Generational shifts in politics September 27, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
In almost all areas of human life there are generational shifts, moments where one set of individuals suddenly leave the stage, replaced by new ones. They’re often unheralded, at least initially, but in retrospect make perfect sense.
I remember seeing Tony Blair on a television panel in the early 1990s and thinking, ‘don’t much like this guy but he’s very fluent’. And so he was, which was perhaps a significant part of the problem. But within a couple of years he was leader of the Labour Party and much of the Kinnock generation, and almost all of those who were a part of its predecessor generation, had gone. And now, Blair is relatively long gone, the Blair/Brown generation, and many of those who were a little younger and associated with it have gone, and we see the next tranche edging – perhaps – towards state power, though on current polling it will be quite an ask for the LP to win an election without the need to participate in a coalition government.
Similarly with Clegg and Cameron, though in that instance there was a real sniff of this being the Tories and the Liberal Democrats playing catch-up with Labour and Blair, albeit long after the fact. That Clegg could clearly sit quite comfortably in the Tory party tells us nothing many of us didn’t know before about the LD’s. That his party is not less comfortable than it clearly is with this situation is interesting but no great revelation. That neither of them are that concerned about their date with electoral destiny is perhaps most interesting of all.
And, quite naturally, this operates here. I’ve been reminded recently how some parties left of Labour have leaderships that have been around a while. A very very long while indeed, and it will be educative to see how they weather what are inevitable generational shifts. Some that seemed well positioned to bridge that gap appear less so today than two years ago. Others steam ahead in the clear knowledge that their leaderships will be substantially different within the decade.
But all this musing is brought on by an interesting Backroom column in the Business Post which while ostensibly tackling the issue of the Seanad points up some home truths to a variety of characters who currently inhabit, or should that be infest, our body politic.
Look at the current Seanad referendum campaign. So far, neither side has managed to ignite public debate on what could be the biggest single change ever to our Constitution. The one thing they have done, however, is to breathe new life into the capacity of some former politicians.
And it notes that:
One of the more interesting aspects of the return of the superannuated six is just how anodyne and colourless their modern-day counterparts seem in contrast.
It is hard not to admire the apparent certainty or gruff candour of an O’Malley or a McManus, especially when compared to the newspeak of some of the latest political intake. But here, in Backroom’s humble opinion, lies the problem.
These big beasts were themselves once neophytes. Their ascension to political prominence was heralded by the departures – as often forced as voluntary – of those who went before them.
And, perhaps cruelly, it continues:
Others had to clear the stage for them to grasp the limelight, and so it is true of them.
Yes, it is great to watch McDowell fulminate in debate, but his day has passed. The voters spoke, and should be heeded. His end was not pretty but, as Enoch Powell remarked: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”
It is now the turn of others to make both their own mark and their own mistakes. Today’s crop of new politicians may seem more prissy and manufactured, reluctant to take a position that has not been focus-grouped in advance, but that will only change by exposing them to the harsh realities of political life.
It is something that I think hasn’t been factored into all the talk of new right wing parties, the simple fact that those who most earnestly propose them are themselves very very familiar characters on the Irish political horizon, overly so many of us would argue. And they are of a generation that is now moving on. It seems unfair, to some extent, does it not, that Michael McDowell is a mere stripling of 62, while Enda Kenny is of like age. But it isn’t their ages, indeed in some ways it’s not about age at all. Kenny’s profile, for better or worse, was pretty low until the early 2000s (indeed this no doubt accounts for some of the ire directed his way by some of the more ambitious figures in FG), whereas McDowell seems like an hardy perennial. But that works against McDowell because he’s been round the block, and round it again, and again, since the 1980s. Gerry Adams pulled a neat trick by shifting the context around him when he came South to the Dáil, and I still find it fascinating to see him in the chamber, it’s an almost unbelievable sight given the history of the past fifty odd years, but while it clearly doesn’t work for everyone he was perhaps a distant enough figure from the Southern polity to pull it off at least for this Dáil term. But already there are the discussions about what comes next for SF, and so on. Micheál Martin is a different issue again. But again here the problem is not age, the man is in his early 50s, practically a youngster in political terms, it’s again political longevity, and the fact he was a member of Cabinet in what are now retrospectively reviled governments. Not sure how he can deal with that, even if he was by far one of the most emollient characters in those governments. And with Labour there’s the real sense that the current leadership, at its highest reaches, is firmly pointed towards the political exit. Again it’s odd that given that Eamon Gilmore is still in his 50s. But that’s something about ambience. He doesn’t look like a man with any remaining appetite.
Backroom makes an interesting point:
In defence of the Seanad, their re-emergence is as much due to their being dragooned back into service as it is about them wanting once again to bask in the spotlight, though it is hard to imagine any of them took much convincing.
You bet. Relevance is all.