Mick Clifford: I’d vote to have an election every year

Mick Clifford: I’d vote to have an election every year
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald meets Bernie Maloney with her children Sadie Hughes, 7, and Feidhlim Hughes, 9, from Croom, Limerick, during a walkabout in central Dublin. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

- Winston Churchill

"The people have spoken, the bastards."

- Dick Tuck (Defeated candidate for the California senate, 1966)

Tomorrow, it ends. The general election campaign is all but over. Now, the people will decide.

Many among them are sick of the endless hours on TV, the media obsession, candidates’ mugs looking down from telephone poles, the dreaded knock on the door.

Personally, I couldn’t get enough of it. As an antidote to the post-Christmas blues, it was only the cat’s pyjamas.

There should be a general election every January.

Democracy makes some crazy demands on politicians, in general, and party leaders, in particular.

This occurred to me as I watched Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sitting cross-legged on the floor of a classroom in Castleknock Community College, in west Dublin.

He spoke with children about diversity, while keeping one eye on the media pack, which waited to catch him making a fool of himself.

From there, Mr Varadkar, an intelligent man with a good education, went into another room and picked up a ukulele, pretending to enjoy the experience.

He was doing this so that sufficient numbers would like the cut of his jib enough to entrust him with negotiations concerning Brexit, horse-trading in Brussels, and the guiding of the ship of state.

He, along with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald in particular, also had to endure endless hours of kissing babies, listening to blather, and attempting to perform tasks that might cast them as everyman and everywoman.

And all the snacking, all around the country, must have played hell with their digestive systems.

All of this was done for the cameras, for the voters, for the people, for the bastards who have the power to elevate them or turf them out of a job.

This is one side of the sometimes ridiculous nature of democracy. Another is the power that politicians seek.

They put themselves through the ringer to acquire the purest form of power available to human beings.

Any fool can acquire power using the threat of violence, or the deployment of money.

Would-be politicians appeal to strangers to grant them access to the levers of power and thereby to have the capacity to impact hugely on the lives of everyone.

Electioneering is thus all about winning trust, or at least projecting the impression that you are trustworthy. Even if you aren’t.

One man who excelled at campaigning was Bertie Ahern.

He had the capacity to interact with people on the most casual basis — a knowing wink here, a warm handshake there — leaving them with the impression that he knew them, he knew their aspirations, their fears, what they were looking for.

That capacity is gold in an election campaign. The only leader who manages to come anywhere near Bertie today is probably Mary Lou McDonald.

Candidates campaign to the point of exhaustion during an election, and each and every one of them should be congratulated for merely putting their names forward and participating in the democratic process.

Quite often, their respect for democracy goes unreciprocated by the public.

A harsh reality of the exhausting campaigning is that up to a third of people whom would-be TDs encountered over the last three weeks are unlikely to even bother voting. This lack of engagement is depressing.

If you don’t vote, you should forfeit the right to criticise, crib, or moan about how the country is being run.

In some countries — around a dozen — voting is compulsory and the law is enforced. There is a strong case to make for compulsory voting.

Every citizen should be obliged to turn up at a polling station, enter the booth, and do as they please with the ballot paper.

Compulsory voting would, in the first instance, put a value on the acquisition and retention of democracy.

It would also boost the legitimacy of a government, as the result would to a greater extent, reflect the wishes of society at large rather than a narrow electorate.

Unfortunately, there is no stomach for compulsory voting.

The two big parties certainly won’t make the running, as the people who are currently least likely to vote are probably also least likely to vote for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

The campaign was fascinating. Irrespective of the outcome, the rise in popularity of Sinn Féin, over the course of the election, captured all the headlines.

Undoubtedly, it was a uniquely Irish expression of the kind of disillusionment with mainstream politics that in other countries has seen the rise of populist leaders.

Over the last week, in particular,the party has come under intense scrutiny.

Its members have, online and elsewhere, characterised this scrutiny as desperation from “the establishment”.

Maybe so, but when an entity soars in the course of an election campaign, the scrutiny is ramped up.

Mick Clifford: I’d vote to have an election every year

One recent example of this was Seán Gallagher in the 2011 presidential election. In the last week of that campaign, his past was examined every which way.

It’s now public record that his candidacy went off the rails in the wake of a TV debate when a false tweet put him on the spot.

The account that issued the false tweet was associated with Sinn Féin during that campaign.

Were the Shinners then feeling the kind of desperation they now accuse others of harbouring?

There were two other notable features of the campaign.

Controversies about direct provision centres in the last year or so (which attracted some gutter-level comments from a small number of public representatives) had raised fears that the race card, or the anti-immigrant card, would be a feature of this election.

It didn’t come to pass. All of the political parties, from Fine Gael right across to People Before Profit/Solidarity, deserve credit for holding the line in this regard.

The same applies to the vast majority of independent candidates, although a caveat is that we don’t know what conversations took place on doorsteps.

There are a couple of candidates standing on anti-immigrant platforms, but they have been completely peripheral to the main thrust of the campaign.

The other feature of this campaign was the relegation of climate change from debate and within party manifestos.

A suspicion lingers that most political parties concluded that the electorate was not yet ready for the kind of disruption that might be required to deal with the climate threat.

Whether or not this reflects sentiment among voters will become apparent from early Sunday, as the count gets underway.

Go out and vote.

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