The general election was tedious and it’s not really clear what message it purveys. The electorate seemed jaded and the politicians delivered no memorable new policies, apart from Renua’s utterly regressive at tax proposal. Village believes that elections should be all about ideas, ideology, policy (and how best to implement them). In these terms the election and its participants were a two-out-of-ten failure.
Commentators from the equally idea-free media have interpreted the results in heterogeneous ways. Every sort of theory and cleverality was deployed to describe the drearily and precariously hung Dail: a triumph of democracy, a triumph of social democracy, the end of the civil war, the end/beginning of the beginning/end of the civil war. The perennial smart view that the electorate has failed the parties got several outings. If the second-rate sages had been able to they would have loved to interpret it as a triumph of angry white men. They couldn’t.
Some saw it as a victory for the small parties and independents. But the Social Democrats did not increase, Renua was wiped out, the Greens gained only two seats in an era of climate-apocalypse. The People Before Profit/ Anti-Austerity Alliance finished up with only one more seat than they had before the election, and Direct Democracy did not gure. Before the election these were the only small parties.
The truth is that this election was a triumph of the interchangeable FF/FG (FG/FF) duopoly, though its trajectory has been definitively defined as downward.
Ideology is what political parties apply when they run out of policies. Since most of the parties’ manifestos are short and the events to which policies must be applied are unpredictable it is reasonable to expect that your candidate will have an ideology to guide her. Village for example favours an agenda of equality of outcome, sustainability and accountability. The ideology is comprehensive, it provides a solution for any situation, and a template against which policy formulation can be benchmarked. Candidates shouldn’t have to reflect Village’s ideology, but they’d be better having some sort of one.
Neither civil-war party has an ideology. It is impossible to know what they will do once elected.
How, therefore, could anyone who does not live under a stone be enthusiastic about a government of FF and FG?
FF is a conservative party that believes in so little that it surrendered its entire ethos to a culture of provincialism and cronyism, last time it was in government. It believes in no more now so, though it is touting a centre-left agenda there is every danger it will return to populism, short-termism and promoting the only agenda it understands – the interests of the people its representatives actually know – a cronyist populism that always finishes up favouring those who shout loudest.
It is naïve to think of FF as Micheál Martin and when it is the movement it has always known itself to be, of Eamon OCuív, of Barry Cowen, of Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher; and tens of marginally more presentable sons and daughters of best-forgotten FF dynasts. Kevin O’Keeffe, son of Ned O’Keeffe, anyone?
FG is a conservative party currently dressed up as a Christian Democrat party. The ethos is exible enough that under Garret FitzGerald it was in effect Social Democrat. In its latest incarnation it has been right of centre, at a time when most people want fairness and an improvement in services. It failed to deliver an agenda of accountability and its representatives seem to believe in little beyond sound money, ‘Europe’ and law and order. Having once appeared to be purer than FF it is now tainted by the Moriarty Tribunal report and a perceived ongoing proximity to Denis O’Brien, Ireland’s richest man, as well as by its large number of low-grade County Councillors, whose corruption record is a hairsbreadth from as bad as FF’s.
Though essentially conservative, both FF and FG contain some social democrats and liberals in their midst. These aberrations and those who vote for them are delaying the day a real Social Democratic party with coherent left-of-centre platform can become a force that could anchor a government.
On the other hand it is clear that more people than is desirable voted FG in 2011 to get FF out and then FF in 2016 to get FG out. These people need to acknowledge that they are forces forconservativism. The incarnation of this is the dangerously articulate Éamon Dunphy who apparently voted FF in 2016 because he really believes in People Before Profit (or Sinn Féin. It isn’t clear). Anyone who thinks that FF was the solution to our problems in 2016 is part of the problem.
So what next?
FF and FG should merge as a conservative party though even coalition is for the moment some way off. FF is tactically sharper than FG and FG is in retreat so it is likely FF will tantalise FG to weaken and demoralise it during this Dáil. Nevertheless the (non-)ideological compatibility of the parties has been exposed and will generate its own momentum.
While allowing this momentum its space the Left of all hues must use the logic of the momentum against FF and FG, and social democrats must colonise some of the space the dinosaur parties have occupied for tragically long.