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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 20, 2008 @ 6:52 pm

    Do oppositions also have shelf lives?

    Harry McGee

    It won’t be too long now before the opposition parties start firing off missive asking how long more do we have to put up with this (multiple choice) failed/knackered/tired/lacking in imagination/fatigued government? Granted, the present arrangement is only a year in office.

    But Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein etc want us to tap into a sense of exhaustion that has come from FF dominating government for 11 years… legs are becoming heavy and all those stalwarts of government can no longer handle the pace.

    The message: the Government has been too long in power. It’s the same old same old. No new faces. No new ideas. No zip. No energy. Running on empty. You get the picture.

    But if you flip that argument, could it also be said that the opposition has been – well -there for far too long as well.

    If the innate nature and essence of Government has remained largely unchanged in the past eleven years, so has that of the opposition.

    Sure there have been changes in personnel. And there are some differences in policy between Government and opposition- I suppose mainly in health – but none that really scream out at you. You suspect that for all the huffing and puffing you get from politicians in opposition, they automatically click into managerial mode when they go into government.

    There are times when I have looked at the Enda Kenny/Eamon Gilmore axis (and the Kenny/Rabbitte one before) and wondered how different a country Ireland might be if they had been at the helm. Would it had been all that different? I just can’t see how it could have been. Sure, a couple of the bad, controversial and madcap ideas might have hit the floor of the editing room – private clinics; decentralisation and electronic voting . But when you came to core principles – would it have been any different? The low tax model became the orthodoxy for all parties before last year’s election – including the Greens.

    I must admit that I still struggle to see a change of Government as much more than an ‘under new management’ event.

    If the Government is jaded and lacks new ideas and ventures, where are they supposed to come from. The opposition? A little test: Name three good ideas the opposition has come up with in the past year? Not too easy, is it? An alternative team and a new energy is all very well… but what Blair, Clinton did (and what Cameron and Obama are arguably doing now) is offering a true alternative… a true departure involving new ideas and a clear break from the past.

    That’s why I’m a little concerned that the great and the good from the three major parties are all going to the Democratic convention in Denver this week (Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Noel Dempsey and Mary Hanafin) and Leo Varadkar is the only one bothering to go to John McCain’s convention, as far as I can ascertain. Is that uniformity of approach and thinking desirable (and for a meaty piece from an influential Irish-American about the respective merits of Obama and McCain, see here)

    • zippy2farqm says:

      In every other aspect of our day to day lives a change invariably brings a freshness to most aspects of our lifestyles(butcher, hairdresser, who services your car, job, favorite restaurant…). To live in this single party sate cannot be good for all the reasons you outlined above around staleness, complacency and in the case of the main political party in this country an invariable slide into corrupt and sly self serving practice. If we truly exercised our vote in this country and changed our gov regularity when they failed to meet their stated promises we would develop a better quality political class. If they truly believed in the intelligence of the electorate then we would not have the litany of wasted opportunities by wasters of the past 20 yrs – the facts showing again that one party, FF, has been in power for 17 of this 20 yrs! I am not so naïve to think that if FG or Lab had been in power for that long that they wouldn’t be as complacent or out of touch as the current lot are but I do believe that , as I have done in the past 2 elections , I would have recognized the danger of allowing a single party have such a grasp on power , and voted for a change of gov . The delusion/illusion that you may be falling for in Obama/Cameron is simply that – they may be more articulate and effervescent than Kenny or Gilmore but don’t for one minute think that they are more capable than either of our 2 opposition leaders – the system will bring them to the base level just as it has always done with our elected political leaders. What they do offer is change – and the off chance that in the period before the system brings them down to a base level(normally at least 1 term in office) , they would have a commitment to deliver some meaningful and memorable change. That’s the reason we simply must have a change of gov in this country – and if necessary if they don’t deliver then we boot them out. At least the current shower might then remember the privilege of been in power and the responsibility to deliver that it brings.

    • Harry says:

      The question I was asking is what change is really been promised. Zippy2farqm seems to suggest that governance is the most importants aspect. I would argue that, yes, it is very important but you also need fresh and radical thinking when it comes to policies and ideas… what the Yanks call big ticket items.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Harry, what you say has considerable validity in that new proposals can serve in creating the mood music for campaigns. I personally believe that the strong distinct devolution reforms that New Labour were committed to added to the sense of the new and the fresh to their overall platform in 1997. Especially when you consider that they were tied to the Tory economic parameters for the following 3 years which restricted their ability to sound too radical about taxation or spending. It gave the sense they were about to reshape the nation and formed a backdrop against which they could talk up their other policy ideas (which were often quite technical and mundane) and paint the Tories in contrast as stagnant and devoid of originality.

      My own suggestion is that I reckon we (in the opposition) need to propose major radical reform of public life and the administration of government, making local cllrs accountable for decisions that they take and for the raising of the money they spend. Since I’m not going to have my name on a ballot next year (unless something dramatic happens) I’m going to be kinda blunt about it.

      Let’s have local taxes that are collected locally and spent locally, and let’s start with raising revenue from second (and third and fourth) properties and diverting a set % of everyone’s income tax to the local authority. I’d go so far as to say we should look at having provincial level for the administration and accountable of the delivery of public services. Make the members of the administration be drawn from the cllrs and those 35 people per province say could be full time. To go with this I would suggest that these provincial level assemblies should have the hiring and firing approval for county and city managers and all heads department within local government. Get rid of this nonsense that the city/county managers are answerable to the Minister of the Environment alone.

      I’d like to see ministers in turn being more answerable and accountable to the Dail committees as well as the Dail a la the US senate committees. Instead what we get from the Dail is a minister taking answers out of a canter that often barely only a passing resemblance to the question that has been asked.

      Of course we’ve seen in the last few days with Brian Hayes what happens if you try and suggest solutions to problem, use the wrong word or a word that has connotations because of what has happened elsewhere and that is all the media talks about. I’d not be surprised the Windymedia types wouldn’t be jumping up and down about the war in Iraq if someone was to comment in the press that Brian Cowen had given an extraordinary rendition of a song.


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