The electorate is exhausted - and we have weeks to go


There is a growing movement to ban economists – not just from elections but from all public discourse

IS IT over yet? It feels like this election campaign is never going to end. What with the economists and the IMF and the “it-wasn’t-me-guv” carry-on coming from all sides. The riveting headlines which read “Economy expected to dominate in today’s campaigning”.

The candidates having to pretend they know what’s going to happen; and the rest of us having to pretend that we know better.

The electorate is completely exhausted. And we still have the guts of three weeks to go.

I suppose it depends whether you think bankruptcy adds an interesting piquancy to the old politics – or not.

For many of us bankruptcy has proved to be a little too exciting. Last week we saw the curtains drawn around the bedside of my old newspaper, probably permanently.

Still, Fianna Fáil continues to amaze.

Last Friday lunchtime a million hands hovered over the off button of a million radios as a party political broadcast on behalf of Fianna Fáil was announced just before the News At One.

Three minutes later we were left with our eyes brimming, ready to get the train to Cork and make sandwiches for Micheál’s campaign.

What kind of genius came up with this? That was not intended to be a rhetorical question. But the Fianna Fáil’s press office took several hours to answer it yesterday. I know this is The Irish Timesbut still.

Fianna Fáil eventually phoned with the exciting news that the party political broadcast had been made by “several freelancers”. And refused to elaborate. Such coyness is strangely interesting.

This does not detract in any way from the party political broadcast, which was remarkably good, whoever made it. Micheál Martin talking about how, in his early election campaigns, the voters of Cork only wanted to know if he was “The Champ’s son?” How his father never went down in a fight. How his parents overcame many challenges and helped those in trouble.

Here is Fianna Fáil taking its main – indeed, it’s only – advantage and ramming it into the ribcage of the nation. The television version is up on YouTube. For the few short minutes of the party political broadcast you actually were convinced that Martin had just come home from living abroad, or possibly from a couple of years spent in a seminary, as John Waters has suggested in these pages. Or perhaps had landed from Mars: there is something other-worldy about Micheál.

One had to shake oneself over one’s Cupasoup to remember that Micheál was at the Cabinet table for the entire boom, and at the Department of Enterprise for a chunk of it.

Even the aspects of Martin’s demeanour which have been a problem: his caution, not to say his primness – I once wrote that he looked like a child prodigy who had grown disillusioned with the circuit, but we were both a lot younger then – now look like timely restraint.

And all of this is presided over by Fianna Fáil’s permanent Prince Of Darkness PJ Mara, the man who knows where the old party principles are buried.

Mara has been whisked off a Lear jet and across town to party HQ, travelling in a lead-lined Mercedes, with that Russian male choir booming away in the background, giving it socks. Chairman of the Election Committee. All the mirrors in Fianna Fáil HQ have been shrouded in silk. The blinds on the windows are tightly drawn, admitting not even a sliver of daylight. Showtime indeed.

In contrast to these dark arts, this death and death struggle being waged by Fianna Fáil, the rest of the campaign looks like a sunny day just waiting to be spoiled. And that’s not a good look for an election campaign, it is simply dull and slightly uneasy.

Some enthusiastic voters are attempting to divert themselves by acquiring favourite economists. I know two sisters who have respectively adopted Antoin Murphy and Constantin Gurdgiev – like pets. There have been fights about defaulting. I swear to God.

But there is a growing political movement whose only tenet is the banning of economists not just from elections but from all forms of public discourse. Fair play to you, lads, but you’ve had your fun, your sold-out gigs with the traumatised taxpayer and even your 50 minutes with Marian. It would be best if you stopped now – you know it makes sense.

The economists and their fans were greatly diverted by a Vanity Fair article, but it is hard to see what difference it will make. Reading Michael Lewis’s history of our disaster was a bit like seeing your terminal illness turned into a musical comedy. One could only marvel at how amusing it must be to someone very far away. It is brilliant, to be sure. The section on how the Irish taxpayer paid €7 million to Merrill Lynch for a seven-page report that Lewis alleges was a tissue of lies is particularly hilarious – if you’re not an Irish taxpayer.

All in all, we seem obsessed with how foreigners see us – as if they cared less about us or how we appear to them. It does make you tired. It is hard to believe that we’re not even at the end of week one.

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