European politics suffering crisis of public confidence
Our political system is widely perceived as enriching politicians, not as a means of advancing the common good
But maybe the Labour Party is the happy exception here? Its record on local planning scandals is certainly far healthier than those of the bigger parties. And it has given us figures of outstanding ethical vision and imagination, such as Michael D Higgins and Mary Robinson, though they have never been offered party leadership.
However, Eamon Gilmore could give lessons in amnesia to Rubalcaba. He told Marian Finucane he could not remember the precise names of parties he supported in the 1970s, perhaps because their ideologies and activities seem a tad embarrassing today. This lapse did not hurt him electorally, but it reflects the slithery approach to straight questions that discredits our political discourse.
And now he seems to have forgotten that he ever proclaimed the memorable slogan: “It’s Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”, just two years ago. Instead, he became a poster boy for the troika’s way, once the people, taking his rhetoric at face value, had propelled him to Government.
A century ago, Labour leader Jim Larkin famously told the dispossessed that “the great are only great because we are on our knees”. Gilmore and his colleagues appear to have entirely forgotten that Larkin then enjoined them to “arise”.
I think it is fair to say that most people believe that today’s Labour Party is much more interested in hanging on to the overpaid perks of office than in challenging the interests of “the great”. In other words, they have become fully paid-up members of the political class.
Honesty the worst policy?
That perception may do them some harm come election time. Or maybe it will not. Perhaps none of this matters very much. In a political culture where Michael Lowry is a folk hero, and Micheál Martin can speak as if he had never broken bread at Bertie Ahern’s cabinet table, maybe honesty is the worst policy. Maybe only hurlers on the ditch complain about the way the game is being played.
But perhaps it does matter, a great deal, especially when the moral failure of our political system is matched by its material failure on a heart-breaking scale.
Many fear that the broadly social democratic system stitched together after the second World War is sleepwalking towards some sort of collapse.
The grotesque failures of the utopian leftist movements of the last century, and of their dystopian counterparts on the right, leave little room for optimism about what might replace it.
Is it too late to hope that some of our politicians might still appreciate the urgency of genuinely renovating it?