Kathy Sheridan: The country goes into election mode more fragile than we imagined

Brexit showed how easily a country can tip over into something toxic and delusional

“Holding a Saturday election seems enlightened, presuming that plenty of promotion is invested in the change; the fact it’s a weekend is no guarantee that people will prioritise the vote but it removes a lot of excuses.” File photograph: Frank Miller

“Holding a Saturday election seems enlightened, presuming that plenty of promotion is invested in the change; the fact it’s a weekend is no guarantee that people will prioritise the vote but it removes a lot of excuses.” File photograph: Frank Miller

There was a time when an election felt like some great anarchic festival. I grew up in a political household where an early arch enemy – a mild but irritatingly persistent schoolteacher – occupied a civilised lair a few miles cross-country. Our campaign HQ, by contrast, was above a pub. On occasion, this had unfortunate consequences, such as a morning canvass where a voter opened the door a tad too eagerly and our local guiding light fell through it, flattening the voter. Instead of an outraged call to the Westmeath Examiner (the twitter of the day), the injured party dusted himself off, fetched a fairly poisonous pick-me-up from the hayshed for the visitors and himself and sent us on our merry way with five number 1s (he vowed tipsily) in the bag.

Now, let me be clear (a phrase you’ll be hearing a lot of in the next few weeks along with “a very positive reaction on the doorsteps” and “that’s not what we’re hearing on the doorsteps”), alcohol abuse was never funny. But a dreary air of impermeable political messaging and the simultaneous terror of and hunger for media coverage render campaigns into barren door-knocking. At all campaign HQs, the scorched earth of Verona Murphy’s byelection is still sending smoke signals: Do Not Stray off Message.

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