Election Special Meejit
Harry Browne writes about consensual foundations, Titanic culture and collateral damage
Leaving aside this month's fitful scandal-mongering, it is hard to know which is the more dispiriting aspect of the election campaign: is it the way the media have badgered Sinn Féin and the Greens about their need for more “mainstream”, “consensus” economic policies, or is it the way those parties have largely capitulated to the pressure? (And then they get bashed for “U-turns”.)
More than once I have wanted to shout at Sean O'Rourke, “Whose consensus is it anyway?” Since when has low corporation tax become an article of faith among the Irish people? Would the punters who vote SF and Green, and Labour for that matter (it could be a third of the electorate in total), really abandon those parties if they thought they deviated from the neo-liberal “mainstream”?
On the contrary, those parties' supporters are generally to the left of the leaderships on such matters. Indeed, Fianna Fáil wouldn't want to put its regressive, corporate-led policies to a referendum of its grassroots either. The consensus, such as it is, resides among political, business and media elites, with O'Rourke and co in the role of enforcer. The only party that has the nerve actually to face the electorate with an almost unambiguous neo-liberal message is the Progressive Democrats – and the electorate spits back.
Media discussion of politics and policies seems ever-more remote from the views and concerns of the majority. Our made-up, plastic politics is unintentionally highlighted every time, say, Enda Kenny accuses his opponents of making charges “entirely without foundation”. Without foundation would be a fine thing. Kenny's face is plastered with foundation for display on the nation's lampposts, as he seeks to challenge big-spending Bertie for the support of the cosmetics industry. When there is media mockery of this trend, it tends to be equally superficial.
Make no mistake: this is not merely “presidential-style politics”; it's not simply a matter of soundbites to satisfy our reduced attention spans. It is symptomatic of the erosion of our already-limited democracy, in which the fundamentals have been stitched up for the good of crony capitalism, candidates struggle to think of tinkering things to say about peripheral matters, and the left-wing “threat” is neutralised before it can even be made.
The Shinners have made easily the best fist of economic populism in this election, but then when it comes to the specifics (eg on tax) it is clear that they have decided to bow to the “consensus” in order to get through the media door. (It might be argued that the party leadership trims to the right in order to prepare for possible coalition, but I reckon there's always plenty of time to abandon principles after an election; the pre-election caution is more likely to be a press-inflicted strategy.)
In a sane and balanced political culture, the agenda for arguments about the economy would be set, in part, by Kieran Allen's fine new book, The Corporate Takeover of Ireland. This makes it clear that the takeover of its title is to a considerable degree a conscious, politically-led process, not an inescapable condition of modern life. In our political culture, the most Allen can hope for is a nod on the books pages.
Sinn Féin's Northern partners have certainly absorbed the message of that corporate process. As the new Stormont executive was formed, RTÉ interviewed the arts and culture minister, the DUP's Edwin Poots, who seemed incapable of discussing culture as anything other than a tourism marketing tool.
Poots enthused, without apparent irony, about Northern Ireland's historical good fortune: “The Titanic is one of the biggest brand-names in the world”.
The reduction of a great human calamity to a potentially profitable “brand-name” is just another indication of how “mediation” limits our understanding of the world we live in. And yet, if we pay attention to the results, the election on 24 May will underline the continuing resistance to this process.
Look at the Iraq war, for example: the “consensus” declares it not an issue, and even the Greens, once strong campaigners on the subject, seem to have forgotten where Shannon is. There is virtually no hope that they and Labour would make an issue of it in any coalition negotiations. And yet a Lansdowne survey for the Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance showed that people still oppose the US military use of the airport by a three-to-one majority, and the candidates who keep talking about it – Joe Higgins, Clare Daly, perhaps Joan Collins – are likely to perform well.
Indeed, the scale of the Left vote, especially in urban areas, is almost certain to be considerable. The only thing surer is that it will be largely overlooked in media analysis. In 2002 in Dublin, for example, the combined vote of Socialists, left-independents, Greens and Sinn Féin was far greater than that of Fine Gael and the PDs combined. Add Labour to the mix and the “Left” beat Fianna Fáil.
And yet you could count on one hand the notable mainstream-media pundits who dwell in the dark lands left of Labour. (Village's esteemed editor is among them – at least I think so.) Even they are likely to join the rest of the mediacracy in an analysis that basically ignores the level of dissent from the “consensus” even among those who bother to vote – just as most of the “left” politicians will overlook the fundamental views of their voters in order to clamber into government.
It's some lovely democracy.
Discuss this article with Harry in the comment box below