And so the General Election campaign gets into full swing. Lamp posts are festooned with posters of unlikeable and untrustworthy fools demanding the right to speak on my behalf. The news is filled with lies as they tell us how they’ll solve the economic crisis. And the abject farce of the TV debates leaves an all-pervasive stench of bullshit wafting across our political landscape.
Tonight was to be the first of the TV debates and the leaders of the three main parties were invited on to TV3 to discuss their plans for the next five years. Not only were none of the leaders of the smaller parties invited — so that it was to be a debate between three centre-right, pro-corporate parties without an ounce of genuine vision between them — but one of those centrist leaders refused to take part because he didn’t like the man chosen to chair the debate.
Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael and — if the polls are to be believed — our next Taoiseach, denied the Irish people a chance to see him challenged by those who would oppose him in what is one of the most petulant example of political cowardice I’ve ever witnessed. Unable to put aside his personal differences with the questioner for two hours in the name of open debate and transparent democracy, he instead fled to a Fine Gael stronghold where he took tame questions from an audience of his supporters in what was billed as a “Town Hall meeting”. If he honestly thinks it presented an adequate scrutiny of his ideas, then those ideas must be very shallow indeed.
The one moment of interest came when a lone heckler, “Bobby”, spoke truth to power for the only occasion all evening. Bobby told us he was unemployed, with a sick father he was unable to support and a sister emigrating to Hungary to find work. He demanded to know what Kenny would do about his situation… a situation being experienced by an increasingly large Irish underclass; marginalised during the Celtic Tiger and now shafted by politicians who see the forces of capitalism as their true constituency.
Kenny, bizarrely, responded by citing utterly irrelevant statistics as though they actually meant something. Fine Gael would set up 20 thousand internships for graduates who couldn’t find paying work, he told Bobby (who had lost his job as a road-sweeper). The idea that an unemployed road-sweeper, trying and failing to support his ailing father, is going to be helped by a promise of 20,000 unpaid positions for graduates was as clear an example of the deep disconnect between mainstream politicians and the people they claim to represent as you will ever see. 17,000 apprentices who were unable to complete their courses due to the collapse of the construction sector will be provided with the opportunity to finish those apprenticeships. “So at least they’ll have a piece of paper”. He actually said that! “So at least they’ll have a piece of paper”.
Here is an unemployed man, sinking beneath a mess created by the unholy alliance of politicians, bankers and developers who ran this nation into the ground, desperate for some sliver of hope. And Enda Kenny responds with promises of unpaid work for graduates and a piece of paper for out-of-work apprentices. When Bobby, having listened to Kenny’s response with the vain expectation that it might actually contain something relevant to him, responded with perfectly reasonable disgust… “I can smell it from here!” (a line that should become the unofficial motto of these elections), he was booed and shouted down by the vast majority of those present. A demonstration of the pathetically tame nature of Kenny’s audience. Laughingly, Bobby’s question was sandwiched between questions from two Fine Gael councillors.
The safe bubble of sycophancy in which Enda Kenny has sought refuge has clearly insulated him from the realisation that there are a thousand Bobbys out there for every Fine Gael councillor.
That said… the capacity for people to vote against their best interests should never be underestimated, and our politicians are counting on just that. Enda Kenny will be our next Taoiseach because our political system is heavily insured against genuine change. People want change. At least, they say they do. Yet they’ll vote for a party which is, to all intents and purposes, identical to the one that spent the past 12 years in power. The faces will be different, but the policies will remain the same. The pro-capitalist, corporatist agenda that is ripping Ireland to shreds — and indeed the rest of the world — will be maintained whichever of the three main parties gets into power. The obscene transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich and greedy will continue unabated. Hospitals and schools will close, our pension fund and remaining national assets will, along with a hefty chunk of our taxes, be efficiently funnelled into the coffers of private investors and financial institutions who have rigged the system so that any risk associated with the decisions they make will be borne by a public without any say in those decisions.
The gap between the rich and the rest is widening. And the process is being helped along by Enda Kenny and his unsavoury ilk.
UPDATE: There’s some speculation that “Bobby” may not have been an unemployed street-sweeper, but an actor planted in the audience by a political opponent. Or that he is indeed an unemployed street-sweeper but was invited to the meeting by a political opponent specifically in order to heckle. As discussed in the comments below, I don’t actually think this invalidates the things he said; because there are tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of Irish people in exactly the situation he claimed to be in, and Enda Kenny’s response was frankly embarrassing, and would have remained embarrassing had “Bobby” been genuine. I suspect this fact will now be lost as the media get obsessed with the story of Bobby being a fraud, as opposed to the shameful performance of Kenny. One can only sigh in frustration.