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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London