05 February 2011

The rise of Liberalism in Ireland?

Ask and ye shall receive.

After spending most of the day yesterday complaining to anyone unfortunate enough to come within digital earshot about the lack of canvassers on my doorstep (perhaps the only person in the country voicing such a complaint), who should I meet while on my way into the city centre but young Master Haskins on his way back from an interview with the Evening Herald.

I stopped him and introduced myself, and despite the cold and rain and political fervour in my eyes that most people find off-putting, we had a quick chat about the campaign, Mick Wallace's announcement on Vincent Browne last night, and the good that having a sizable number of genuine Independents in the next Dáil would do.

While I have serious misgivings over the economic policies of his major supporters, believe that he himself is probably a bit too pro-business, and still would argue that a candidate needs a good bit more real-life experience before entering the sordid bubble of the Oireachtas, I was impressed by his drive, sincerity and knowledge. I have heard him criticised for being David McWilliams' sock puppet, but that was not the impression I got during our brief conversation - he is passionate about what he believes in and seems to genuinely want to make a difference, and finding anyone his age that wants to serve their community is a very rare thing indeed.

The thought occurred to me that although McWilliams and John McColgan's proposed 'Democracy Now' platform may have collapsed/been indefinitely postponed before the election even began, there seems to be a definite move towards trying to start some sort of Liberal (in the UK sense of the word) political movement here, being economically-liberal and socially-progressive, as opposed to the neo-liberal Irish Toryism of the old Progressive Democrats. The inclusion of Fintan O'Toole in the mix with the likes of Shane Ross, Eamon Dunphy and McWilliams himself would suggest an attempt to pull the group back towards the centre economically. If this sounds very much like an Irish version of the Liberal Democrats, I don't think you'd be far wrong, and if this were the UK that's exactly who I would imagine young Master Haskins would be running for.

An Irish LibDems would be, I think, a good thing, though not one I would vote for myself. As many commentators have already said, the problem with Irish politics is that historically there has been very little diversity of thought within the Dáil. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have almost identical political and social platforms, both centre-right, socially conservative and with a tendency towards neo-liberal economics. Labour's time may finally have come, but we all said that in 1992 and after a disastrous spell in government with Fianna Fail the party was all but wiped out, and the country returned to the old reliability of civil war politics. Others on the fringes may have come and gone (PDs, the Greens), but none have survived contact with Fianna Fail and the millstone of civil war dynasticism.

What this election promises to do is forever alter the face of Irish politics, leaving us with no single party capable of achieving a majority for years to come, and creating a need for genuine debate, co-operation and compromise. While my ideal 31st Dáil would see a landslide for the hard-left, a more realistic goal would see the larger representation by parties of the centre-right (Fine Gael and a much reduced Fianna Fail) be met by a healthy centre-left (Labour) and a smaller hard-left (The Socialist Party, PBP/SWP and even Sinn Fein), with the balance maintained by a respectable number of centrist Independents, who would no doubt tend to side with the right on economic matters, and the left on social matters.

I said as much to young Master Haskins this morning, and while he won't be getting my 1st Preference, if you are more a fan of the free-market than I you could do worse than help him on his way to the Dáil come February 25th, it would certainly be a more interesting place with him in it.

Oh, and unfortunately it was both overcast and drizzling, so I can't say if his skin goes all sparkly in the sunlight.

Sorry.

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