“They held an election and the government won…”

Something of a one-two in the Irish News opinion pages today.  Firstly, from the editorial.

For a government, it is difficult to claim a credible mandate when around half the voting population refuses to offer its backing to any of the candidates on offer.  This disconnect is not a new phenomenon, of course, but representatives who dismiss this as simply a symptom of normal politics need to take a reality check.

What they should be asking is why voters are staying at home, why parties have failed to motivate them, interest them or make them feel that what happens at Stormont impacts on their lives.  Perhaps our new MLAs need to examine how they present themselves and their policies, how in touch they are with the concerns of the public and how they can make politics more relevant to a disaffected electorate.

In fairness, our unusual structures, with no formal opposition, are a factor, but ministers could be more open, really listen to opinions which challenge them and encourage greater scrutiny and accountability.

They could.  But what’s the incentive?  As Patrick Murphy points out in his op-ed piece

Guess what?  They held an election and the government won.  No, not a new government, the same one we had last time.  Oh, and it will be the government we will have the next time too – and every time as far into the future as we can see.  (No, you may not tell the old joke about someone breaking into Stormont last week and stealing the election results.  Our political parties can be sensitive about that sort of thing.)

So, while the assembly election results reveal the popularity of politicians and parties, the overall outcome confirms a pattern of predictability and growing apathy.  With turnout as low as 46 per cent in some constituencies, assembly politics is the new trainspotting.

Most interest will focus on the short-term issue of how the results will impact on the assembly’s composition.  But the more significant concern is how the assembly’s unchanging nature will influence future public engagement with elections and with what passes for politics here.

And the record of that “government”?  As I pointed out previously

With unemployment in Northern Ireland at a 13-year high, an unbalanced budget for the next 4 years, and having only made a start, at least, on just over half of their 2008-2011 “key goals and commitments”, you’d have to think that something’s got to give.  Eventually.

Perhaps we should try the Belgian way…  They’re still not at it, you know.

Back to Patrick Murphy

The best we can hope for is that they will learn three lessons from the impact the last assembly had on us – that public relations are no substitute for an honest relationship with the public; that entering Stormont gives you power but not ability; and that claiming to be concerned about bread and butter issues while eating subsidised bread and butter in Stormont produces a low electoral turn-out.

But, to repeat myself, what’s the incentive?