As Published on TheJournal.ie in Jan 2013
THE RESULTS OF the recent Millward Brown Opinion Poll showing 50 per cent support for the formation of a new political party gave rise to a wealth of commentary and debate.
However, the harsh reality is that this professed support for a new political party is little more than a childish longing to wish away our current problems with a quick fix that doesn’t exist.
First, let’s be honest: there was little thought given to new political parties when things were good. The disillusionment with existing parties is caused by the current recession, unemployment, emigration, the banking guarantee and fiscal austerity. And given the size of our problems it is little wonder that the prospect of a new political party (with untainted talent) seems attractive right now. However while populism might win votes, only policies deliver changes to the economic and social health of the country. Therefore unless a new grouping can offer new policies, their advancement is immaterial.
Now before political hacks start listing off the differences between existing parties, I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about septic tanks, children’s allowance, housing tax, student grants or similar. For the purpose of this article I’ll just group these types of issues under the loose term, domestic policy. They are all important issues but our recovery doesn’t hinge entirely on any one of them.
While there are many differences in the domestic policies of existing political parties, our major international policies are all dictated by the nation’s involvement in the global trading markets, and by our dependency on organisations/institutions outside the jurisdiction of the Government for investment and finance.
Ireland is a willing participant in the global economic game. We understand that the wealth created through trade, production, export, innovation etc is what finances our country’s public services. So while differing on cosmetic aspects, new and existing political parties (and the general public) support our involvement in global trade for all its pros and cons. And by taking part we have by default accepted the rules.
Unfortunately we are learning that as a small player, Ireland has little input into the creation of the rules. And furthermore, we now clearly see that these rules don’t seem fair. For instance, in a global market espousing free trade, how can private banking debt be nationalised when ownership and funding of that bank came from global sources?
My honest assessment of our current predicament is that the Irish nation is being forced to either (1) accept the banking guarantee, or (2) face the consequences and the wrath of the “free market”. And so I reluctantly concur with the current strategy to find a diplomatic solution out of the banking hole while implementing austerity. This is the position of the Government parties. And while the Opposition say they could implement austerity more equitably while increasing employment dramatically and getting a quicker, improved deal on bondholders, they are essentially offering the same blueprint.
Because while opposition political parties (and economic gurus) may claim to be brave enough to burn the bondholders, the reality is often quite stark. The prospect of an inability to raise finance on global markets, and the immediate effect of unpaid public wages and social welfare payments (with the knock-on risk of anarchy) seems to turn even the most radical socialist into a fiscal conservative – take a look at Greece. The frustrating truth is that the poor, the weak and the marginal are the ones who would suffer first under such scenarios of instability and even the Greek dissenters accepted this.
So ignore the worthless mantras of “we’ll burn the bondholders”, or the hurler on the ditch who tells us to dump the euro. No existing or newly-formed party is truly advocating anything other than deference to the gods of global trade and finance. And if they did, the Irish public would quickly dispatch them to the realms of failed political start ups. Rightly or wrongly, the Irish people value stability, familiarity and low risk – a huge reason behind the constancy of the long established political parties in Ireland.
In truth, there is little widespread popular debate urging a review of Ireland’s place within the global market, or questioning where it is bringing us and the rules (or lack of rules) under-which we play. And there should be a debate: global trade is a mechanism with as much potential for destruction and division as for wealth and equity creation.
To conclude: new political parties are always a welcome addition to the stage, but let’s be honest – the horse has already bolted the stable and a new party can’t offer a panacea to our current issues. And while reforms should be continued, let’s not get carried away in thinking that tinkering with the current electoral system will deal directly with the challenges we face here and now. Preventing the repetition of such calamity is where we need to be focused.