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Substance and facade in Irish politics December 19, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I was thinking recently about how much of political activity in this state is conducted at a level of absurd self-reflection and self-consciousness. Ideology comes into it – doesn’t it always – albeit often unstated or with the assumptions of the right baked into the mix so that their tropes predominate. But so much is about positioning, public profile of politicians and parties themselves, as distinct from fundamental.

And I think that this is obviously problematic in regards to the manner in which relatively cosmetic matters gain an absurd prominence. For example during the PDs and GPs stint in government there was much talk about how those parties would ‘pull the plug’ on a government in order to ‘prove’ their independence. This gained risible heights when it became an expectation in the first case, and then a sort of expectation in the second. Yet it meant nothing given that those parties and Labour after them had acquiesced to programmes where any ‘make or break’ issue was going to be of necessity of a lesser order than the cumulative damage inflicted by that earlier acquiescence.

Moreover the way in which ‘pulling the plug’ was initially portrayed as a sign of political strength and independence and later – when the economic climate got much more rocky – a sign of weakness was telling. It didn’t matter a damn either way.

But none of this was about ideology, or remarkably little. Why would the PDs or GP go into government with FF and FG or not? Why would the LP go in with FG but not FF (and by the by, Michael McDowell’s recent point that FG was willing to go into government with FF suggests that that particular political omertà may be losing its power and the LP will have to take note for what excuse can they possibly give now?). These should be ideological questions but so often they are not.

I’m often struck by the thought when reading or hearing comments from FF or FG members or politicians about how SF is too far left to work with, or commentators who decry its lack of adherence to the orthodoxy, that so much of that is not about SF policy – though some of it is, particularly their supposed immaturity or lack of realism due to not cleaving perfectly to economic orthodoxy, but about SF being… well, SF, with their history. And yet, at the same time I remember a friend of mine who was at a political studies conference attended by reps of various parties hearing outrage from LPers when it was pointed out that programmatically SF was far to the left of that party.

But all this is of a piece with a polity where the two largest parties are – without question, distinct, but oddly similar. Where the overlaps in support, outlook and so on are considerable, but yet they cannot work together openly or at least can only do so in this weird chinese whispers fashion that we now see. So it is that we have the absurdities of last week where one or other is perceived as gaining an advantage on the other despite the fact that one is in government at the gift of the other and that the whole edifice could be pulled right down if the one out of government wanted.

Even after everything else the need to present a supposed alternative or alternatives within the orthodoxy is so great that a sort of political shadow boxing is presented to the public. Can that situation ever end?


1. lcox - December 19, 2016

Much the same has been said of the French 4th republic and arguably characterised the Italian 1st republic (ie postwar until the early 90s).

In both cases there were strong communist and right-wing parties that couldn’t be allowed in government (with some qualifications in the latter case) so that governments inevitably consisted of broadly the same centre parties in subtly different permutations but little real changes of policy.

In this analysis such governments were peculiarly crisis-ridden as politics within this sphere became almost entirely about personal advantage, hence the need for constant manufactured crises to profile this politician or that faction but without actually raising issues of substance.

IMHO there has always been something of this in mainstream Irish politics even when it was possible to have governments with genuinely different parties involved. But over the last few elections the pattern has certainly increased.

The strange thing to my mind is that indicated by the outrage from LP activists at the observation that the SF platform is to the left of theirs. The GP seems to suffer from a similar inability to look at itself clearly. In both cases despite a great willingness to boast about how realist and hard-headed you have to be to be in politics, etc.


WorldbyStorm - December 19, 2016

Yes, it’s odd, but the self-perception is strong that they are left and others aren’t. This reminds me that recently I was talking to an ex-LP person who during the Adams/Stack Dáil exchanges was astounded at Ellis making the point he was prison during the murder of Stack. They seemed to think that delegitimised them being public reps – completely unaware that a tranche of their recently departed public reps came from a party with a very similar sort of history in ways (and indeed some of their more high profile reps had been in prison themselves!). That’s not about the left/right divide but it is about something almost like a polite/not at all polite divide (apologies that’s not the best way of putting it).

“governments were peculiarly crisis-ridden as politics within this sphere became almost entirely about personal advantage, hence the need for constant manufactured crises to profile this politician or that faction but without actually raising issues of substance.” +1


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