Idealism first casualty in an auction election

Idealism first casualty in an auction election

In a more idealistic world, an election campaign might focus on how society is evolving, how it has reached agreed objectives and delivered essential, enriching services.

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In our demand-democracy world, an election has become a transactional process close enough to an auction. Politicians outbid each other even if they know that what they promise will never be delivered.

The electorate - us - happily plays its part, comparing one implausible gift list with another.

In an Irish context that might be called the Drain The Shannon Syndrom - generations of politicians have promised to do it but the prospect remains as remote today as it was when it was first promised decades upon decades ago.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stirred those shark-infested waters when he suggested that May 2020 was the right time for a general election.

It may well be, after all, Bertie Ahern's record suggests May is a good month to go to the country.

He, before his career-ending ignominy intervened, won two of his three record back-to-back general elections in May, a month that can seem to make everything possible and plausible.

In 2002, polling day was May 17 and the next one, in 2007, was on May 22.

Though anything could happen in the intervening eight months - will Boris Johnson still be prime minister?

Will Brexit be resolved? - Mr Varadkar added grist to the mill by offering that “if the shoe was on the other foot” and Fianna Fáil held more Dáil seats after a general election than Fine Gael then they would have to consider a confidence and supply agreement.

Indeed, Fine Gael might prefer to try to renew arrangements with Fianna Fáil, irrespective of who mans the bridge, rather than try to do a deal with the Greens.

Should recent electoral trends continue, and there is no reason they might not, that courtship would be volatile and spiced by Fine Gael's very poor record on the environment.

All of that is speculation and in eight months time may seem as daft as the latest promises to drain the Shannon.

It is not necessary, however, to speculate on what issues that will animate an election whenever it is called. Housing will be a lead issue.

Costs and availability will dominate as will the growing reliance on institutional landlords.

The plight of those facing huge, unexpected bills because buildings sanctioned by the relevant regulators are falling down will be another flashpoint.

Health services and costs will be another though it is very hard to imagine that any government of any hue could untangle the web powerful groups have woven to protect their specific interests. Garda reform, and the extent to which Government supports - or otherwise - Commissioner Harris' plans is another.

Better support for carers, a more humane system for refugees, and, if the looming crisis is finally recognised, pension provision are all real, live issues.

So too is environmental protection and the need to match our education spending with our peer countries and RTÉ's survival.

All of these issues, and many more will be in play and once an election is called the public sector unions will dust off the tumbrils and exploit any opportunities presented.

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