The Progressive Democrats look like a bit of a spent force in Irish politics. As mentioned previously though, the fall of this ultra-capitalist right-wing Party of Business is not a result of people turning their backs on the short-termist unsustainable philosophy they espouse. Rather it’s a result of a shift in the mainstream centre-ground. Fianna FÃ¡il and Fine Gael have both been willing to put short-term economic growth before the long-term good of the country. “Wealth Before Wisdom” would have been a far more accurate slogan than anything either party came up with during the recent election.
And because of this shift to the right, the PDs are simply no longer required. There’s no act of capitalist extremism, no policy that places profit before people, no position of meek subjugation to market forces, that Bertie Ahern isn’t already willing to adopt. Irish politics no longer needs a small ultra-right party when it’s got two large ultra-right parties to choose from.
This is why it doesn’t surprise me to see the PDs fragment and dissolve. When party leader Michael McDowell lost his seat and threw his toys out of his pram (walking away from politics on the very day his party most needed leadership), the writing was on the wall for the Progressive Democrats. Today the writing was no longer just on the wall, it appeared in 20-foot-high neon letters above the few remaining party members. Because today Tom Parlon, party president and favourite to take over the leadership, quit the party and followed McDowell out of public life. Up until a few weeks ago, Parlon had been TD for the Laois-Offaly constituency. More than that, he’d been Minister in charge of the Office of Public Works.
This last fact is of particular interest, as Parlon is quitting politics to take up a very high-paying position as director general of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF). It should be pointed out that there’s absolutely no hard evidence that Parlon is a vile, corrupt scumbag who treated public service as nothing more than a step in his career… a rung on his own ladder towards personal riches. Nor that his close relationship with the CIF might have extended back before the job offer; when he was in charge of a publicly-funded multi-billion euro building programme. So anyone who suggests that rather than acting in the interest of the Irish public while a government minister, Parlon instead took his lead from a particular business organisation which was later to offer him a salary of a quarter-million euro per year, should be aware that — given the lack of hard evidence — such suggestions may well be libellous.
Interestingly, Parlon’s appointment to the CIF demonstrates once again the ridiculously compromised nature of the Irish Green Party. I would bet everything I own that — had the Greens not been members of the same government as the PDs — they would have been the first to publicly condemn this doubtlessly-perfectly-above-board-despite-appearing-corrupt-as-hell move. Instead that’s left to the Labour Party who describe Parlon’s decision as representing a “serious potential conflict of interest”. The Greens merely issued a rather tame statement calling for a Code of Conduct in political life. The Green statement is careful not to mention their political ally specifically of course and suggests “a buffer period of twelve months, during which time politicians could not take up private sector employment relating to their previous area of responsibility”.
Such a code would be a great idea and I’m only surprised it doesn’t already exist. However, while the Greens are getting that together (it’ll be very interesting to see how much influence they actually have in government… will this “call” for a Code of Conduct get acted upon by Fianna FÃ¡il or will it be ignored like every other Green policy?) could I suggest that they also start work on another — perhaps far more important — code of conduct. It could be called “The Contract With The Electorate” or something similar, and it would prevent parties deceptively campaigning on a manifesto which they later abandon wholesale in favour of a ministerial salary and a little bit of power.
Just an idea.
Update (12-07-07): The Labour Party have described Parlon’s move as positively “unethical” (not merely as being “potentially” a conflict of interest). More than that (via The Dossing Times), the Irish branch of Transparency International — the global anti-corruption group — have questioned the decision by the ex-president of the PDs. Although they make it clear that the group does not comment on individual cases, they nonetheless point out that it’s hardly a good idea for ministers to “make decisions with one eye on future employment prospects”.