Monday, February 28, 2011

Is it the end of Fine Gael? The end of the center?

While copious newsprint has been expended on answering whether this weekend's election result heralds the end of Fianna Fáil, a less obvious question has not been asked - is this perhaps the end also of Fine Gael? Theo Dorgan argued on RTE's The Eleventh Hour last Friday night that Fianna Fáil had been dealt with, and now Fine Gael were being given their chance - which they would inevitably spurn - and the true political reshaping of Ireland would happen at the next election. That, he said, was when the New Politics - presumably some kind of evacuation of the center - would begin.

They are an undeniably populist, centrist party, just as Fianna Fáil were. They will act politically, in the interests of power, reckoning that serving power is systemically analogous to serving the people. They are not ideological, and even the Labour party, their putative junior coalition partner, while more clearly defined ideologically as a party of the left, has moved so far from the lunatic fringe (in large part through its ingestion of the Democratic Left) that it is barely recognisable any more as socialist, or left wing. Left leaning is about as much as one could say, and that they spent the last few days of the campaign arguing for balance in the center suggests that they were about as left of center as Fine Gael were right of it.

Centrism, populism, conservatism. It has defined Ireland for generations. The intellectual argument - a la Theo Dorgan - has always had it that the revolution is just around the corner. The inevitability of radicalism (as an aside, Micheal Martin's talk of a radical center is just stupid. He doesn't understand either centrism or radical) had seemed to be upon us after the arms crisis of the 1970s, then again after the GUBU years in the early 1980's, and even in the wake of Bertie Ahern's blatant and unrepentant cronyism during the Celtic Tiger years. In each case, the inner conservative asserted itself in the Irish electorate. A fear of the unknown, a lack of confidence in the nation as a mature entity, a selfishness presented itself to the polling stations across the country and said "well maybe if we nudge it slightly this way it will be OK."

Another commentator during the week mentioned the Clement Atlee comment on returning from America, that they had two parties dominating, one the Republican party much like the Conservative Party, and one the Democrats, much like the Conservative party. Today, I'm not sure the Labour party - or the Liberal Democrats for that matter - are all that different either, as the Tories moved back towards the center from the right under Cameron, and as Labour under Blair simply snaffled the center vacated by the post-Thatcher Tories under Major. In Ireland, The Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael / Labour triptych is much the same.

It is in this light that I am unsure whether we will have any "New Politics". We're not going to lurch to the left, in search of higher taxes so we can fund the less well off. We're too selfish, and - notwithstanding the recession - too well off to countenance such largesse. We're not going to lurch the right and risk alienating our European neighbours with whom we enjoy such a strong trading relationship.

The only way in which any kind of revolution will be born in this country is if its people suddenly become poor. Whether that is a result of sovereign default, currency detatchment from the Euro, or some other Global catastrophe waiting around the corner, I don't know. Until then, People Before Profit will attract transfers in the leafy suburbs from frustrated housewives feeling strangely unfulfilled by the promise of Ireland, who give their number ones to the establishment candidate who will maintain a not unpleasant status quo, and their preferences to socialist candidates in much the same way as they pay €100 for a social event to help the disadvantaged. "These tickets are not cheap," they will protest. But, then, all things are relative.

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