May 2009

The Local and European elections

The next couple of weeks will see two sets of elections here in Ireland. There’s much evidence to suggest that the electorate is going to take an opportunity to kick the living crap out of the government. There’s also some evidence that the left might pick up more support than usual. Ireland is traditionally more socialist-leaning than many countries (certainly than the UK or America) and with the spectacular collapse of the Celtic Tiger and sudden return to high unemployment, the drift away from the centre-right is inevitable.

That said, the big winners are still likely to be Fine Gael, the main opposition party. Though politically indistinguishable from the governing party, Fianna Fáil, they will be seen as the best way of bloodying the government’s nose. Because there’s no doubt that the big losers will be the parties of power, including the Greens… having thrown in their lot with the centre right, they are not in a position to capitalise on the fallout from the recent economic anarchy. Labour and Sinn Féin could do very well, especially in the Locals.

[Aside: I will admit to a chuckle when I read about how Sinn Féin MPs at Westminister have been claiming the absolute maximum in expenses despite refusing to participate in parliament (they cite a moral objection to swearing fealty to the Queen which every MP is required to do prior to taking office). Of all the parties involved, they are probably the only one who can legitimately claim to be representing their voters by bringing the British political system into disrepute.]

Anyhoo, Sinn Féin have become the “Will they? Won’t they?” force in Irish politics south of the border. Their policies don’t appear to be quite as unsavoury as some nationalist groups (more Plaid Cymru, less BNP), though the fact they renounced guns more recently than some other Irish parties still puts a lot of people off. A local election during a time of unprecedented public disillusionment with the government could prove to be their springboard towards a larger role in Irish political life however.

All the same, I have a fundamental problem with nationalism, and while many of their policies are attractive I do find the emphasis on “Irishness” to be a little disconcerting. I’m Irish myself, but I’ve spent most of my life as an emigrant and only returned a few years ago. Also, while my partner is an Irish citizen, she is naturalized and didn’t start life that way. So I find some of Sinn Féin’s language a bit exclusionary at times. Again, don’t confuse this with BNP-level stuff; it’s not; but it’s far from ideal.

That said, maybe the leftwards drift will be less pronounced and wash up at the feet of Labour. The Irish labour party didn’t follow Blair’s New Labour in having a complete conversion to free market princples, but nor can they be considered traditional socialists. They have tended to be in favour of the privatisation of public assets of late, though they’ve re-adopted some of the language of the left now that it seems like it might be in vogue again. A fact that generates a somewhat sceptical glance from this direction.

I don’t imagine there’s going to be many big surprises in either the locals or the Europeans. Large loss for Fianna Fáil, smaller loss for the Greens, large gains for Fine Gael and Labour with the chance of Sinn Féin picking up plenty of local council seats as well as one MEP. Also a small increase in the number of socialists and independents gaining council seats.

As for me? Despite being a ‘traditional’ Green voter, the Greens lost my vote by supporting and perpetuating a government that spent the best part of a decade overseeing an orgy of capitalist excess. I gave them my voice and they allowed it to be effectively silenced in return for not much at all. I suspect, therefore, that I’ll try to help an independent socialist on to the local council and see if I can’t do my bit in sending Mary Lou to Brussels. It’s hardly ideal, but I’d be a fool to pass up the opportunity to help give this government a slap.

Posted in: Opinion