Disillusion with politics has never been as intense, and anything that offers serious change should be on a winner, writes Michael Clifford
The Mansion House was an election literature-free zone on Saturday.
There were no posters smiling at voters, no leaflets being passed out, no candidates meeting, greeting or hunting down a few preferences.
All of which was a surreal scenario for what was an election event by a group which has 101 candidates running under its banner.
The Right2Change movement was holding a conference in the Round Hall. The stage was flanked on one side by a screen bearing the 1916 Proclamation and on the other by a passage from the Programme for the First Dáil.
Like all other political entities, this one appears to be claiming direct lineage to the nation’s founding fathers, or specifically, to the aspirations expressed a century ago.
Over half the seats were filled with around 200 people who had braved the cold, or abandoned the campaign trail to be here.
Right2Change grew out of the water protests that were at their zenith in late 2014.
The group espouses a set of principles expressed as various rights to which each citizen should be entitled, including housing, work and access to proper healthcare.
A range of independents and small parties, along with Sinn Féin, have signed up. With around of a fifth of the total number of candidates in an extremely fractured electoral landscape, Right2Change should be making serious waves.
But why hold a conference — effectively a love-in among committed followers — in the heat of an election campaign?
“What we are tryng to do is give a different analysis that people can bring forward as to what the circumstances of the election are,” according to Brendan Ogle, one of the main organisers.
“We think there is a strong and incorrect consensus about the state of Ireland, with the recovery and end of the bail-out and all that and so the reason we held it during an election was to impact on the campaign.”
The morning session concludes with a panel discussion including TDs Clare Daly, Richard Boyd Barrett, Mary Lou McDonald and Ogle.
All are in favour of major change from the politics of the “establishment” parties. The tenor of the conversation would find favour across large tracts of the electorate, not to mind society.
Disillusion with politics has never been as intense, and anything that offers serious change should be on a winner.
The debate is thrown open to the floor for questions. One man rises and declares: “I have had no say in what has happened over the last five years. And you want me to put my faith in you.”
He is met with a few shouts from elsewhere on the floor.
Mary Lou McDonald feels his pain. “I know that you hate politicians and politics because I feel like that a lot of the time,” she says before going on to explain why politicians in Right2Change are different. Richard Boyd Barrett wants the main message to emerge from the day to be that people should turn out for a water protest next Saturday.
“The importance of next Saturday for the potential for change was manifested on the streets last year, we need to see that again,” he says.
Street protest as much as the exercise of power derived from the ballot box is regarded in some quarters as the best route to change.
God knows, the country wants change right now, but the long odds of any real change being effected from the left was best illustrated in the Mansion House.
In another country, in another culture, Right2Change might provide the basis for a political party. Syriza in Greece had its origins in the coming together of disparate elements of the Left.
We do things differently here.
The group grew out of the water charge protests and opposition to water charges is a central tenet of Right2Change.
As a result, the Labour party, founded by James Connolly, whose image was on display on Saturday, was not invited to join. Neither was the Green party, which favours the principle of charging for water.
The Social Democrats is politically in more or less the same point of the spectrum as Labour and the Greens, but they oppose water charges, so were invited to join. The party, which so far consists of a triumvirate of high profile TDs, declined the offer.
This entity has a fair to middling chance of being in government after the election so presumably it didn’t want to present any hostages to fortune.
Sinn Féin is far and away the biggest entity in Right2Change, and there is little doubt but that the wider group could prove beneficial to a party attempting to overcome toxicity in attracting preference votes.
But its presence has meant that the Anti Austerity Alliance — formerly the Socialist Party — is staying outside the tent, as it views the Shinners with some suspicion.
In fact, one could argue that the main constituent of this left wing grouping is not left wing at all. Sinn Fein has, through its US funding operation, connections with big business and even met with US-based businessmen in Leinster House to reassure them that the party wasn’t….well, too left wing.
All of which raises questions about Right2Change as a serious political force.
But as a forum to espouse a new kind of politics taking a longer view, it may well have a role.
The afternoon session saw more addresses from economists, including a video contribution from Varis Varifackos, the former Syriza politician.
There was also a call from the conference for all “progressive” parties and independents to declare next Saturday a “non-canvassing day” in deference to the water charge protest.
“Let the canvas be in the streets next week,” Ogle said.
One notable feature of the day’s events was the performance of Stephen Murphy, a poet whose work wasn’t just engaging, but presented him as the kind of political communicator who, in today’s world, is both rare and highly effective.
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