I naturally defer to all those bloggers who are chasing round Ireland in search of wisdom and craic. Nevertheless, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the Irish general election, seen from afar.
I’m struck by the disconnect between the campaign and the realities of the crisis, the failure to rise to the level of events. Although a democratic necessity this supposed watershed of an election comes across as a diversion, more like the last hurrah of a generation of Irish rugby in this season’s Six Nations without the passion and loyalty, than anything new in its own right.
In the main voters made their minds up before this very brief campaign and used it to only to confirm their views. The brevity of the earlier surge towards Labour confirmed their first impressions.
The final dismal leaders’ debate will have little effect on the outcome. If so Fianna Fail led by Micheal Martin would have staged a modest revival and Fine Gael would have plateaued earlier due to Enda Kenny’s clockwork performance.
Mind you, there are too few polls in Ireland to be confident about fine tuned predictions. I haven’t seen anything on likely turnout. Is that ominous?
Persistent divergence over tax and cuts between FG and Labour means no one can really know what they’ll get up to in the all but certain coalition – including probably themselves – beyond the fact that expectations of change are low. This is comment enough on the spuriousness of the campaign. They should embark on a diplomatic campaign using all the firepower Ireland can muster to follow Martin Wolff in the FT.
Ireland’s fiscal calamity is not a cause of its crisis but a consequence. The big failure was the behaviour of private lenders and borrowers. That is what must be tackled. Start now.
An incidental point. The campaign and indeed the crisis has widened the political distance(” hard” politics) between Ireland and Britain while the emotional and cultural gap has continued to narrow ( “soft” politics).
On political reform, I’ve already gone for caution. Good to see this backed up by David Farrrell among others in Political Reform. ie Electoral reform is no magic bullet.
The political science consensus is that electoral reform will not fix the problem of excessive localism.
So, if electoral reform is not the solution, what is to be done to reduce the culture of excessive localism in Irish politics? There are things that could be done to try and reduce the demand for this sort of behaviour from our politicians, such as strengthening local government or improving the interface between key public sector departments and citizens.
But much more fundamentally the change needs to come from each one of us: we’re the ones who should force the change in politicians’ behaviour.
• The next time one of us has a broken drain, or a pension problem we should think twice about picking up the phone to our local TD or dropping by a TD’s clinic.
• The next time one of us is in the awful situation of a family bereavement we should tell the locals TDs that they’re not welcome at the funeral.
• The next time a TD comes into our farm we should tell him to step away from the chickens.
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