Political analogy

Sunday, May 20th, 2007 by Kevin Teljeur

I mentioned an analogy which I use for describing the choices we have in this election (as I see it, of course), and it’s a relatively simple one. However, I laboured the point somewhat in the writing of it, and I realised there was a much simpler way of describing the dilemma I face in my voting strategy.

The problem is simple. After this election, various parties will combine to form some sort of coalition government, and the choice will be Fianna Fail with someone, or Fine Gael and Labour with someone. Now, I came to a few conclusions about how these parties will operate in power, and it can be summed up as ‘Better the devil you know’ or ‘A fresh start with new faces’; these are the choices. And the way I see it, the machine, the system we have in operation at the moment, is not like some sort of child’s game where you can give it a shake and start again if you don’t like how it’s going. Once it’s started, you’re probably best to keep going and make improvements en route, rather than messing with it.

While Fianna Fail represents big business politics and property developer interests to many, and the epitome of corrupt government (A previous Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach/Prime Minister, Charles J. Haughey, set some impressive benchmarks for outright corruption in Western European government) to some, or indeed also to many, they are also the experienced steady hand. They know how the system works, the rules of the game. The outgoing Taoiseach/Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, while clearly being far from clean as a whistle, is also a good leader and experienced international statesman. His Minister of Finance, Brian Cowen, is doing a good, if unimaginative, job of keeping the show on the road.

A good measure of this, I feel, is the pre-election promises made by the larger parties. They’ve all promised tax breaks. Vast improvements in Ireland’s infrastructure, particularly on a social level. And more tax breaks. It’s the usual set of promises made to win elections, to promise the Sun, Moon and stars to the electorate, everything you want to hear will be fixed, and a cherry on top. I realised that what separates Fianna Fail from the Fine Gael/Labour team is this: Fianna Fail make promises knowing what they can, can’t, will, won’t and might deliver. They’re in government right now, they’ve seen the figures, the costings, the trends. They’re not making any wild promises because they know what can and can’t be done. They didn’t promise anything wild with tax breaks or health care, they’ve already made the big infrastructure commitments, and that was that. They’ll break promises, of course, but they set about delivering on their plan for Ireland already within the last few years, and call me naive but I actually think they got a taste for delivering the goods. It’s not imaginative stuff by any means, it just needs to be done to build an Ireland that’ll still have something to offer in the future. Bertie and one or two of his team understand this, and have gone into the election knowing exactly how the country works, and with the intention of finishing the job.

Fine Gael and Labour, on the other hand, have no idea how any of this works. They’ve picked out what they think are weaknesses in the current government strategy and set about campaigning with promises to fix everything, and of course thrown in outrageous tax breaks for good measure. For example, the most dangerous and reckless promise they’ve made is to promise to do away with something called Stamp Duty. This is a government tax on the purchase of property, it’s sizeable and naturally a sore point with house-buyers because it’s a massive extra cost on the already staggeringly high price of buying a property in Ireland. A good way to get the attention of the voting public is to promise to do away with it altogether, because then a buyer’s home purchase will be much cheaper. Or will it? It’s been generally agreed that house prices will jump massively to the point where they would have been with Stamp Duty; so for the buyer, it will ultimately make little odds. Property will still be too expensive. But there’s something else there too, which demonstrates a deeper lack of understanding about how the economy works, and is the reason why Fianna Fail only very reluctantly agreed to match that election promise, just to give them a chance of winning (and it’s clearly an election promise they won’t keep, at least in it’s current form). The current government has found a way to keep all of the money coming into the country in circulation, and preferably to keep it staying in the country, as well as employing a quarter of the male workforce. That much is obvious; it’s the property market. Naturally, the government needs to take it’s cut of the booming Irish economy, which it does through… Stamp Duty! So the economy is cooking, the property market keeps it going, and Stamp Duty pays for the government’s plans to build infrastructure for Ireland.

Incidentally, I had heard an interesting theory a couple of years back (I pin that one on a younger, more cynical Kenny Leigh) which is that a desirable side-effect of the (over)heated property market is also to lock younger Irish people into Ireland. If things get shaky later on then they won’t emigrate en-mass like they did in times gone by, while locked into a thirty-year mortgage.

So Fianna Fail, while undoubtedly by and large in the pocket of the property developers and other big business, have actually figured out a way to make it all work for the State, and to keep the economy reasonably healthy. I don’t like it, I think they’ve done a lot wrong and not nearly enough of the right things that Ireland does need, but right now this is how it works. Fine Gael and Labour on the other hand have demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge on how the current economic model works, and how they’ll pay for any of their proposals. It’s real amateur stuff, promising everything while not having any convincing explanation of how they’ll keep the economy going, or how they’ll cover for the taxes they’re planning to axe.

I haven’t really touched on the Greens, the Progressive Democrats or Sinn Fein in all of this. In a nutshell, I think the Greens have a somewhat socialist approach. I think they’ll have a lot of trouble with the tough, messy reality of running the State, but on the other hand Ireland needs their ideas on Public Transport and environmental issues. The Progressive Democrats might come close to sinking without trace, and they’ll have Michael McDowell to thank for it. I have real trouble with their stance on health issues, and dismissing Global Warming… What can I say. ‘Bone-headed’ springs to mind. On the other hand, they certainly know how to single-mindedly deliver on their ideas. Sinn Fein are now in a peculiar place where they’re campaigning on issues other than Northern Ireland, and they seem to be in real trouble, Some very interesting pseudo-Communist talk, but it sounds like empty, very loosely thought out stuff, and I think they would have real trouble delivering on their ideas.

You can see where I’m going with this. I’m going to vote Green of course (even though my local candidate for the Green Party is inexperienced and won’t make the cut), I’ll vote for Socialist Worker’s Party candidate Joe Higgins, because he’s magic, and I guess I’ll vote for Joan Burton (Labour) because she does her best to organise transport meetings. I think that’s it. I can’t vote for Brian Lenihan (Fianna Fail) because I won’t be able to sleep at night if I do, and I can’t vote for Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael) for the same reason. Likewise for some of the other Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Progressive Democrat candidates.

Fine Gael candidate Leo Varadkar faces electoral meltdown. Or perhaps a lighter. 8th May 2007. Click image to view larger version »Fine Gael candidate Leo Varadkar faces electoral meltdown. Or perhaps a lighter. 8th May 2007.. Click image to view larger version »

Voting for Joan Burton runs against the grain after all I’ve said, but I think she does do some good and works hard. I just fear her party getting into power (the Labour Party is all about protecting Civil Service and other unionised workers, which inevitably means pay rises for State workers ahead of the private sector), especially with Fianna Gael. I’ll never vote Fianna Fail unless the candidate gives me good reason, but they’ll do ok anyway by the look of the latest poll ratings. And if it comes down to the wire and Fianna Fail have to negotiate with, for example, the Greens (a very likely prospect, since it’s looking like they’ll be the decider for the next coalition) then I think that’s a very good thing.

I really do hope for Fianna Fail and the Green Party as the next Government of Ireland, and as I’ve said before I think it’s more than a bit likely.

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