Insider has been observing developments in the US Presidential election with increasing alarm, and is concerned our own political system is vulnerable to a significant shift in light of what is happening in other countries.
Brexit was a warning that certain indefinable forces are at play, and a Trump victory, which Insider considers unlikely, but a possibility, would further destabilise political life as we know it. Some may see that as a good thing. Indeed by definition, for it to happen, many would have to see it as a good thing. Whether Trump is victorious or not, he will receive a minimum of 40/45 per cent of the vote - that itself is a cause for concern. These developments have given Insider cause to ponder our own political situation, and what constitutes ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ politics.
The US Presidential campaign
Insider has been a close observer of the American political scene for 40 years, and cannot remember a campaign anything like this one. There are many aspects of the Donald Trump campaign that worry Insider. This is not an election based on the normal components of political campaigns, which should be about the kind of society we live in, the importance of the economy, its impact on how we live, and, in general, how we can improve the lot of citizens.
Name calling, bullying, avoidance of issues, belittling of opponents on spurious grounds - welcome to the US 2016 Presidential Election. Like a bad reality TV show, it is difficult to believe this is the best the US has to offer. Insider is almost as annoyed at the Democrats as at the Republicans: if either party had offered a more suitable candidate for election, they would romp home. This is not the sneering knee-jerk anti-US reaction you sometimes find among the more condescending Irish based commentators on US affairs, but this is the worst I have seen; could it happen here? The media must shoulder a lot of the blame for how this Presidential race has developed, and Insider is certain we will all ultimately pay a heavy price for the general dumbing down of politics.
Solid politicians v populists
‘Solid’ is a hard word to define, yet when it comes to our description of people, we all know what it means. The number of solid politicians seems to have decreased significantly in recent years. In local terms, and to be fair to all concerned, Insider will avoid naming any present day politicians as he elaborates on his ‘good' and ‘bad’ political definitions. But, political life is changing, and public discourse has become louder, more aggressive, and less effective. Insider worries that the more old-fashioned, gentlemanly conduct of our public affairs will suffer with the increasing cacophony. Take two retired politicians from Galway - Padraic McCormack and Michael Kitt; these men were ‘solid’ politicians of the old school. Insider hopes our society does not pay too high a price if men of their calibre look at political life and decide that, with all its attendant hassle, it is just not worth it.
As for populist politicians, the political system is now overrun with populist crowd pleasers, and sad to say, they are not being held to account by either the media or their political opponents.
In national politics, a few of them have managed to get elected to the Dáil. Seated on the opposition benches, they throw around accusations knowing they can face no legal consequences when they are proven incorrect. Insulting other members of the Dáil (present and retired ), the judiciary, committed public servants; if a fraction of what they say proves to be correct, they will dine out on this for months. They quickly forget all the issues on which they have been wrong or made false accusations, and hope the electorate will also move on quickly. Insider once considered them comical, but the good people of their constituencies have returned some of them for another Dail term. The wisdom and sophistication of the electorate…Insider wonders sometimes.
Locally, these Janus like creatures can meet with major employers on the east side of Galway city, or those caught up in the increasingly difficult daily commute, and agree with them on the necessity for the development of the new city bypass, while at the same time assuring residents who may be affected that there is a better way which will not discommode them. Their policy seems to be to agree with whoever they are speaking to!
A sign of good politics is telling your electorate what they do not want to hear, but need to hear, not just in politics, but in all walks of life. It is one of the most difficult things to point out to people why they may be wrong, or that an alternative view needs to be considered.
Politicians are so fearful of alienating anyone, that they often find it difficult to take a position on many issues. Insider admires politicians who stand for something, even if he disagrees with them. Those who try to be all things to all men generally achieve very little. Many politicians have calculated that the fewer people they upset, the greater their chance of re-election, Sadly, this often proves to be the case. Not an easy one to solve, as the maturity of the electorate can often disappoint - and it's not just in politics. When did you last tell a friend that maybe the teacher was correct, and their little Johnny is a pup. Or that maybe the boss was right, and they should have made more of an effort at work. Not too recently, I suspect. And the politicians know that their jobs often depend on offending as few people as possible.
Good politics is also about confronting the mob. Again, not an easy one to do, but this is when we can tell the real leaders from the also-rans. How many politicians have you heard explain that yes, the water system is a shambles, and we do need a dedicated utility to solve the problem. We are going to have to pay for it some way, and it is better if that way leads to a reduction in wastage of water and a more efficient system. No, pay for it out of general taxation, the usual suspects argue, knowing that this way will lead to no payment from them.
In other words, someone else will pay for it. Has the handout mentality gone too far? No-one would argue against proper provision and waivers for those who cannot afford certain items, but some people think the purpose of the State is to provide them with everything free of charge. From education to medical, from accommodation to social provision, the State must look after those who are in need.
To those who make a conscious decision not to contribute when well capable of doing so, are you happy that the taxes you pay go towards keeping them in a lifestyle that can be the envy of those who make the effort in low wage employment?
Insider is also concerned by Sinn Féin's attempt to rewrite our recent history. The Shinners should wait another 50 years at least before attempting this. This is not like the commemoration for 1916; we have been around during the last 40 years, we remember what really happened.
Let us look at a few of the facts relating to elections north and south in the 1980s and 1990s. The Sinn Fein vote in the Republic through the 1980s and 1990s was between one and two per cent, as the vast majority of people rejected the repugnant IRA terrorist campaign, with which Sinn Féin were closely associated. Indeed it would be unfair to suggest that even this one per cent were supporters of the terror campaign.
Whether from the so-called Republican side, or the so-called Loyalist side, the terror campaigns were utterly rejected by the vast majority of people from all communities. Sinn Fein’s electoral support base really only increased once the terror campaign finished, and the economy collapsed, which left many looking for alternatives to the established political parties.
Also, the next time you hear a Sinn Féin spokesperson speak about the lack of alternative choices for nationalists in the north, remember this: the vast majority of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland supported the SDLP throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s compared to the support levels for Sinn Féin. Indeed the man who led the SDLP for most of this period, and was an implacable opponent of IRA violence, John Hume, was voted the greatest Irishman in history in an RTE poll in 2010.
The modern Sinn Feiner needs to offload a lot of historical baggage if s/he wants to make serious inroads in future elections. Insider knows the passage of time is the terrorist’s greatest friend, as it allows him/her to pretend that vile actions were heroic, and heroic actions were somehow questionable. We owe it to the real victims of the past, and the impressionable of the future, to expose these lies. For a real story of heroism of the Ireland of the 1970s, listen to the Liveline programme of Thursday October 13.
The public sector
Telling the public sector unions to face reality. The recovery has started, yes. There are no more important jobs in our society than healing the sick, teaching the young, and protecting ourselves, yes. These roles are undervalued by society, yes. There must be limits on what we pay our public service workers, and we cannot jeopardise our fledgling economic recovery by abandoning the Lansdowne Road agreement on public sector pay. Ninety per cent of public servants have signed up to it anyway, so we cannot let a relatively small group of people hold us to ransom.
What do you vote for? Good or bad politics?