With Lucinda Creighton, Independent TDs, the far left, and Sinn Féin offering people the sun, Michael Clifford offers up yet another non-party that promises radical reforms
MICHAEL McDowell was the person who first asked the question that will be a major feature of the political year to come.
“There is a gap in the market,” he said, “but is there a market in the gap?”
Right now, the gap is filling up, but there remains a gaping hole for anybody with a bit of get-up-and-go. That hole might best be filled by a new non-party operating under the moniker, “Up With People”.
Such a non-party could pledge to be for the people, and against the establishment, for the people and against parties. Its manifesto would promise faithfully, as opposed to just promise, that it will keep all its promises, fingers crossed and hope to die.
Up With People would have no policies that would disappoint, anger, or discommode any of the people, at any time. Up With People would be driven by the compass of reform, and guided by the principle of change.
And just in case Up With People were to be accused of offering the sun, moon, and stars, it most certainly would not, but it would faithfully promise to be the bearer of motherhood and apple pie.
How would Up With People fit in with those filling up the gap of disaffection? All entities scrapping therein present themselves as offering “radical” change.
All contrast their respective positions with that of “the establishment”. All are intent on dislodging either “the elite” or “the insiders” that have apparently bedevilled the country. All faithfully promise “reform”.
In reality, much of what is on offer is base, no-cost populism. There is precious little radical or different about any of the gap fillers, bar one. All the others are largely throwing populist shapes or offering personalities, untried in leadership, as ace cards.
The latest gap filler is Lucinda Creighton’s “party-looking-for-a-name-and-policies”. The whole basis for the venture is Creighton’s personality.
She is young, bright, and would have been viewed as a possible future leader of Fine Gael.
Her decision to forfeit high office on a matter of conscience was much admired. In other countries, such a decision would be greeted with a shrug, but leaving high office of one’s own volition here is regarded as the supreme sacrifice.
If the abortion issue had been long fingered by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Creighton might be at the Cabinet table right now. Yet, because of a matter of conscience, she is presenting herself as the leader of a party that is radically different from the one she left.
In the current political climate, who needs policies, or even a name, if you have a Lucinda?
Sinn Féin is making serious hay in the gap.
It has cottoned on to the word “radical”, yet in government in the North, or at local level in the Republic, there is no sign of such a departure.
Before the last election, Labour was red-hot radical, promising “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”. Right now, Sinn Féin presents itself as the tearaway radical.
How would Sinn Féin be on reform? Would a party so centrally controlled really reform a politics of which the overbearing problem is control by the executive?
At least the Shinners are not offering motherhood and apple pie for everybody. Only for 95% of the people.
In its economic blueprint, all the extra services, and the abolition of both property tax and water charges, will be paid for by the top 5% of earners. Up With 95% of the People!
For those thoroughly fed up with party politics, independents are offering another alternative.
Alliances of independents are popping up like the new time. Chief among these is the offering from Shane Ross, who might be regarded to be economically on the right, being aided by Finian McGrath, who would be veering towards the left on economics.
Ross envisages a loose “alliance”, which might have a role in government, or if not, a role in supporting government. The alliance will be governed by a set of principles rather than policy.
No whip will apply.
What then about bread and butter issues for these independents?
Last February, Ross was to the fore in his constituency in opposing the shutting of Stepaside Garda Station. He spoke passionately at a rally in the Co Dublin town.
“To me this is typical of what is happening at the top in Ireland today,” he said.
“It’s government against people’s will and we have to have a say on what is happening in our own villages and towns. We have to say, we decide, not you. We know what we want.”
Standard fare for an independent deputy. But what if he was in power, or propping up power, in the national interest, rather than solely that of his constituents.
Would it be enough for his constituents that he merely vote against legislation that might impact locally? Would he be expected to use his influence to stymie such legislation, even if it was being pursued in the national interest?
He is only one of what is envisaged to be at least a dozen — if not twice that — members of such an alliance.
The only group offering any real alternative is a group that was a group, and is no more, but is in the process of regrouping.
The radical left, including members of the Socialist party, the Socialist Workers Party, and various former members of these entities, have a plan. It would involve nationalising the banks, some industry, and a host of measures that would be pretty unique in the current global market economy.
Their vision is of an equal society, which is laudable, but bar the discovery of vast reserves of oil off the south coast, it is difficult to see how it could all be funded in an economy that would inevitably be turned on its head.
All of that is under the assumption that governing would hold any interest for a group which is in its element protesting.
In any event, the radical left can’t seem to agree on these matters. They got together in 2011 under the United Left Alliance flag, but it all went pear-shaped over the last few years.
Richard Boyd Barrett
Now Richard Boyd Barrett is on the ULA comeback tour, cajoling the various factions to come together once more.
If the lad does manage to deploy the patience of Job, the diplomacy of Bertie Ahern, and the charm of Bill Clinton, he may well succeed.
Otherwise, the radical left is goosed before it even prints the posters.
So why not Up With People? There is no doubt people are fed up with the politics that has informed the current administration and the previous one.
The ruling coalition had one shot at doing things differently — even within the economic constraints of recent years — and chose not to, right from the word go.
Yet what has begun filling the resultant gap is thoroughly underwhelming.
The only common theme is a claim to do things differently, in a manner that will satisfy all the people, all the time, and with promises that will be kept, rather than broken, fingers crossed and hope to die.
Down with that sort of thing, I say.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved