frank explanation, including the knowledge that he’ll be called chicken for failing to put himself on the line and stating the bleedin’ obvious, that as a columnist he’ll continue to enjoy a lot more influence than an isolated independent TD. He goes on:

To crystallise the desire for change, it would have to have a realistic chance of getting at least 20 people elected. Anything less would be a protest, a satisfying gesture. It would not be a serious answer to the immensely serious question of the shrinking of our democracy.

Two things were completely clear to everyone who was interested in this project. One was that we had a moral duty to try to do it. The other was that we had an even more emphatic duty not to screw it up

The enemy, we discovered, is the one that nothing human can ever defeat: time. All of the discussions on the project were predicated on an election in late March. The descent into political chaos in the last fortnight threw out of kilter all of the most basic calculations.

Will this suck what air there was out of Fintan’s Petition for political reform? 

For me, these non-moves suggest two things. One, that reform can only be delivered through the party system, under appropriate pressure. And two, it is a sight more difficult to deliver change than to write about it.

These withdrawals – unfortunate and on the back foot as they seem – should not detract from the  quality and  force of their arguments. The need  for new ideas should not be blighted by the refusal of their movers to jump over electoral fences. There are horses for courses. All the same I can’t help thinking – what a pity. On the hustings they might have made quite an impact for a crucial few weeks before relapsing back to the commentator’s big chair.

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  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I suppose Mr McWilliams and Mr O’Toole are serious “celebs”. I like Mr McWilliams. I dont care for Mr O’Toole, the high priest of the Irish Overclass, who is much admired by English commentators.
    Politics was clearly devalued by the intervention of Esther Rantzen last May….she assumed that she would be taken much more seriously than she was.
    But ultimately in the Republic, there is the legacy of George Lee, the economics journalist……breath of fresh air according to his peers.
    Mr Lee (like Ms Rantzen) thought he was more important than he actually turned out to be.
    A mere nine months after promising to work for his constituents, he resigned because he was not fast tracked to high office within the Fine Gael Opposition.
    The conventional wisdom is that he is a great loss to Irish politics.
    But the reality is that journalists/commentators like Mr McWilliams, Mr O’Toole and Mr Lee “talk the talk”. They cant “walk the walk”.

  • Drumlins Rock

    know where your coming from FJH, “celebrity ” pop impersonators, rugby stars and news reporters didn’t make much difference up here either, they have to prove their worth to the electorate.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “Those who can……do………Those who cant……teach”
    George Bernard Shaw

  • I’d draw other conclusions Brian.

    Firstly, a commentator is just that. You can be a good commentator on any game without ever having been a good player, and the qualities of a good commentator are very different from those of a player as well.

    For one, a commentator has to be a catalyst. They don’t have to be consistent, their job is to make people think and to insert information and perspectives at the right time to provoke good policymaking and democratic vibrancy.

    I’m much more disturbed when commentators *do* stand for election in the way that Martin Bell did. Turning up in a white suit has more than a touch of what Bourdieu called ‘demagogic simplification’ about it.

    Secondly, when you’re in government, you have a responsibility (not least to the markets) to appear resolute and totally convinced of a position that you hold. This is quite simply not the kind of thing that intelligent people do unless they are a post-holder expressing a corporate responsibility of some kind. Show me someone for whom certainty around policy issues is the norm and I’ll show you someone who is incapable of critical thinking. That’s why commentators look good on days that politicians look bad.

    Vote for Fintan this week and you’ll guarantee yourself disappointment next week when he turns out to be ‘just like the rest of them’.

    The real challenge to Fintan is for him to either propose a course of action that someone could stand for election on, or to come up with a better system of government that the current one. *That’s* not that easy, but it helps us get commentators into perspective….

  • Mack

    Fjh would it be remiss of me to point out you like the right wing commentator but not the left 🙂

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    🙂 Not at all. Im not a big fan of what Mr McWilliams says. But he seems to have a pleasant enough personality.
    Fintan O’Toole …..frankly I dont like the whole holier than thou Dublin journalism crap.
    To be honest Mack…..it has been suggested that I dont like journalists. I cant think how that impression arose.

  • George

    O’Toole the High Priest of the Irish Overclass? He grew up in a two-bed corpo house in Crumiln.

    If there’s one thing about the members of the overclass, it’s their dislike for those who grew up in such areas.

  • Brian Walker

    Paul, Your conclusions don’t seem very different. And let’s be fair to Fintan. His petition consists of the headlines of political reform. I’ve done my own headlines in a previous post.

    The trouble is, the details of reform are as dry as dust and most eyes glaze over when it comes to details. Nolan principles, pre-legislative scrutiny, a back bench committee to control some of the Dail timetable, a stronger committee sytem, a strong electoral commission which can look at electoral reform and supervise constituency boundaries , parliamentary and local gov ombudspersons, more open FoI.. zzzz.. all good stuff and cheaper probably than the tribunals but they don’t make romantic Irish hearts sing.

    It’s probably wrong to attempt full-scale reform quickly in the eye of the storm, although they could make a beginning.

    What is so terrible about even a Dublin- based journo running for office so long as s/he doesn’t pretend to report the news with total objectivity? In his writing he is more accountable than most. Best current UK example is Boris Johnson, not a bad precedent, whatever you think of him. If I throw in a name from the Irish past, Arthur Griffith, maybe the comments will come flooding in…

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The Overclass is the other end of the spectrum from the Underclass.
    The great triumph of the Good Friday Agreement (based on Sunningdale) was to bring people who had previously been excluded (an Underclass) into the system. That is why they derest it so much.
    There is of course still an Underclass…….people who believe they have no stake in Society …who believe that decisions dont affect them or that they are just buffeted along and constant victims.
    The Overclass is that class of people who are much too rich or much too intelligent or much too different (the demand for “mainland parties” to organise in the North is a typically Overclass demand) to have a stake in or vote in elections……certainly not the range of the parties available to them. And of course much too selfish or lazy to actually organise a “new party”.
    Its nothing to do with upbringing in a working class area. Or upbringing in a castle.
    Fintan O’Toole is high priest for th Overclass.

  • Munsterview

    fitzH : ” Mr Lee (like Ms Rantzen) thought he was more important than he actually turned out to be. A mere nine months after promising to work for his constituents, he resigned because he was not fast tracked to high office within the Fine Gael Opposition.

    Fitz you are not being fair to George. He was recruited for and entered politics promising change.

    Once George was elected Enda and the core of the front bench, that on their own, the public would not cross the street to see, used George as a poster boy to draw the crowds. He was allowed to open and close the meetings and that was it, the same tired tripe was given in between by the Fine Gael talking heads who could only get the usual Fine Gael fateful to turn out in numbers often no bigger then the traveling road show.

    George was used as a performing monkey to draw the crowds and had enough. Quite right too, he was elected to make a change, not to make Enda look good ( as if anyone could) !

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I take the view that George Lee made a promise to his electorate. It was not conditional. He did not promise to serve them “provided that Fine Gael promote me within nine months”.
    His resignation….he had no need to go thru a charade of applying for an other office of profit……left his electorate without one of their TDs (of course this was shamefully compounded by the Govt refusing to hold a by-election).
    His behaviour has not been scrutinised adequately by…..journalists.

  • Munsterview

    Sorry fitz, I cannot agree with you on that !

    George had a series of meetings with FG prior to his resignation from RTE. His first contract, memorandum of understanding or whatever was with Fine Gael. If he had not got that he would not have joined FG to begin with.

    Having reached that agreement with FG, or what he considered to be an agreement to be given a role where he could comment on financial matters and help shape FG financial policies, he then felt that he could make a difference and on that basis he went before his electorate and promised him that he could and would.

    After election George was relegated to the performing monkey status to draw the crowds for Enda that I already referred to. When he could not keep his promise to his electorate to make a difference, he resigned.

    Of course he was lambasted by all establishment political parties, by his actions he showed what all of us political insiders know : the government back benchers never mind the opposition just do not have any real power or influence and can do little for their electorate.

    Circumstances may occasional Gregory, Healy Rae or Lowery an opportunity to bring home even more goodies to their constituency than a Government Minister For State but these few backbenchers are not representative of the remainder of the government and opposition lobby fodder.

  • Kevin Barry

    Hi FJH

    I’m sorry, but from what I’ve read above I get the impression that you simply don’t like Fintan O’Toole the person and seem to be trying to throw mud on him with cries of him representing the ‘over class’ , for being too intelligent and holier than though. Sounds a bit Tea Partyish to be frank.

    With all due respect but could you go through in somewhat more detail how he’s offended you with regard to policy matters? I would be interested to hear this instead, as I think most others would.

    As for George Lee, he does look slightly foolish for jumping ship so early, however, I think he will ultimately be proved right for doing it. If he had of stayed in that position for say 5 years and not achieved anything of substance (which he was very much in danger of doing) that would have been far worse.