Getting What We Deserve?

28 January 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

This passing week is of a nature that in normal circumstances would vouchsafe it a very significant place in the annals of recent Irish political history: a period in office of a government administration is approaching its conclusion, what has traditionally been the largest political party in the country is electing a new leader, and a piece of legislation perceived as vital in commencing the process of meaningful economic recovery is in the process of being enacted.
But these events won’t shine from the pages of the history books. They are not being played out in an atmosphere of meaningful deliberation by national administrators steeled to purpose by their importance.
Rather the climate is one of unprecedented political chaos. The business of the country is being conducted in the manner of a slapstick farce unfolding before an appalled national and international audience. Never has statesmanship in Ireland plumbed so abysmal a depth.
In this lamentable state of affairs we all must take some responsibility. As voters we collectively erred at the time of the last General Election in creating the political context in which the current crisis in leadership is taking place.
We empowered a Government that presided impotently over a calamitous change in the nation’s economic fortunes and will go scuttling from office having left behind a most ignominious legacy, possibly the worst of any administration in the history of the State.
The manner in which it will depart accentuates its failures. The important principles of mutual trust and respect that must underpin a government of coalition have been arrogantly abused.
The multiple miscalculations of Brian Cowen over the final days of his tenure as Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach have been deeply embarrassing. The sympathy that ordinary human decency might provoke for a man in his sorry situation is stifled, however, by the apparent motivations for his actions. At key moments they have seemed predicated on an assumption that attainment to high office carries an exemption from accountability and responsibility to the electorate.
Mr Cowen has not worn the cloak of power comfortably, and he has given in to increasingly desperate attempts to retain a personal and party political grasp on its fraying threads. While not the worst crimes an errant leader can succumb to, his actions have been unpleasant in their indignity nonetheless.
We get, they say, the governments we deserve. And we are currently paying a very high price for our sins, the chief one of which has been complacency with this country’s stale and arid political status quo.
We complain volubly about our politicians’ shortcomings, but we keep electing them in much the same manner, perpetuating a grey political mainstream of the centre-left and centre-right and ensuring parties with ideologies and identities distinct from the conservative are confined to the margins of influence.
We pay our TDs far too much and elect far too many of them, and then carp that they are disconnected from our concerns.
We fuel the furnace of clientelism and ‘do us a favour’ politics when our own self-interest demands, and then act all indignant when vested interests rather than the public good are exposed as being served.
We cry out for radical policies and new faces, and then keep much the same parties and politicians in power when the opportunity for change is presented to us at the ballot box.
A fresh chance for change is coming our way very shortly.
Undoubtedly, the General Election will deliver a different hue of coalition government and a different apportionment of the seats in the Dáil among the parties and the independents.
The incoming administration will, however, find itself with little wiggle room in terms of the broad trend of economic policy. It will face an arduous task in turning the country around and immediately easing the day-to-day difficulties its people are struggling with. If it achieves any measure of success in addressing these problems, the progress will be slow and incremental.
Any promises made by the candidates and their retinue haunting our doorsteps in the coming weeks that the situation is going to be otherwise after the election will be false ones. Such promises and their makers deserve to be dismissed peremptorily.
Revolution, then, is not immediately at the hands of the voters who will go to the polls in a month or so. But evolution surely is.
Outside the confines of the impending General Election campaign as well as in, isn’t it time for the people to insist on a different kind of politics, and a different kind of politician?
But, to get that, and it will not come about quickly or easily, we all as voters must ask ourselves fundamental questions about what kind of politics our own personal attitudes, our own inclinations towards complacency and self-interest, are helping to perpetuate.
Are we getting what we deserve?

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