I was a little buried in the day job yesterday, so did not get to put a blog out on Slugger. I was pulling together a report on a great gig in London on Tuesday night for a new not for profit organisation called Lobbi…
The experience confirms for me that all politicians and politician institutions are suffering from the same condition, a strong sense of being cut off from the electorate. And, of course, vice versa. Locally in Northern Ireland, we see it in the resort of our most senior politicians to issues they feel certain will trigger a response in the gut of their electorates.
But as far as gaining permission and licence for actually doing something with the mandate, the ground is as uncertain in Stormont as it is in Westminster (or Washington for that matter, where Congress’s rating in the public mind is low and staying low).
Take Ed Poots unplanned PR disaster over residential care homes. Though he boasted beforehand of a high approval rating for the proposals through his consultation exercise, it was not enough to warn him that the Trust were about to take his green flag on closing homes as permission to abolish them.
Indeed yesterday in the Dail, Micheal Martin pointed out that politicking over the operation decisions of the PSNI (a mutual fault of both OFMdFM parties) undermines the authority of “one of the better transformative breakthoughs of the Good Friday Agreement”. As I’ve noted over at Lobbi:
Catherine Howe says “we are not going to get to a position of increased trust without increased openness” but running counter to that is the problem that “politicians are not comfortable in spaces they have no control over.” Increased openness implies giving up control, there seems to be a conundrum here.
For us though, this may be a tougher nut to crack than those bigger national capitals to the east and south… Not least because almost every reform emanating from OFMdFM these days seems to be about aggregating powers to itself and/or iron cladding its own actions from the light of public criticism.
The irony is that this deeply conservative settlement was built by a liberal impulse to put an end to war and conflict for good in Northern Ireland. The closed system increases its invulnerability to outside interventions. But in hauling up the draw bridge politicians also profoundly inhibit themselves from more accurately divining and acting upon the common good.
The problem with closing down your own public accountability, is the problem not simply of MLA’s losing touch, but of parties (which thrive on aggregations of interest) losing the capacity to act powerful in the broader public interest and for that common good.
[What’s that Gerry? Somewhere, over the rainbow? – Ed] I sincerely hope not.