Area man becomes politician and does what politicians tend to do. February 9, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
I’m genuinely surprised, and I’ve got to admit, amused and entertained, by the tone of some of the coverage of Stephen Donnelly’s exit stage right to Fianna Fáil. There’s a strand of disillusionment running through it that seems utterly inappropriate.
Now this may seem unfair, but what has he actually done to deserve this outpouring of emotion?
After all, let’s get this in perspective. Here was a TD who was elected for the first time in 2011 as an Independent – then made the (for some of us) unlikely crossing to the Social Democrats, wound up as one of that formation’s three co-leaders, was re-elected on that ticket and then not all that long after… indeed some of us might think far too briefly, departed the SDs (rumour being that he was upset they didn’t decide to go into government, though given two of his co-leaders weren’t keen one might think democratic – see, Democrat, it’s not just a brand – weight might be given to that decision). And then having wandered away into the political wilderness as an Independent for some months back he comes to announce he’s joining FF.
In that six or so years what precisely did he do? Provide a trenchant critique of FG/LP? Well sure, but so did many others. The opposition benches then and now were/are groaning under the weight of people who can provide trenchant critiques. But the key word in that last sentence is ‘opposition’.
This, I think, from Kathy Sheridan’s piece on same is very telling:
I was among the earliest interviewers of a then unknown Donnelly, my attention drawn by a friend who worked on his 2011 campaign. His international education, training and work experience, combined with articulate delivery and righteously indignant edge made for a timely offering: “We are standing on a beautiful, old sinking ship”, he said that day, “but I and a few people like me have some of the skills to fix the holes.”
Am I being unfair if the term ‘articulate delivery’ is the most important one for some? Here was a nice, articulate, righteously indignant, internationally educated individual. Middle class – why yes, that’ll do nicely. Of business but not in business. Not likely to scare the horses. Independent. Willing to take his knocks. Rueful. Clever. Timely. But in what way? What policy proscriptions did he offer that were different to others? What means to achieve them? What other than himself was on offer? Sheridan offers this quote:
Back in December 2014, he cited “a clever academic”, who told him “that when we’re deciding whether or not to trust people to do a particular job, we look for two main traits – competence and integrity”.
It took a ‘clever academic’ to come up with that and for it to be received as if it were engraved in tablets of stone and taken down from the mountain? The empty rhetoric of business, a rhetoric that attempts to justify its banality and obviousness by reference to ‘jobs’ and further justifies itself by that other reference to a ‘clever academic’. That’s ‘clever’? Hardly. No great leap to suggest that it is implicitly self-serving.
I failed to push the then Independent candidate to identify the “few people like me”, or with whose shipload of pixie dust, a newbie without a party proposed to fix the catastrophic holes. But the people of Wicklow, bristling with distrust in the established parties, believed in his independence and his trenchant condemnations of the status quo.
Take this from 2014: “There’s an appetite for public representatives the public know will say what they think, not what they’re told . . . There’s no sign of the traditional political parties becoming more tolerant of dissent, or welcoming of different ideas. Many within the Dáil argue that the level of centralisation and control is getting worse. But the public are moving on”. That’s just a couple of years ago. It must have taken one rapid, radical shake-up within Fianna Fáil to produce all that tolerance and truth-telling he now discerns.
All this investment, emotional, political, otherwise, in one individual. And again I wonder about the track record. Weren’t there clues that his was a certain sort of political volatility? The trek to the SDs (let’s not forget he was seemingly also in the mix for the Independent Alliance, or so rumour had it, at one point). Didn’t that tell us one thing? The trek away, another? The very public agonising subsequently, another again. All this played out in the light of day, well not quite all of it. The trip to FF (talking to some LP people recently they thought he was inclined their way for some time – I wonder if the levels of public opprobrium would be quite so pronounced had he reached that destination?).
Is this about Fianna Fáil? Or is it about Donnelly? Is it about his ambition, hardly at all concealed, or about that party’s legacy? And is it also about a fundamental misunderstanding about Irish politics – indeed all politics, by those like Sheridan? For it is not that Donnelly is uniquely or even extravagantly ambitious, merely that his inclinations that way have been visible in a shorter and more accentuated period of time than is usual. A youngish man in a hurry is he. But the wailing and gnashing of teeth over FF is misplaced.
The tone of some Donnelly supporters suggests that only the naive or those who never knocked on a door get shaken up by such macho manoeuvring. Sure if one party isn’t doing it for him, why not take his undoubted talents to another?
But can Sheridan point to any substantive differences between say the LP, FF and FG? All those parties have been in government this past ten years. Their approaches haven’t been identical, that would be absurd, but they’ve not been radically at odds with one another. The LP appeared supinely comfortable in FG’s embrace, even as it had the life squeezed out of it. As it stands we have a de facto FG/FF alliance. And look at this from the other side – what of Donnelly, what beliefs does he have that would place him at odds with those parties? Why not FF indeed, or FG? Perhaps even the right of SF, though having some interactions with his people over the years I know the depth of the antipathy towards them in his camp – similar indeed to Sheridan’s antipathy towards FF.
And the SDs, for all their virtues, offered a platform that would not be impossible to dovetail with those other parties mentioned above. In that, oddly, Donnelly wasn’t far wrong – though canny operators like Murphy and Shortall would have been well aware from experience that a party leaping into government too soon in its life is a dangerous proposition, whatever about the TDs who represent it.
In some ways Donnelly would have slotted best into the IA – politics as doing above all else.What is done isn’t necessarily as important as the fact it is done. It doesn’t have to be constrained by an ideology or even a coherent policy approach. Just the simple fact of being in government, that is near enough its own justification.
There’s nothing odd about Donnelly, nothing perverse, nothing hugely special – articulate, self-consciously self-deprecating guy, becomes TD and wants to be more. It’s an old story. The only difference is that people saw him as more than this? Really? But why? There’s the real surprise.