I have a bit of a dilemma. You see the local and European election are on this Friday here in Ireland and considering my interest in politics, I will proudly do my duty and vote. The problem is the question of who to vote for. The options are pretty woeful. Irish politics is a mash of grey politicians who take turns to implement the same policies in government and criticise these very same policies in opposition. There is little difference between the parties and we seem doomed to get the same policies no matter who we vote for.
A quick recap for non-Irish readers or Irish people who don’t follow politics too closely. Since 1932 Irish politics had been dominated by Fianna Fáil, a party dedicated in theory to a united Ireland, the Irish language and economic self-sufficiency and in practice dedicated to promising anything to win elections, corruption and being in the pockets of big business. The main opposition party was Fine Gael who claimed to oppose all of the above when they were in opposition (most of the time) but carried on more or less the same when in government. What they stand for apart from opposing Fianna Fáil is a mystery to everyone including themselves. The Labour Party is in theory a left wing alternative which in practice isn’t very left wing (except for this one time in the 60s) or much of an alternative (they usually form a coalition with Fine Gael who they pretend to dislike when it suits them). Throughout most of this Sinn Féin (as the political wing of the IRA) were explaining how planting bombs in pubs and shooting people in the back of the head was advancing the cause of Irish freedom.
An important point is that people in Ireland don’t vote for candidates based on their party, their promises or their record, but on personal levels such as whether they seem nice or are from the local area. A politician can be corrupt but if he gets a new community centre for the parish he’ll get re-elected. A politician doesn’t have do much work so long as he fixes (or claims credit for fixing) the potholes for his neighbours (not even the rest of the country, just his neighbours is enough). You can bankrupt the country, destroy the economy and leave it with crippling unemployment, but if you support local community groups, then people will vote for you. The locality is put ahead of the nation and so neither prospers.
All of which takes up to 2007 when Fianna Fáil won a third election in a row despite allegations of corruption and widespread incompetence. Then the recession came and everything changed. Suddenly the policies of low taxes and low regulations seemed to be not such a good idea. Suddenly having a party in the pocket of the bankers turned out to be a disaster when they bankrupted the state to save the banks. They made the recession worse with their policy of austerity, which screwed the poor, widened inequality and did little to balance the budget. From opposition, Fine Gael and Labour criticised every cutback, every tax increase, denouncing it as the wrong approach and vowing that if they got into government, things would be different.
So in 2011, Fianna Fáil was decimated and lost three quarters of their seats, while Fine Gael and Labour had historic victories and formed the new government. Suddenly they experienced a massive change. They suddenly realised that all those policies that they passionately opposed in opposition were actually the right policies for Ireland. They opposed raising student fees in opposition and raised them in government. They opposed welfare cuts in opposition and cut it in government. They promised not to give any more money to the banks and did precisely that as soon as the election was over. Not only did they not reverse any of the policies they opposed, they actually started implementing them. The budgets of the new government are identical to the budgets of the last government. The ministers even sound the same and use the same bland clichés to justify their poorly thought out plans.
So where does that leave us? It is obvious that certain parties should be punished for the damage they caused and the promises they broke, but if I know who to vote against whom should I vote for? Let me go through the list.
Fianna Fáil: Obviously no. Their policies have been screwing up Ireland for decades with their corruption, incompetence and cronyism. Their policies are socially backward and they haven’t had a fresh idea in decade.
Fine Gael: The same as above. While they haven’t done as much damage as FF, that’s merely because they haven’t has much chances. They are just as prone to cronyism and the arrogance of power and are just as devoid of new ideas, content merely to occupy office, not do anything with it. Plus they need to be punished for all their broken promises.
Labour: I voted for them last time and I won’t make that mistake again. While they talk a lot about being different, they never actually do anything to back their talk up. They are just as opportunist and devoid of ideas as FF and FG. They ditched their principles and broke most of their promises the moment they got into power.
Sinn Féin: You know things are bad when you are even considering the political wing of an armed paramilitary force. I disagree with Sinn Féin on the Six Counties, namely I don’t think murdering Protestants makes anyone’s life any better and Fermanagh is not worth dying for (or living for either). However, there is a younger generation without an IRA past or historical baggage. Pearse Doherty is one of the few politicians who actually makes sense and he is spot on in economic matters. Whatever about Republicanism, I do agree with Sinn Fein’s economics as they are the only serious party opposing austerity. They claim they will tackle inequality and won’t try to cut their way out of the recession, which even if you don’t believe them, is still more than any other party.
Green Party: The Greens abandoned their principles and joined Fianna Fáil in government and were rightly decimated in the 2011 election as punishment. I’m not sure if the party has much of a future. They make the right sorts of noises, but when push came to shove last time, they ditched their principles, so I can’t trust them this time.
Socialists: By this I mean the Socialist Party, the Workers Party, the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance and the Anti-Austerity Alliance. To be honest no one really listens to them so it doesn’t really matter what they say. They haven’t helped themselves by opposing everything (since when was opposing a property tax a socialist principle?) without offering much of an alternative.
Independents: This is a broad category containing a mixture of cranks, gombeen politicians (see Fianna Fáil), political party rejects, extremists and mystery candidates. The problem I have with independents is that you have to be in a party to get anything done and you don’t know what you are voting for. Without a manifesto or party line, you don’t really know what sort of politician they will be. You could vote for one whom opposing the banks only to find he’s a religious fanatic or is paranoid about the CIA. Voting for an independent is little more than a protest vote.
So those are the pretty poor options. A simple process of elimination leaves me with Sinn Féin and independents. As much as I detest the IRA, Sinn Féin have the economic policies that are closest to Keynesian and our best bet for recovery. I don’t care about a united Ireland but I do care about inequality, poverty, unemployment, workers rights etc and Sinn Féin are the only party that will tackle these issues. They’re the only serious party whose economic policy is more than just screw the poor, the weak and the politically powerless. While I will consider voting for independents like Ming Flanagan, they’re simply too isolated and unpredictable to hold much hope in. As much as I wish there were better options, Sinn Fein are the lesser evil I will reluctantly vote for.