Countdown to an election - Our choices are as limited as UK voters’

Countdown to an election - Our choices are as limited as UK voters’

It’s just over a month since Britain voted and, as we will go to the polls within a month, comparisons are inevitable.

The circumstances facing the Irish electorate are not so very different to those faced by Britain’s, despite first appearances and Oireachtas politicians’ assurances to the contrary. Those circumstances are opposite sides of the same, battered coin.

Britain’s election was fought in peculiar circumstances. One issue — Brexit — dominated; all else was swept aside.

Conservative leader Boris Johnson prevailed, but it is difficult to imagine, much less recall, a Conservative leader who would not have relished the prospect of going toe-to-toe with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn had, rightly or wrongly, long been tagged as unelectable and so it transpired.

The options offered to Britain were, therefore, limited and this meant, or at least contributed significantly to, a Conservative majority now in a position to wield power until at least 2024.

Britain had an impossible choice and our choices are as limited, if not even more so. Johnson and Corbyn are polar opposites and though Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin insist that they represent very different possibilities, those differences are all but impossible to identify.

British voters were denied a real choice, because they faced two extremes. We face the very same draining, destructive dilemma, but for a very different reason — we are offered no real choice at all.

From the perspective of an Irish voter longing for positive change, the differences between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are as contrived as they are irrelevant.

It is impossible to imagine that Fianna Fáil would, say, have a rattle-the-cage approach to the housing crisis fundamentally different to the Government’s failing policy.

The status quo might be tweaked, but it would endure. Citadels would not fall. Were Micheál Martin to, at last, lead such a social transformation, it would be a radical departure from the unbending, visceral conservatism that has characterised his 30 years in the Dáil.

That charge is as applicable to Leo Varadkar, though his political career is not yet (if it ever is) measured in decades.

Despite that, it is all but impossible to imagine that either Varadkar or Martin will not bring the bowl of shamrock to the White House in March, should post-election cattle dealing conclude quickly.

The cast may change, but the script hardly does. This Hobson’s choice diminishes our democracy and it must negatively influence voter participation and, tragically, encourage apathy and disengagement.

British politics may offer, if not an example, then a suggestion as to what might happen next.

The British Labour party, still the only alternative to the Tories, is electing Corbyn’s successor.

It seems impossible, and not just from a British perspective, to underestimate how important that decision will be.

Should they find a unifying figure, who might again appeal to those who were once Labour voters, then their future need not be relentlessly Tory blue.

The very same principle applies on this side of the Irish Sea.

A disparate, divided Dáil opposition is the gift that keeps on giving for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. By not changing, they preclude change. How sad, how unnecessarily limiting.

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