Electors take opportunity to make show of politicians
Voters used the poll to exact revenge on the politicians they felt had neglected them, writes Ann Marie Hourihane.
THERE HAS been a lot of expert analysis and outrage about the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. But really the result could be summed up by the less learned amongst us quite simply - Revenge of the Nerds. An electorate is a slow-moving and placid creature. Punishments can be visited upon it by the fleet of foot and the sharp of tongue. Chronic neglect of the electorate is a given. But the electorate, slow-moving as it is, does not always forget. Once in a while, when the economic weather changes, there is an opportunity to hurt the politicians as a group. And these opportunities are often called referendums.
At first it is difficult to spot a referendum. The first signs are often the movements of one of the many splinter groups that make up a No campaign. At this stage nobody really talks about the referendum. Nothing happens for a long time, except that the various strands of the No campaign are holding meetings and fighting like hell amongst themselves. They hate each other.
The politicians have other fish to fry - although all of these fish are now imported. They are running the country and struggling for their own survival and also fighting like hell amongst themselves. They hate each other. The first sign of life from them is the delivery of the Booklet.
The Booklet is dropped in to every Irish home, where it is understood by no one. The politicians think that the Booklet's incomprehensibility must make them look very sophisticated and capable, but in fact it makes the small section of the electorate that bothers to try to read the Booklet furious. The greater part of the electorate carries the Booklet to the recycling bin unopened.
Up at Dublin Castle the electorate is paying for a very expensive exercise in the humiliation of itself, which reveals that the people the electorate has supported for so long have been indulging themselves in property speculation, betting on horses and generalised amnesia. The electorate has voted some of these people in, quite recently. The electorate moans in its cage. These were the people it had been told to admire. The electorate starts to feel stupid. Electorates don't like to feel stupid.
The electorate isn't sure about the No campaign either. Suddenly Sinn Féin is opposed to militarism. British-owned newspapers push their anti-Europe stance towards the Irish electorate, giving it some of the few happy moments that occasionally light up its miserable existence: "The world's brainiest page three girl Claire Tully, Dustin the Eurovision Turkey and anti-Lisbon campaigner Declan Ganley all reckon the EU pact is a BAD deal" (The Irish Sun, June 12th). On the other hand, old creatures that the electorate only half-recognises, and which it thought long dead, start to emerge from the political landscape. Abortion and euthanasia are once more wheeled out to terrify the electorate, which is wondering whether it has the adrenalin reserves left for another referendum.
This is the moment when the electorate needs the reassuring hand of its keeper. The keeper may have kicked sand in our faces, it may have abused and betrayed us, it may have decimated our health and education systems, but at least we knew what it was and what its long-term goal was: more of the same. Unfortunately, when the politicians come to the electorate's cage, they have nothing to offer but the indisputable truth that Europe has been very good to the electorate. This is somewhat offset by the fact that fuel prices are soaring, unemployment is lively, the fields are empty, the fishing industry is in its death throes and all over the country people had been told that Brussels wouldn't let them cut turf.
Still, the electorate would have stayed with its keeper if things hadn't got insulting. "Trust us," say the politicians. The electorate keeps silent, but feels wounded. In its simple experience terrible things happen when it trusts the politicians. "You don't know where the money is coming from," whisper the politicians of the No campaign. The electorate flicks its scarred ears. Just the other day the electorate gave the politicians themselves more money, out of its meagre savings. To the electorate it is kind of refreshing - even fun - to think of a politician spending his own money. "God Almighty," argue the politicians, "don't be making a show of us in front of the whole world."
The electorate cannot help noticing that some of the political candidates are using the referendum to get posters of themselves up the telegraph poles The politicians do not expect the electorate to notice this.
The electorate also notices that the politicians don't understand the Booklet. They never can explain the Booklet. The canvassers can't explain it. The TDs can't explain it. The new Taoiseach comes on the radio sounding hurt, but he can't explain it. "God Almighty," argues the Taoiseach, "don't be making a show of us in front of the whole world."
On polling day the electorate is trotted out, stiff and sore. In its small brain it knows two things: it is not very often that all politicians are on the same side. And politicians do not like being made a show of in front of the whole world. The electorate lashes out. And the politicians are very surprised.