Jim Carroll

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Introducing: On the Polls 2011

And they’re off. After a lengthy preamble, which saw candidates and prospective candidates chomping at the bit, doing a spot of neighing (or harrumphing in the case of Conor Lenihan and Joan Burton) and a few false starts (that would …

Wed, Feb 2, 2011, 09:53


And they’re off. After a lengthy preamble, which saw candidates and prospective candidates chomping at the bit, doing a spot of neighing (or harrumphing in the case of Conor Lenihan and Joan Burton) and a few false starts (that would be Democracy Now, who got as far as the stalls and then backed out), the steeplechase for the 31st Dail has begun. Between now and February 25, it’s general election 2011 all the way all the time on all channels. Get used to it, people. As you looked out your window this morning, a would-be TD probably stared back at you from the nearest ESB pole, though the postering hasn’t quite got underway in earnest yet. Maybe they haven’t got the cash for the posters and cable-ties to embark on the madness of old?

It is going to be a strange campaign for several reasons. For a start, there won’t be a repeat of the blockbuster vote-buying promises which dominated the last three elections. Instead, once we get the phoney issue of leaders’ debates out of the way, it should be a campaign about economics. The economics of the reduced money in your pocket, the economics of why we as a nation are in the mess we’re in and the economics of what’s going to happen in 2012 and beyond are the issues which will (should?) dominate this debate. Once the prez did her thing yesterday, most other issues took or should have taken a back-seat. This election is about economics, jobs and debt, right?

But no, it won’t be an election about economics because an Irish general election in full swing goes all over the place. Yes, there will be debates around those economic issues – the very same issues which have not gone away just because we’ve had political bother in the gaff since last November – but you can bet so many other topics will crowd the pitch because the parties don’t really want to man up about the economic shitstorm sitting there like an elephant in a dentist’s waiting room. These topics will range from the incompatibility of Fine Gael and Labour as potential coalition partners (someone should nip this in the bud right now by stating the bleeding obvious that coalitions are about compromise – incompatibility certainly didn’t stop the Green Party taking a berth on Planet Bertie in 2007) to why we keep electing independents like Michael Lowry (the great thing about democracies is that the lads who get the most votes get elected). Lots and lots of talk about everything but the real issues.

We’re going to hear a lot of chatter about political reform, but do the vast majority of the electorate really want reform or understand what reform means? Is reform of who gets to represent us in parliament as important to someone as to why the Universal Social Charge has taken a large chunk of their wage packet? Are the TDs which this reform might produce really fit for purpose? Is the fact that we have so few female TDs and senators (and councillors) on the same scale as 440,000 people on the dole queue? And are those who get elected to the Dail – and who will want to get re-elected to the 32nd Dail – the ones to to champion real, substantial and rigorous reform?

As I’ve said here before, we don’t get the politicans we deserve, we get the politicians we vote for. Despite a lot of high and mighty talk from some campaigns and groups who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk in the end, our would-be reps are much the same gallery as the outgoing Dail. You’ve even got the same familiar surnames in the mix – a Cowen here and a Healy-Rae there – as the family firm sees a mass of retirements. This is going to be a sea-change election alright, one of those elections-of-a-lifetime, as the daddy gives way to the son, the daughter, the brother, the niece or the first cousin.

Of course, there are many candidates out there where politics isn’t the family trade. And there would have been many more new, fresh, unencumbered candidates had those involved in the prospective Democracy Now campaign (and one or two would-be political movements which never left the planning stages) seized the day instead of choking. I’m sure all involved had valid, honourable reasons for not going ahead with it but, given the amount of talk about the necessity for reform and change from the campaign promoters in their other guises, it does seem strange that a mere timing change upset the applecart (or appletart) so much. Anyhow, unless things drastically change before candidates have to declare, they’re a footnote, so no more of that. They won’t be losing their deposits and can stay at home with their West Wing boxsets.

The results as we see them at the moment? Fine Gael will have a good election because the switchers who moved to Fianna Fail during the Bertie years are now annoyed at themselves for voting FF and will back a FG man or woman instead. Labour will also do very well, though not as well as they’d do with a lot of younger, fresher candidates. There are a lot of Labour lads running under the because-we’re-worth-it banner, beardy men who think a couple of failed campaigns when the going was tough entitles them to a seat now that there’s a bit of a Gilmore gale a-blowing. Fianna Fail won’t be wiped out and will return with 30 to 40 seats. Anyone who ever thought, blogged, muttered or tweeted that they would be destroyed doesn’t realise how deeply the party are embedded in Irish life and culture. It’s not down to the new leader – the horrible sounding Micheál Mojo someone was trying to talk up the other day – but because they’re a part of what we are.

Sinn Fein will have their best election ever as younger switchers move towards them. If they had Pearse Doherty leading them rather than Gerry Adams, they’d take even more seats. Every time Doherty speaks, you can understand why people would vote SF. But every time Adams opens his gob, you can understand why they’re not going to do as well as they could in this or any subsequent election where he’s still at the helm. There will be a clatter of independents heading to the 31st Dail too because people in different constituences around the country want their boyo in the Dail so they will vote for them. We’ll see a return of the Lowry and Healy-Rae names – not quite so sure yet if the bould Mattie McGrath can best the FF machine in Tipp South – and we might even see a couple of interesting new names too if people can work out how to turn online traction into real-life action (or else it’s just the Rubberbandits, “Horse Outside” and the Christmas Number One all over again). That’s everyone, isn’t it? Oh, hold on, the Greens, I forgot the fecking Green Party. How did I forget the Green Party? Well, I suppose that’s what everyone else will be saying on February 25 too. It’s like the last line in Jigga’s “Takeover”, innit?

Because we’re election junkies, OTR will be sticking up an On the Polls post once a week or so over the course of the campaign. It will be usual mix of high drama and low farce, stuff which catches our eye and stuff which beggars belief. We’ll be compiling a Portillo list – the list of current TDs we’ll be waiting up to see unseated (though many of the names who would have made that list like Mary Harney won’t now be facing the wrath of the voters at the ballot box) – and we’ll be looking at how the campaign is reported in print, on TV and on radio. We’ll no doubt be having a look at the latest Rock the Vote videos (oh yes, there will be more RTV videos) and the other bits and pieces like opinion polls, gaffes, strange posters and general WTF? moments which will make this general election campaign zing. It’s on, sports fans, it’s on.