Addicted to politics? Just wait for the exit poll...

Well, I do not know where to begin this week with all the mayhem we have had in the UK, in the North, here at home, in France and, I am sure, elsewhere. Some of the mayhem was good, but some was bad.

I am reminded of Harold Macmillan, a grandee of the Tory Party in England, who in the ‘60s was asked by a reporter what could affect the next election. He said “Events, dear boy, events”, and I always thought what a smart answer it was and how true it was.

We certainly had events during the last week. First, we had the UK election. I do not know how many of you stayed up to look at it. I stayed up until 12.30am, then went to bed but had RTÉ on all night, and so I slept fitfully and got up again at 5am.

The poll that was accurate was the exit poll, and that is the only one we can ever rely on again. You see, the people had voted. They had no reason to tell a fib coming out of the polling booth as they have already done their job. And, at a minute after 10pm on the night of voting, there was an exit poll in the UK which was almost mirrored in the final election results.

So, what went wrong for Theresa May and the Tories? Well, the first thing was she said she would not debate with other leaders. I thought, imagine going for a general election and saying you will not debate. It was a very foolish move. She had a disastrous manifesto which promised an older person’s tax (which was cruelly called the dementia tax ) and then she failed to defend it.

Contrast that with Jeremy Corbyn whom all the papers in the UK, particularly the Murdoch papers, were deriding as a hopeless leader of a hopeless party.

And yet, Jeremy Corbyn hopped out of the back of the Labour Party bus and had thousands waiting for him. He took the mike and he spoke clearly and concisely to them. It helped that Labour had a very favourable manifesto which he brought everywhere and held up, but particularly he spoke directly to young people. Watching it I thought, yes the young people are going in droves to his meetings, but will they vote?

Indeed, they did. Some 75 per cent of the votes cast were cast by people aged 18 to 24. Imagine that for a record. The secret behind that was that Jeremy Corbyn did not just go out and address crowds of young people and have a nice manifesto.

He had a movement behind him called momentum, which was not political but which set out to ensure that every young person was on a register of voters, and, they did it in a laid out, determined, modern fashion. It is something we should copy here because we all know, when it comes to an election, you meet as many who cannot vote as who can vote. There is never any real effort to energise the voting registers and to make sure the names are on it, and with the correct addresses.

The attitude of Jeremy Corbyn in contrast to Theresa May helped enormously. He is not a young man but he is slim and able to move about quickly. He dressed well, not extravagantly, but he just presented himself as somebody who was loving the campaign, who loved meeting people. Above all, the people believed he could change their lives if he got in.

It was all very startling and, of course, Theresa May lost her overall majority. Now, I could feel sorry for her, but then I think how silly she was. She called the election herself, she would not debate, she made a mess of her manifesto, and she ordered all her cabinet ministers not to come out with her. So again, what was all that about?

Now, as I write this, she is trying to go through with talks with the DUP from Northern Ireland so that she can gain majority to get the Queen’s speech, whenever it comes, through the House of Commons and be elected again as Prime Minister.

Now the Northern Ireland election was a roaring success for the DUP and for Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin gained three seats and DUP gained two seats. The talks are on to patch the Assembly rows again and to try to get the Assembly open and functioning again.

On another small note of politics, my son, Councillor Aengus O’Rourke, was unanimously elected Mayor of the Athlone Municipal District Council on Monday. Aengus’s wife Lisa and their children, some friends and others went to it. We had a great afternoon. We clapped enthusiastically every time Aengus talked. I was afraid that some official would say ‘No clapping in the gallery please’, but they did not and the whole thing went so well.

Back home again, on Tuesday in the Dáil we had the formal resignation of Enda Kenny following his last Cabinet meeting. I watched all that with great interest. Enda spoke well, with a light touch, for a very short period and he quoted, very effectively, a county man of his own - Michael Davitt, the great fighter for the land from Mayo.

The Dáil debate consisted of complimenting Enda and sometimes having a go at him, but was conducted with great grace and elegance. I thought Micheál Martin’s speech was terrific - short, to the point, and witty. Likewise Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams.

And around the Dáil it was more or less the same, except for one or two of the Independents who were bitter and could find nothing good to say about him. His wife Fionnuala and their three children were in the distinguished persons’ gallery and every so often when people would talk about Enda it would flash to her and show her clapping.

Then we had Leo being elected Taoiseach in the Dáil and I can tell you not all the speeches were elegant and graceful then. But he bore himself well and answered well and we must all hope that he will work hard for the country as Enda Kenny did. Actually, the most important traits that many commented on Enda were his good humour and his work ethic. Let us hope Leo Varadkar can in some way follow that.

I would love to have waited to compile this column when he had put forward his Cabinet and, indeed, his Junior Ministers, but the paper will be gone to print before all that is done so we will have to leave it until next week.

I am sure, like me, you will all be looking at it to see what will be the outcome. Who will get knocked down and who might get lifted up. There is great talk about Simon Harris - will he demote him from Health because he was the leader of the campaign for Simon Coveney? I would say leaving Simon in Health would be punishment enough for him because health is a constant headache.

I found I neglected to do a lot of work that I had laid out for this week because I was glued, on and off, to RTÉ and to the BBC and to SKY to find out just what was the latest manoeuvre and machination across the Irish Sea.

I chide myself that I am addicted to politics but, I suppose having spent the greater part of my working life in the milieu of politics it is only natural that politics in all countries would continue to grab my attention. We will deal with France next week when they have had their second day of voting.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go Fóill,

Mary O’Rourke


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