On the Polls – the general election campaign so far
The winners and losers to date of a campaign that seems to have been going on forever
Claire Byrne for Ceann Comhairle: there was only one winner from last night’s televised leaders debate and that was the Laois woman. It was always going to be thus because of the format and the fact that Byrne is a chairwoman who takes no nonsense, as those who check out her RTE Radio One show on Saturdays knows at this stage. On the telly, she was measured, tough and emphatic, allowing each leader to have a go but ensuring they didn’t overstay their welcome or, in the case of Joan Burton in particular, get away with a lot of guff. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see how much time each leader got as there were a few (Lucinda Creighton, Enda Kenny) who seemed happy to stay out of the fray for long periods of time for fear of what they might say.
A bad election for Morning Ireland: by contrast, the country’s leading radio show has had a fairly poor election so far. It started badly with the debate from hell, as Keelin Shanley proved totally unable to control a debate which quickly became a bunch of lads shouting and roaring at each other about stuff. You’d have got more sense – and control – from a bunch of teenagers at a gaff party. It was unedifying and set a sour tone, but worse was to come when the Taoiseach himself landed in Dublin 4 for an one on one interview the following morning. This is the very same Taoiseach who tends to shy away from this kind of encounter but, in the RTE radio studio with Gavin Jennings asking the questions, Kenny must have wondered what all the fuss was about, as the interviewer failed to land a punch of any sort. There’s no point bringing in an interviewee like Kenny if you’re just going to ask the same questions that everyone else would ask and for which he’s prepped and prepared the answers. For a show which used to specialise in setting the agenda, this was poor going.
“It’s the dullest campaign ever”: that’s the lament of the pol corrs. Like hurling fans relishing a Munster final or One Direction fans salivating over a live show (or music hacks ahead of an U2 release), the pol corrs live for the general election campaign because it brings their world centrestage. Unfortunately for them, the drama they crave to justify the coverage has just not happened. This is a good thing because the process of electing the politicians to ensure this country doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past should not be decided on moments of drama. But this requires examining policies and processes, something which the political correspondants too often eschew in favour of covering the mistakes, mis-cues and malapropisms. The electorate are often not well served by those on the political beat.
Majors versus indies: one thing which last night’s debate showed to those who tuned in is that the smaller parties are more than able to stand their ground and get their views across. If people thought 2011′s general election represented a changing of the guard, they ain’t seen nothing yet. Changes in constituency geography, a bigger range of options on the ballot paper, a broader sweep of issues and an anger on the part of many of the electorate with the traditional parties means the smaller parties are going to make quite a splash this time around. Of course, we’re going to see the election of many independent TDs as well to make for a new Dáil which will look very unlike any we’ve seen before. Expect that old cliche “the people have spoken and now we have to make sense of what they’ve said” to be uttered a lot as the votes are counted on February 27.
The (gluten-free) bread and (low-fat) butter issues: events, dear boy, events. While there was always going to be a focus on crime (especially rural crime with the closure of so many rural garda stations), no-one could have predicted that the savage Dublin gangland murders of recent weeks would have had such an impact and placed fiscal and economic matters into second place for a while. The emphasis on crime meant that the other parties could repeatedly hit Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein over the head about the Special Criminal Court, but it also meant that the focus slipped from erronous financial plans, something which the party’s Pearse Doherty was to the fore in showing up. That’s how campaigns of this ilk roll, though, and who knows what will happen in the next week to shake things up again and move the dial to some other issue.
The world beyond these shores: all politics are local and it’s telling (and sad) that there has been little or no mention of the wider world in this campaign. Be it the strife and turmoil in world markets, which will have a huge effect on the future economic health of this little country as it tries to avoid a downturn in financial fortunes, the thousands of refugees who are still arriving at Europe’s borders or the climate change crisis which could well scupper us all in time, the wider world has not featured all that much in this campaign. Too many people obviously still give a plus one to De Valera’s self-sufficiency mantra.
The return of the Fianna Fail smirk: they never went away, you know. There are probably many people who are amazed (or aghast) that Fianna Fail are back from the dead, but it’s worth remembering that an organisation of that ilk and nature will never completely disappear from view. Like the GAA and the Catholic Church, Fianna Fail are the party who are culturally embedded into this country’s DNA and it will take more than one bad election result to change that state of affairs. They may have got hammered in 2011, but they didn’t disappear and their re-emergence as a force in 2016 is a sign that people are very quick to forget – and perhaps forgive – past mistakes. Just as Fine Gael returned after the 2002 disaster to lead the government within two elections, Fianna Fail too have recovered. Have they learned their lessons? Of course not! Apart from the contrition occasionally shown by Micheál Martin when he does his best Cork altar boy impersonation, the aul’ pomp and sense of entitlement is still in full effect party-wide and (some of) the Irish electorate are lapping it up.
Labour pains: if the party had an euro for every time their leader has uttered “I have to say” in a debate, they could probably afford some “Burton for Taiseach” posters to go with the “Gilmore for Taoiseach” ones in the garden shed. The junior government party has had a shocker and all the signs are that there will be far less of them next time around. Many party apparatchiks will argue that smaller coalition parties always get a kicking in elections, but that ignores the fact that they’re not doing themselves any favours either in terms of presentation and performance. Burton has proven to be a woeful performer in every debate and interview and lacks the guile, agility and appeal which would have helped the party define their message and position. While you could argue that very few of our political leaders have guile, agility or appeal, Labour are a party who should be using such attributes to set themselves apart. Instead, you have a leader who prefers to hector, insult and butt in at every single opportunity in debates (while giving out yards when someone does it to her). Then again, Alan Kelly probably won’t do much better in the next campaign, but his Tipperary accent is pretty awesome.
Banter’s general election review: if you’re after more general election , join Sinead O’Carroll (News Editor, TheJournal.ie), Hugh Linehan (Culture Editor, The Irish Times) and Jane Suiter (DCU School of Communications and Institute for Future Media and Journalism) at Banter’s general election campaign review at MVP (Clanbrassil St., Dublin 8 ) on Wednesday February 24. Doors open at 6pm, the action starts at 6.30pm sharp and there’s more information here.