Aug 2006

Frances Fitzgerald: candidate for The Man

A leaflet fluttered through my letterbox yesterday. It was from a local politician… a prospective Fine Gael (Fee-neh Gale) candidate in next years General Election. Her name is Frances Fitzgerald and her leaflet is a bit of early canvassing for next year, outlining some of her policies on mostly local – but also some wider – issues.

It took all of five seconds to establish that she has a whelk’s chance in a supernova of ever getting my vote. But that was never likely let’s face it. Fine Gael are a conservative centre-right party with a capitalist ideology. If there’s a mad independent candidate with staring eyes who is running on a ticket of whatever the aliens tell him… then he will better represent my views than Frances Fitzgerald. Because if Frances is standing for a party which seeks to perpetuate our rampant over-consumption and unsustainable economic growth, then she’s standing on the opposite side of the barricades to me.

The policy part of her leaflet opens with a section on crime. It’s beyond predictable; real mass-psychology 101 stuff, y’know? Open with fear. Scared people are more compliant… more receptive to any future statements you make once you’ve adopted the guise of “protector”. And what better way to do this than talk about…

  • “more Gardaí­ on the beat”;
  • “more [Garda] cars and CCTV”;
  • “implement a policy of zero-tolerance”; and
  • “ensure that criminals serve their time… not back on the streets posing a threat”.

That’s a distillation of the first four items in her 5-point plan to “restore law and order to all our communities”. The fifth and final point talks about investment in “recreational facilities for young people”. In the name of all that’s sacred! Does a politician who thinks in such an unimaginative and insultingly simplistic way honestly believe she can represent my views?

Solving crime

Look, if there is indeed a crime problem then let’s make a serious attempt to solve it. No, no, I’m not suggesting that we’re ever going to stop murder and mayhem. That’s never going away. We’re apes, and there’ll always be plenty of folks willing to act as a reminder. But despite this, clearly we could choose to address the crime problem more rationally than we’re doing at present.

I mean, tell me; has “more CCTV” ever resulted in “restoring law and order”? I lived in the UK for a while… land of the everpresent cycloptian eye. Everywhere you turn in London there’s a half dozen CCTV cameras peering at you accusingly. Yet they appear not to have eliminated crime in London as yet. Presumably, therefore, to have the desired effect we’ll need more than they’ve got in London. How many more Frances? Do you want us living in a world where our every moment is scrutinised by the lens?

I know a book about that.

And when you proudly proclaim your intolerance Frances, like a badge of honour, then I shudder at the thought of being represented by someone with so little compassion. Zero tolerance, eh? Whenever I hear a politician utter that phrase I hear a distant response… “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. And I want to demand that politician imagine their life today if their every past transgression had been treated with zero-tolerance. Demand they tell me whether the compassion and forgiveness of others had any part at all in forming the person they are today. And why they seek to deny that to others.

Zero-tolerance is not a policy. It’s a way of looking at the world. And one that I will never vote for.

Of course I’m well aware of how difficult it is to accurately trace lines of cause and effect when it comes to something as complex as a social system. There’s just too many damn variables. Nonetheless, there’s a phrase from systems engineering… “predictable consequence”. It’s important to read that phrase as a technical term; one which is ever-so-slightly different to the literal. Think of it as a defined as “on the balance of probabilities and based upon what we know of the most influential factors of the system, this is a likely outcome”.

The point of the phrase is that it’s how the analyst identifies something that requires action. If I say that a predictable consequence of running a system at the required pressure would be blown valves; I’m not saying that the valves will blow. I’m saying they need to be replaced. It may sound like splitting hairs, I guess, but the distinction is a real one.

Now, to describe our drug policy as counter-productive is like describing the sun as warm. We have decided, voluntarily, to place one of the world’s largest and most lucrative industries entirely into the hands of violent criminals. We have voluntarily surrendered all control over the manufacture and distribution of some of the world’s most addictive substances. We have passed laws to ensure that the consumption of these substances is made vastly more dangerous than is necessary. And we have entire government agencies working tirelessly to drive up the price of these addictive substances.

The predictable consequence of that set of policies is a crime wave. It would not be stretching it too much to suggest that we’ve somehow managed to implement a set of drug policies which maximise the social damage of drugs. Rational drug law reform will not “solve crime”. However it will radically reduce the amount of violent and acquisitive crime in our society. So as a first step, I’d argue that’s the sensible place to start.

It’ll certainly do more to reduce crime than extra policemen and a couple of youth centres.

Improving public transport

Fine Gael is committed to introducing competition in the Dublin Bus market. By allowing private operators to tender competitively for licences…

Ohhhhhkaaaayyyy… I guess she’s really not after my vote. Well, it’s nice that she’s upfront about it.

Here’s my thing… this is what I actually want my bus to be. First and foremost, I want it to be a public service. Now that may sound selfish. “What about all those millions of people who want it to be a profitable business, eh?” you ask. But the thing is… are there really that many of them? Because I’ve yet to actually meet one, despite their prevelance in the political media circus.

I want a bus that leaves Rathcoole every half hour and takes me straight into the city centre bypassing the bottleneck that is Clondalkin. I don’t want the bus to make any profit, merely cover costs* and I want it to run 24 hours day (though the frequency can drop to one an hour between midnight and 5am).

That would be a public service. The fact that Frances Fitzgerald believes it would be a bad idea (or, mindbogglingly, that such a service is actually beyond the ability of Fine Gael to organise) suggests that her first desire isn’t to be a public servant. Rather she seeks to serve the interests of that portion of the population who would genuinely prefer the bus to be run primarily as a profitable business.

That can only mean the shareholders of the corporations tendering for the rights to make money out of our public transport. Good to know. All I need to do is become a wealthy shareholder in a predatory corporation seeking to run my bus service at the lowest possible cost to themselves and the highest possible cost to me. Then Frances Fitzgerald might want to represent my interests. Yay Fine Gael!

Almost time to take to the streets

Oh there’s plenty more, but really, who cares? If this is the best that mainstream politics can offer us… well, it’s clearly time to look outside mainstream politics for the solutions we need to the problems we’ve created. It’s time we swept aside the empty nonsense of the Frances Fitzgeralds of this world.

Woe betide the next politician to leaflet my street…

* In fact, I would like it subsidised by the taxpayer. But I’ll leave that last demand until a future election (one step at a time).

Posted in: Opinion