Local and general elections. And state legitimation too. September 3, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Backroom in the SBP was a bit subdued the weekend before last (though let me be the first to say, no such issue with the latest column of which more later in the week).
In a piece on the local elections next May s/he argued that they were ‘set to be a whole new ball game’. All true, all true. And the reasons given were true too, from new electoral boundaries, perhaps one of the most interesting examples of which are those in Dublin where there’s a significant increase in numbers of councillors – and according to the SBP piece in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, where there’s an increase in numbers of councillors from 28 to 40 ‘a row has already broken out between the officials who will have to build a new, much larger, council chamber and the award-winning architects of the county hall who don’t want the building’s interior design modified.
But it’s not just Dublin, as the piece notes, there’s also Limerick and Waterford where city and county councils are being merged. And it suggests that this merger will have ‘as yet unpredictable implications for 2016’. And not only but also, Backroom suggests that because of increased numbers this may save the bacon of the government parties, and Labour in particular.
That remains to be seen. Backroom argues, and I’m sure s/he is correct:
The government parties are already resigned to a mid-term kicking next year. That is par for the course. Their strategy is to hold out until 2016 and hope that a recovered economy will make the voters reluctant to go back to FF.
It’s curious, when one considers it that way it seems almost plausible. Slight recovery, beware of FF. But of course politics is more than FF, there’s a raft of alternatives waiting in the wings, most obviously Sinn Féin who surely will have a good local election. But there’s also the Independents and smaller parties who may be buoyed up by a good showing at the locals. I actually think for the former, even more than the latter, it is crucial for their numbers to hold up at the locals for them to achieve significant numbers at the general election. As it happens local elections are generally good for independents, but with the drum-beat of stability and the potential dangers of voting for Independents to such stability no doubt about to be unleashed in the near future it is important for voters to establish or reestablish the link with them. Of course this is true in regard to all parties and candidates, but perhaps more so for Independents because they’re about to come under withering fire.
That said, isn’t it telling that despite the travails of said Independents and Others over the past year or two, it has had remarkably little impact upon their poll ratings – as seen most recently in the Sunday Independent Millward Brown poll at the weekend? It’s as if the electorate has weighed their issues and those of their competitors and still find the latter wanting. That’s fair enough, screwing up an entire economy isn’t something to be lightly dismissed. But it also suggests that if the Independents/Others can avoid the negative stuff as much as possible they’re probably in a very strong position indeed.
There’s also a nice little line in the article about that newish phenomenon ‘local area representatives’ being ‘wannabe councillors’. I’m trying to remember when I first saw the term used, and I figure it must have been six or seven years ago, but perhaps it has a longer pedigree than that. Yet it’s true too, the LAR is a sort of fiction. Well, not exactly, but it is a a formulation used by parties various to give a standing to prospective candidates and in fairness activists in advance of elections. What’s been entertaining has been to see FF forced to use it more broadly than before due to their – ahem – setback at the last local elections.
Mind you, in a way many TDs are in a not dissimilar position. Because the new boundary changes for Dáil elections don’t take effect until the next election is actually called, so when you see Deputy X or Y with the name of an, as yet, almost hypothetical constituency on their PR material it is, in a sense, premature. Of course they have to do it, all those in Dublin Bay North or Donegal or Kerry, otherwise their new voters won’t recognise them come the day. Granted every Deputy is fighting the next election from the day of their victory at the previous one but, they’re not usually fighting the equivalent of another election in another constituency too.
By the way, is it me or have there been few – if any – voices raised talking about delay of local elections due to prevailing economic conditions as was seen in the 1980s/1990s? In an odd way I find that an hopeful sign. And I suspect that were any such proposal made it would be met with short shrift. The electorate, citizens, want their day. And the next one too.
And this brings me back to the idea that for a range of reasons citizens – generally – have invested in electoral politics as their means of registering dissent. There is a sense that TINA has been internalised, no question about it, particularly due to the advent of the ECB et al in relation to ‘managing’ the affairs of the state during the present period, but it’s not just that. Partly this is, I would hazard, because they are not enamoured with alternatives, the failure of campaigns is obvious, but also the sheer lack of space for campaigns and protest is another. And as I’ve suggested before, part of it perhaps is due to the example of the North. There the example of how difficult it is to overturn deeply embedded socio-political and socio-economic structures, even/particularly in the face of an armed insurgency, perhaps demonstrates that states and governments, and state governing systems, are much more deeply embedded than some might have previously thought.
The issue of legitimation is crucial here. Simply put, for all the complaining and noises off and on, there is only a tiny minority who do not believe that this government and this state is legitimate and that it is able to exercise its authority – within obvious limits – as it sees fit within a Dáil term and sanctioned by a Dáil majority. There’s not even, yet at least, a sense that we’re close to the near-revolving door governments of the early 1980s where that process of legitimation began to look a bit threadbare.
But even then there was never any prolonged existential threat to the state and its authority, not during the Hunger Strikes, not during the depths of the economic crisis of that period.
The point being that citizens largely buy into states, for various reasons, not least – as mentioned tangentially here – due to stability and continuity. And that’s something that needs to be factored in in all contests with the state large and small.
Of course the local and general elections are contests too, but they are legitimations. Profound legitimations too. How to successfully carve out oppositional spaces knowing this, and working with and around this, is a key question for the left.