Government without the pain. May 5, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Good overview by Fintan O’Toole in the IT in regard to the traditional parties and how they seem to have lost their appetite for government. He argues that:Whatever else you could say about our big political parties, they used to be rather good at one thing: taking and holding power. They hungered for power like famished wolves. And now they don’t.
The long and winding road to the election of a taoiseach is coming to an end, but it will give us, not so much a government, more a mere administration. We will have a taoiseach who was decisively rejected by the electorate and a cabinet made up largely of members of a party that lost an election. It lost it, moreover, for a good reason: it wasn’t very good at governing.
And he continues:
And this, remember, is a deliberate choice: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had a comfortable majority between them and could have formed a strong government. That they chose not to do so tells us something quite profound: at the heart of the political system, there is a loss of faith in the power of government.
There’s a history to this: 15 years of bad government. The rot set in after September 11th, 2001, when the vast global boom of the 1990s ended. Ireland rode that wave of global growth with spectacular success. Rapid economic expansion, the return of migrants and the largely skilful handling of the peace process gave Irish governments legitimacy and prestige. They seemed capable of achieving big things.
…when the wave they had been surfing crashed, they plunged back into cynicism and self-delusion. Government became an ever-more frantic effort to disguise the underlying problems by inflating what became, in relative terms, one of history’s biggest banking and property bubbles. With their vast salaries and expenses, ministers became mere puffed-up embodiments of the extravagant follies over which they presided.
When the bubble burst, sovereign government went with it. The cabinet became a Home Rule administration. The august room in which it met was simply the local wriggle room within the very tight confines of the troika’s instructions. Obedience was the watchword and the main job of Irish governments was telling us why they couldn’t do what they wanted to do and why they hated doing the things they had to do.
But I think while aspects of that are correct it misses something more fundamental in regards to the why and the timescales. This isn’t some aberration. Nor is this a function of the crisis. It’s much more deep rooted than that, and it is of a piece with a wholesale retreat from government and a belief in state power that has been evident since the 1970s or 1980s. It is part of a dynamic where government is not about governing, rather it is about a limited market inflected nudging of various areas of economic and social activity, rather than a direct engagement with those activities.
O’Toole notes that Irish Water and other instances exemplify an inability to govern – homelessness, universal heath insurance, banking inquiry, etc, etc. But all are characteristic of an approach by the parties involved where intervention is near enough anathema, where it is contracted out to second and third parties and where direct responsibility is evaded. Nor is this simply about evasion of responsibility (though that is a pleasant, from their perspective, byproduct). It is about a – yes, neo-liberal world view where really the state doesn’t have much business doing much at all. And where it is involved it is horribly compromised by the existence of private healthcare, private schooling and so on.
This is why O’Toole is both right and wrong when he says:
For the past 15 years, government has meant either the hyped-up strutting of the self-deluded or the hand-wringing and shoulder-shrugging of “hard choices” that were really soft options. Perhaps, then, it’s not all that surprising that we’ve ended up with this lack of enthusiasm for the wielding of power. The belief that governments can set goals for social change and then achieve them has evaporated.
It’s a much older dynamic. That belief evaporated in the fierce ideological heat of Thatcher/Reagan and thereafter. And although there are contradictions, as the PDs were wont to note – as the scale of the state, through its proxies expanded even if the state proper contracted, well, in purely political terms that wasn’t necessarily a negative feature.
Ironically it could be that Enda Kenny’s personal appetite for governance outweighs that of both his own party and FF. FF clearly seeks the optimum time to govern, when the clouds of economic crisis have cleared completely – though good luck with that Soldiers of Destiny. FG is unsure as to what the upsides are to the inconvenient little arrangement they appear set upon. But Enda Kenny seems to exhibit no such concerns (not that he’s exhibiting anything much publicly full stop as noted this week – though the persistence with which FG has sought an accommodation with FF is telling). And, really, who can blame him? He’s without question as good as the next most likely candidate. Any of them are. That’s kind of the problem, isn’t it?