Descent into the swamp: A dark genie escapes from the bottle

Descent into the swamp: A dark genie escapes from the bottle
Joseph Muscat

At a moment when a European Union prime minister, Malta’s Joseph Muscat, is forced to resign over the proximity of the investigation into the car-bomb murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia to his office it may seem precious to fret about our democracy and the relationship between legislators and citizens.

At a moment when America’s president is hollowing out the deep-state agencies that won the last cold war and, unless rescued, may not win today’s cold war it is indulgent to fret about our body politic and the standards it observes.

That no senior member of President Trump’s administration is at this week’s Madrid climate conference offers another grim perspective, one that might diminish domestic discomfort at how our politics are evolving.

At a moment when British politics, once offered to the world as the benchmark to emulate, has become a mad hatter’s tea party it may seem a tad snowflake to fret that our politics may be on the same slippery slope.

That recent opinion polls suggest the Tories’ lead over Labour has fallen to single digits may hint that the British electorate has, finally, decided that Humpty Dumpty may declare that “words mean what I say they mean” but that flexibility, that mercurial relationship with reality is unacceptable in a prime minister.

That that realisation may not be enough to, in nine days, make Boris Johnson’s premiership a very short one is disconcerting but so too is the alternative.

At a moment when Irish parties are reviewing how last week’s four by-elections, and in time Britain’s December 12 election, might influence their general election manifestos, campaign standards and — dare it be said — candidate selection there are common if confusing themes.

Neither of the byelection candidates who pointed the j’accuse finger at easily-targeted minorities were elected but each had significant support, especially from their party leadership.

This descent into the swamp may be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders by power-by-any-route political venerables but it is impossible to pretend that a nasty genie has not escaped the bottle.

Decency has not survived ambition. How parties work to contain that genie, and how they choose candidates who will or will not stoke that fire, adds a new and important dimension to the general election.

Almost unobtrusively, we have arrived at an important crossroads.

That a UN review of how we deal with racial discrimination begins this week may confirm that view. The UN will examine Ireland’s recent reports to the UN and comes after an eight-year gap in reporting and monitoring of official reaction to racism.

It comes at a moment of heightened racism and, the indicators suggest, will be another challenge for Government — one that could have been avoided.

Ireland is not the only country facing this poisonous, dark ages issue, one that will become far more challenging.

The byelections gave a glimpse of what might be. Trump, Johnson, Orban, and Erdogan each show how exploiting fear plays out. It is time to trust and call on our better angels so an inclusive, tolerant Ireland might be consolidated.

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