Fintan O’Toole: The Irish political system is destroying the middle-class lifestyle it depends on

Political middle-ground depends on middle-class way of life that is ever further out of reach

A highly educated young generation has little hope of being as well off as its parents. Photograph: Alan Betson

A highly educated young generation has little hope of being as well off as its parents. Photograph: Alan Betson

Can conservative politics hold together when the conservative lifestyle is crumbling? That is the big question for Ireland. Irish politics has been extraordinarily stable: every government in the history of the State has been led by the centre-right Fianna Gael duopoly. Even with radical social, cultural and religious upheaval and even in the wake of the implosion of the State in the banking crisis, the latest Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll shows Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on 54 per cent between them. But lift the lid and something that has been simmering away is coming to a rolling boil: the basic promise of conservative politics is dissolving.

By a conservative lifestyle I don’t mean religion or sexuality. I mean the aspiration that has been inculcated since the late 1960s in Ireland: get a good education; work hard; get married; get a mortgage; buy a house; have kids. It’s a template for living and not one to be despised. It’s the one I’ve followed myself and it offers a fair chance of happiness. Not everyone who leads this life is politically conservative but all political conservatism depends on it. Strip away the rhetorical flourishes and this is the product on offer. A middle-class lifestyle sustains a middle ground politics.

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