Local Politics, Sinn Féin and commitment… or, do you want to work until you drop? October 23, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Local Politics, Sinn Féin, The Left.
I’ve meant to look more closely at the most recent issues of Magill. There’s a lot to think about in there – particularly an article Splintered Sunrise drew attention to about the ‘fate’ of the left written from an unusually idiosyncratic view. Still, events get in the way, always with the events. Meanwhile let’s in passing note an inaccurate swipe at Politics.ie in Magill in the most recent issue by Wigmore. Wigmore wrote:
Is there anything as awful as political blog sites? Not the sites of writers and personalities, but the bulletin boards and chat rooms. The hope that the likes of politics.ie would provide a useful debating chamber has receeded, as anoraks post endless amounts of abusive, juvenile messages attacking each other, or attacking mainstream politicians, often on the various aspects of … their physical appearance. It has become the cyber equivalent of the toilet door, with scrawled slogans and unsigned messages. Are these the malcontents who can’t get letters published in the newspapers. Or don’t they have social lives or walking-talking girlfriends, or boyfriends? Get out a bit more, guys and girls. And anyway, the election is over.
Yes. Well. Anyone who does more than pass through knows that far from being graffiti, or anonymous, it is easy to get to know and engage with people constructively. And the accusation of attacks on ‘physical appearance’ puzzle me. But it’s also missing the point. P.ie is interesting because it’s fluid, it’s combative and often partisan. That may sometimes be a weakness, but more often it’s a strength, and for me it remains enormously useful for tracking current events in way that more mainstream and sedate news sources simply are not. And by the way, much as I find Magill entertaining in its own way, the current bi-monthly configuration is a bit puzzling when contextualised by the promise on the masthead of being a ‘monthly’ magazine…
And reading Politics.ie, what do I see?
Why that Nicky Kehoe of Sinn Féin has resigned his seat on Dublin City Council.
Or as breakingnews.ie put it:
A leading Sinn Féin member of Dublin City Council has resigned his seat, the party confirmed tonight.
A spokeswoman for the party said he was the fifth Sinn Féin councillor to resign for personal reasons since 2004 and is the 16th member of the 52 person Dublin council to bow out.
He is reported to have taken the decision for personal family reasons and to allow for younger members in the party to come through…
Already the rumour mill has swung into action. The latter day Kremlinologists who delight in such matters are working over time on reading this. Is it a sign than SF is significantly damaged by the 2007 Election? A portent of troubles over the Peace Process? A guarded signal of discontent by a Councillor who nearly but not quite captured a seat in the constituency in 2002 and who then saw Mary Lou McDonald MEP also fail to win the seat this year
I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’ve seen Kehoe in action over the past number of years and he’s impressed me as a hard working representative. But so has Christy Burke – who laboured even longer and arguably for less reward. It’s telling that the current mutterings seem to ignore how he gave way as candidate back in the day for the younger Kehoe.
But putting all that aside I think for once it is possible that the old excuse of ‘personal family reasons’ might just be true. Why so? Simply because of the time lines and the math. The next local election is in 2009. The next General Election in 2012 (if not sooner). The local election after that will be in 2014. That’s seven years into the future. That’s the level of commitment demanded and it’s no small commitment. Working on DCC, indeed on any Council, is a largely unrewarding and difficult task. Evening after evening is taken up by meetings. One’s personal life is mortgaged, often – to be honest – to the possibility of future political success. Now, let’s not overstate this. Some people enjoy this enormously. I know a Councillor in the constituency who told me that at first he found the job too time-consuming but in the last year or so had begun to really enjoy it. That happens. But the opposite dynamic also happens.
Let’s also consider that for smaller parties such as SF (and the Labour party, and others) the demands on their Councillors are different to those of the larger parties. It is not coincidental that at residents meetings it is usually the ‘left’ parties, and Fianna Fáil who turn up more often than not. They have to be there. Smaller party or independent machines simply don’t have the heft that the larger ones do. Each vote is fought for on the micro level. And that means being there, on the ground, day in day out.
The banality of evil is a phrase that has achieved a certain currency. Well, what about the banality of local politics?
I’ve been there numerous times and seen the reps from the other side, on campaigns, on residents groups and so on.
There’s nothing like it. Sandwiched into livingrooms of houses, where residents and Councillors attempt to deal with one or other seemingly mundane issue. Traffic, crime, funding for community projects. Usually there is a pall of cigarette smoke. Sure, people go into the garden to have a few, but they tend to leave the door open.
The mind wanders at these things, particularly because agendas appear to be seen as merely the springboard for near Joycean excursions on any and all topics. Two, three hours of that and one is happy to head home and not appear for another month – if the local committee doesn’t want to meet in the meantime or there isn’t a Policing Forum meeting, or some sort of other activity.
What it must be like for the public reps is a different matter. “Not fun” springs to mind as the answer.
And progress is all in political endeavour. For Nicky Kehoe, Councillor, one-time candidate, and a candidate who came tantalisingly close to snatching the prize, the thought of another seven years, or perhaps more, must be the prospect of a living hell. A political ground-hog day.
How would 2008 be different from 2006? Or worse again, 2011? Or 2013? He is 51 today. In 2013 he will be 57. I can only compare it to my situation where I turned 42 last week (cash, no cheques please). The thought of seven years of relentless politics that would leave me still the right side of 50 is disturbing.
And of course written into this is a subtext regarding Mary Lou McDonald. Will she be the Election candidate in 2012? Again, I don’t know. But SF, as with all parties, is looking to the long term. They have to start now, today, on building the profile of a candidate for 2012. I suspect that five years from now the political landscape in the constituency will be rather different. No Ahern for one thing. Perhaps some other party TDs might decide to step down (although that seems – as best as I can judge it – to be highly unlikely). Perhaps SF thinks that with another leader, perhaps a rural based leader, FF might be vulnerable in the urban centres to a renewed assault on its working class vote. Kehoe might well look at the vote and consider that while he came close, MLM didn’t come quite as close, and while an SF candidate might do better – much better- next time there are no guarantees. So why take the risk?
Politics is a tiring business. It takes a very special sort of mind to be willing to remain active and energetic across multiple decades, to stay loyal to a single party, to a single ideology. It needs support, tangible personal and political achievements and the prospect of more in the future. I often look at the vibrant (overly so some might suggest) Fine Gael benches in the Dáil and I wonder how energetic they will be in five years time after five years of opposition have worn them down – and remember they have the advantage of having made it into the heart of the representative democracy. Dublin City Council? Real achievements, fundamental progress, somewhere that genuine positive impacts can be made in enabling people. But for those with ambitions in politics or with a hinterland beyond politics?
So, I’d have enormous sympathy for Kehoe, and indeed any other Councillor in the same predicament, which is to say almost all of them.