I was torn as to what to write for this week’s post. More cancer-inspired philosophical ramblings? A review of some of the movies I’ve watched over the holiday period as a bit of a break from all of that?
Then some idiot went and called an election as I was driving up north to visit my family. So I’ll talk about that instead.
The current Irish government is led by Fine Gael and supported by their long-time rivals/alter egos, Fianna Fáil. Not that they’re in coalition. That would imply that Fianna Fáil are the lesser partner in such a coalition, and that would never do. No, Fianna Fáil is just graciously lending Fine Gael their votes in order to keep the country ticking over, until the appropriate time comes for them to stick the knife in and take over.
That time may well be now, by general agreement, as the latest polls as of Sunday January 19, 2020, suggest that we will indeed see the traditional Irish flip from FG to FF at the top of governmental stationery. The Irish electorate being nothing if not conservative in their choice of Taoisigh.
This fits pretty nicely with the ambitions of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, both of which are deeply conservative parties. Which I mean in the traditional sense of conservative, not the balls-to-the-wall insane sense currently in power in the English-speaking nations that lie to the east and west of Ireland.* No, FG and FF are conservative in the sense that they both hew to the foundational conservative tautology: The people in charge are the people who ought to be in charge because they’re the people in charge.
After all, FF and FG have been swapping leadership of the country back and forth among themselves since the foundation of the state, which means that the path Ireland has followed has weaved through the narrow gap between FG’s market-focused conservatism and FF’s broader sense of “anything for a quick vote.” This game of catch they’ve played with the leadership of the country has kept Ireland fairly stable over the decades, but it’s been creaking for the last few years as the pressure for change has increased.
Ireland’s single transferable vote system means that smaller parties get their day in the sun too, which means that neither FF nor FG have been able to form a government on their own in a long time. When they’ve been able to, both parties have formed majority governments with minor coalition partners. Discounting Sinn Fein, whom neither FG nor FF currently countenance going into government with (we’ll see how long that lasts when the results come in), the main runners among the smaller parties are Labour, the Greens, Solidarity-PBP, and the Social Democrats. (There’s also Aontú, the Judaean People’s Front of Sinn Fein, but that’s as much as I care to say about them.)
Notably, all of these smaller parties are of the left, or at least to the left of the two main centre-right parties. Sinn Fein also claim to be of the left, but that’s a claim that’s rarely tested or borne out in their actions. Admittedly, as someone born in the 1970s in Northern Ireland, I’m deeply suspicious of Sinn Fein, but they seem far closer to Fianna Fáil than they do any other Irish party, not least in their willingness to do anything for a vote. Well, almost anything.
The lack of a strong left-wing party has left Ireland to follow a conservative, centre-right path through the decades. This has resulted in internal stability but vulnerability to outside shocks. The financial crisis of 2008, for example, which devastated Fianna Fáil and threw them out of government for the longest period in their history. Or the current climate crisis, which neither of the main two parties seem to have any notion of how to deal with.
Where change has come in Ireland, it has come from public sentiment, activists, and responses to crises repressed for years and finally coming to a head. In recent years, the child sex abuse crisis cracked the hold the Catholic Church held on Ireland since its founding, and in its wake other scandals came to light and public campaigns changed the face of the nation that Ireland believes itself to be: referendums on abortion and same-sex marriage passed with large majorities and amid scenes of unabashed positivity.
This willingness to change is coming from below, not above, in Ireland, and it’s far more in tune with a world where twentieth-century dogmas are crumbling in the face of massive financial inequality and a world gasping under the weight of exploitation. Conservative as they are, the two leading parties are ill-equipped to deal with such a world.
FG have retreated back into soundbites and condescension as they attempt to explain why, in the past nine years, they’ve failed to materially move Ireland on from where they found it. FF, meanwhile, show little sign of having changed from the party they were when they drove the country into bankruptcy in 2008. It’s enough for them to merely be FF. After all, their turn will come around again.
The sad thing is, they may be right. That poll mentioned above indicates that the main reaction to FG’s unpopularity and inertia may be for voters to simply to turn back to the other devil they know. The game of catch may just continue for another round, and the people in charge may just continue to be in charge because they’re the people in charge.
Except … for how long?
As events in recent years have shown, continuance isn’t the same thing as success. Suppress awkward truths or difficult challenges in favour of ensuring that the current regime gets a smoother ride just buries landmines for the future. The climate and the increasing problem of people who struggle to just live day to day aren’t going to go away. The question is, if FF/FG have power, do they have any answers?
* The U.K.’s Conservative Party and the U.S.’s Republican Party have both veered in the direction of authoritarian nationalism over conservatism in recent years. The former in pursuit of an impossible freedom from Europe and the latter driven by a deep-rooted paranoia about a future that doesn’t look the same as the past. Cheered on by a media driven more by the need for attention and profits than the desire to inform, it makes for uncomfortable viewing. We’re not there in Ireland yet, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the early warning signs aren’t present.
Cancer Update: Not much to report this week. I’m a little less than a week into the course of alectinib pills, and so far the side effects have been minimal to non-existent. So much so that I’m almost positive about going back to work tomorrow. (Capitalism waits for no man, and those pills need paying for.) Even my cough seems much diminished the last few days, though it’s probably too early to credit the pills for that. And most importantly, the constipation is holding off. Though courtesy of a present from a friend (see the image above) I should at least be able to spot it if and when it does arrive.