Why the Personal should never be political: The case of Mary-Lou and Joan

Some things in politics drive me crazy. Maybe it’s the mind numbing spin, poor speeches or just total lack of coherence in strategy or message, but Joan Burton’s attack on Mary Lou McDonald just took the biscuit.

Labour are currently in a lot of trouble in the South polling at around 8% and look almost certainly like they will be surpassed by Sinn Fein at the next election. So, in a heated exchange in the Dail this week over a teachers strike Burton decided to take a jab at McDonald’s education as a child saying;

I go into very well-off schools, fee paying schools, you’d be familiar with those

A reference to McDonald’s attendance at a fee paying school as a child, I am still at a loss to understand why something that Mary-Lou had no control over or the fact that her parents wanted to send her to the best school they good is being used against her.

Criticisms like this just miss the mark and as the old saying goes, the more you throw mud, the more you lose ground.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I don’t have a lot of time for negative politics or man-playing either (and a lot of the time it does turn people off) ..

    but – it is legitimate to point out that someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth might not be well placed to admonish others on their attitudes towards privilege and the poor. Most of what applies to Mary Lou on this also applies to David Cameron, and most people, including republicans, are not afraid to bring up Cameron’s privileged background in discussions like this.

  • Jim £53

    You haven’t realised that politics is as personal as it can get? Despite the pretense that there are rules and rubicons that we believe shouldn’t be crossed? I’ll take a wild guess here. You support Mary Lou McDonald and want to see her succeed fully as a politician. But you couldn’t care less if Joan Burton got ran over by a bus.

  • David McCann

    Wrong! Not an SF voter, just hate stupid points

  • David McCann

    But MLM had no control over her schooling or the family she was born in to. Likewise, with David Cameron, sure he went to Eaton, but should he be penalised because his parents offered him the best they could provide.

  • willieric

    In terms of educational background Joan is the vastly more experienced, and nothing she said was untrue. Mary Lou failed to do her homework so she got caned. You need to read the debate commentary to appreciate the depth and direction of the discussion, and realise how chilling was the put-down.

  • Zeno

    Maybe a gentle reminder that the people born with the silver spoons tend to rise to the top in the easy game that is politics does no harm.

  • aber1991

    What school did former leaders of the Eire Labour Party attend? e.g Ruairi Quinn. Dick Spring?

  • sean treacy

    Moany Joany would only have a point if Mary Lou sent her own children to a fee paying school.She does’nt.

  • mickfealty

    Not sure I’d totally back you on the general prescription (personal actions which are demonstrably at odds with pretended political positions are a certainly matter for proper accountability), but I think there is a valid point here.

    Janan Ganesh nailed it in the FT a few weeks back:

    Extreme negativity generally does not work, even on its own cynical electoral terms. The most it can achieve is the mobilisation of a party’s core supporters, and even this assumes that it does not simultaneously repel uncommitted voters.

    Worse, parties come to believe their own rhetoric, and this lulls them into intellectual laziness. Nobody who claims a monopoly on virtue is going to do any hard thinking about their ideas. Successful parties doubt themselves.


  • kalista63

    Some of the greatest socialists and social reformers had a private education.

  • mickfealty

    Have you a link Will? I’d be interested in that…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And, Zeno, some don’t. Some of us with private eductions end up just as pennyless and marganalised as those without. And I’ve posted previously on Slugger about friends “born with the silver spoons” who have been targeted by sexual abusers from their own class, their lives just as ruined as the children in Rochdale.

    Snob bashing is one of those areas of prejudice that is, ahem, almost respectable today alongside simplistic anti-Americanism. I’m entirely suspicious of any attempt to generalise broadly in this manner, and the reifications of privilidge and class obscure the importance of the actual performance of real individual flesh and blood human beings. I’m as ready as the any other decent person to criticise those who use easy access to power and priviledge for their own ends, but in our meritocracy the pushy and self-made can be just as abusive when they get to the middle or top of anything. Its about decency, fairmindedness and unselfishness informing a sense of social justice when in power, not about things the growing child had no control over, as David has said above. Just think about Wedgie Benn!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I was turfed out of my own school for using it as a private correspondence address for “Freedom Press” contact! And I had a few mutual aquaintences with Tony Benn in London, an inspirational man if ever there was one!

  • PaulT

    Does Joan have a comment regarding her old boss fleecing a primary school for 525,000 Euros?

  • Zeno

    I did say in the simple game of politics. A good school will turn out people who have a good vocabulary, are capable of debate and well able to deliver a stirring speech. They leave school more than equipped to become a politician if they so wish.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, Zeno, of course you’re perfectly right about the political scene, but the all too casual identification of the marks of privilidge as something that disqualifies anyones opinions from being taken seriously is a very sore point with me. I get a lot of aggression every time I open my mouth, for do what I may, my accent marks my background and education. But I’ve always been concerned with social justice and so I’m all too aware of the crude self interest that marks others from a similar background. Incidently, my own silver spoon was pawned a very long time ago.

  • Zeno

    Apologies it wasn’t my intention. Being born into money has it’s own problems as you rightly point out. The problem is ,as I see it that so many peoples lives are governed by money that they fondly imagine if they came into some, their problems would be solved. It doesn’t, it just creates a different set of problems. I’ve no interest in money. I do work every day, but I do that because I love what I’m doing.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I entirely agree, Zeno. I’m very much a “News From No-Where” person, who would have everyone fulfilled and enriched by their work if I could influence anything. The horror of most of the community being bound to jobs that are at the very least oppressive, and sometimes even hateful in order to work the rentier treadmill of debt fills me with dispair, as do those who benefit from their enslavement to debt.

    The immense disfunctionality of kids born into real money is, as you suggest, another horror. All too often the parents think they are giving the kids everything, when there is no real engagement, certainly no affection. I was lucky in not experiencing that and being virtually ordered to go and think for myself.

  • Zeno

    I actually think that those clever people who abolished slavery have replaced it with the minimum wage. At least with slavery your owner had to feed and cloth you, look after your health and keep a roof over your head if only to protect his investment.

    Thankfully we have a noble political elite to protect us from austerity. Oh wait……..


  • SeaanUiNeill

    I was researching a programme for kids on 18th Century slavery in the “ole South” back in the 1980s. When I found out that most slaves in Charleston, South Carolina only worked a few hours in the morning and usually had the afternoon off to do paid work, some collecting enough to buy their freedom in a year or two, that just finished me! I pulled out of the project, as you never know where information that so frighteningly contrasts the differences of the benighted past with our own “best of all possible worlds” might lead impressionable people.

  • Zeno

    lol, what like? The Campaign to Bring Back Slavery?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    2-4 working hours a day, Zeno! As an “Irish Helot” myself I could do with a cut in hours like that. Although I may not “owe my soul to the company store” the Bank Manager gets a bit propriatorial at times.