How was the election for you? Itâ€™s a question that is perhaps a little premature as itâ€™s still dragging on, with FG leader Enda Kenny, like a WWF contender knocked to ground by a devilish leg swing from an opponent he confidentially thought was floored, swinging back with the kitten punches of a child.
On the last day of the election before the media embargo, he is reported to be â€˜astonishedâ€™ that Bertie could claim that with the economy being so strong the campaign has lacked â€˜big issuesâ€™.
Health and education were peripheral issues to voters, says a man whose grasp of his own personal economic well-being seems confused and whose educational qualifications remain opaque. Go back to your skinny latte and croissant, thereâ€™s nothing to worry about here.
But feck it, while its still one and a half days till the polls open I think we can safely agree with Bertieâ€™s comment: it â€œhas not been a brilliant campaign on issuesâ€. In fact, it hasnâ€™t been a brilliant campaign at all, despite Charlie Birdâ€™s frenzied description of it this morning as being exciting and dramatic because â€˜its just too close to callâ€™. The very fact that it is too close to call illustrates the lack of difference between the main parties regarding policy, a fact that leads quite decisively to voter dissatisfaction and a poor turnout.
Or maybe thatâ€™s just me. I started to lose interest around the time of the Bertie and Enda debate with its fake wrestler holds and grandiloquent hair tossing. But the real disgust kicked in when my wife started getting the text messages from FF and FG telling her when the respective leaders would be in Galway and that Sunday evening phone call from Bertie urging her to go all out for the last days of the campaign. However, the flicker of remaining enthusiasm was snuffed out entirely with that Irish Times/MRBI poll giving FF a 5% swing â€“ not with the result, as I donâ€™t believe it to be accurate at all, but with the wholesale acceptance of it by the media.
Kevin Rafter, Political Editor of the Sunday Tribune is one journo though who sees right through it and nicely balances out the heedless trumpeting of his colleague Stephen Collins of the Irish Times.
â€œThe tns/mrbi surge in FF support - +5% in ten days - cannot be easily explained by the leadersâ€™ debate last Thursday as if Ahern won and Kenny lost then the FF increase should have been matched by a FG decline (FG is actually only down one point to 27%). In addition, the Red C poll undertaken from Wed to Fri reported no significant change in the results gathered over the three days. Maybe the respondents have simply come off the fence, having given FF a fright and thatâ€™s the extent of their punishment of the government. Or maybe theyâ€™ve thought about change over the last ten days and decided to pass. Or maybe the Irish Times have got themselves a rogue poll.â€
He points to the problems with the 2002 pre-election polls and, mentions the Michael Marshâ€™s article â€˜None of that Post-modern Stuff around Here: Grassroots Campaigning in the 2002 Irish General Electionâ€™.
Marshâ€™s argument, also mentioned by Paul Gillespie in the Irish Times on Saturdayâ€™s Irish Times (sub required) is that successful election results in Ireland are not the result of a centralized campaign, controlled more visibly by PR and planned using the latest marketing techniques, as has been the trend in other Western European democracies. Rather it is the level of personal contact with their potential representatives that a voter may enjoy, prior to the election that garners votes.
This is why none of the televised debates, presidential style campaigns, Bertiegate, or the images of a leaders swinging his Leo Copeland suit jacket over his shoulder as he strides confidently passed the cameras in to the TV studio - like a blingified, sparkly leotarded wrestler making his way through the baying crowd towards the ring â€“ are going to make any difference.
To paraphrase Donal, who wrote on a different topic for Dublin Opinion, itâ€™s all â€˜about keeping it local, babyâ€™.
In his article Marsh says:
â€œOver half of the electorate who voted [in 2002] reported that a candidate did call to the
house, and over half also reported being contacted by a party worker. This is a much higher figure than we find elsewhere. In Britain less than a quarter reported such contact in 2002 (Pattie and Johnston, 2003), and in the US it is also no more than about 25 per cent nationwide.â€
In the case of Ireland, it is this level of contact that appears to have made all the difference:
â€œWhat is the connection between candidate contact and votes for those particular candidates? We confine ourselves here to those who were contacted by a candidate in situations where a party ran more than one candidate. In such cases over 80 per cent of those contacted and who voted for a party contacting them, voted for a candidate who contacted them: 81 per cent in the case of Labour and 86 per cent in the cases of FF and FG.â€
The potential problem with this of course, is that our national politicians, rather than focusing on National plans and the allocation of limited resources in the best interest of the country over all, are instead thinking about their constituency interests and maintaining the local love. We are all to familiar with story of Government ministers awarding all sorts of contracts, taking cash from national projects and divvying out lots of lolly to their own constituency.
However, the idea of combining single member constituencies with party lists has been raised before. According to Paul Gillespie again, the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in 2002 concluded that “the fundamental and insurmountable argument against change is that the current Irish electoral system provides the greatest degree of voter choice of any available voter. A switch to any other system would reduce the power of the individual voter”.
Choice? Whatâ€™s the use of choice when, as we have seen in this campaign, there is so little difference to choose between. And in the meantime we have short term, short sighted policy, such as Decentralization â€“ you forgot that particular strangle hold on Thursday night, didnâ€™t you Enda? â€“ taking precedent over real progressive national policies such as the National Spatial Strategy.
But Party Lists would require power to be ceded to Local and City Councils, like Dublin City Council or Galway County Council. But with power comes responsibility. That means that when bogus decisions are made heads would roll, political reputations would be in tatters and culpable councilors and county managers would no longer be unaccountable.
Then maybe Dublin County Council wouldnâ€™t be able to underhandedly green light a project that has local residents and business up in arms about plans to effectively hand millions of Euros worth of free advertising space to Worldâ€™s largest advertising company for the price of a couple of hundred bikes, as Clochemerle brilliant shows above. Then maybe someone could be held responsible for the months of inconvenience caused to Galway residents due to the contamination of their water supply.
God knows something needs to happen â€“ but itâ€™s not going to be, not as a result of this WWF-style election.