Aer Lingus: It's the electorate, stupid

Fintan O’Toole annoys me as much as the next person, but when he gets it right does he ever get it right. His column in today’s Times (subs required) says exactly what I have been wanting to say since this Aer Lingus story first broke. Actually, it says exactly what I’ve been thinking since the election. Undoubtedly, it says what I’ll be thinking after the next election too, because in all likelihood the Irish voters will grumble and whinge for the next five years about what a shower of bastards we have in office and then on polling day they’ll go right back and put that shower in again. And then complain when they do the things that Irish politicians do. And so on, ad nauseum.

But we all know this; the question is what do we do about it. Usually the problem is identified as the peculiarly clientelist nature of (southern) Irish politics, and electoral reform is put forward as the solution: get rid of the dual mandate, for example, and TDs won’t have to focus so much on issues properly in the purview of councillors.

That hasn’t worked.

Increasingly the multi-seat constituency is coming under fire: TDs are competing with their party colleagues, the argument goes, and so there’s a great incentive for them to try to build up support from the voters through parish pump type stuff. I’m not convinced by this. For one thing, it doesn’t happen in the US, although the primary system there also means that candidates compete with party colleagues. Of course the party whip system doesn’t exist in the US so party colleagues can compete with each other on ideological grounds, something they can’t do here. But Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can’t really be said to be competing on ideological grounds, either, so a system under which their candidates are competing with each other (and other parties) rather than first and foremost amongst themselves is hardly likely to eliminate the incentive for them to boost their support through constituency work.

Some of my own party colleagues are in favour of introducing some sort of list system, in which, for example, half the Dáil is elected in the current manner, while the other half is selected by party officials according to the percentage of vote that each party receives. Presumably, the ‘appointed’ TDs would not be bound to do constituency work, not having any constituency to be bound to. There’s merit in that argument, but I can’t help thinking that there is something fundamentally undemocratic about allowing them to be chosen by appointment rather than directly by the people. We complain about this in the Seanad (not that that stopped us … well I won’t go there for now) so I don’t really see how we can support it in the Dáil. The wild optimists also think that this system would increase the extent to which the electorate votes on ideological grounds, because they know they are not just voting for their candidate but for his or her entire party. Again, unconvincing. At the last election voters knew they were voting not just for their TD but for their government, and what did they do? Voted in the same shower of bastards they keep complaining about … again.

I’m not sure what the answer is, or whether it can be found through electoral reform at all. Clearly a cultural change is needed - Irish voters do need to stop thinking of their TD as their councillor, social worker, all-purpose-fixer-upper – but there’s no guarantee that would stop them electing the same old crooks time after time, anyway. I’m sure I don’t need to point to examples in other countries to demonstrate this. Whether it’s PR-STV, FPTP, party list, whatever, the bottom line is that nothing is going to change until the voters take it upon themselves to decide that they aren’t going to put up with it anymore.

And if you think that’s going to happen any time soon, I have a landing slot in Shannon to sell you.

9 comments:

Simon said...

reduce the size of the dail to 50. and have bigger constituencies in size that cross counties

73man said...

Holy shit, Fintan hits the nail on the head again, and I feel a dire need to revise / delete / retract my own posting from this morning!! Arrrgh.

Seachranaidhe said...

the 50 appointed TD's seems like a marginally acceptable idea if we had parties in there we could trust, but, we don't, ah well. I used to think Irish voters were stupid but now I realise they just do not care. when they whinge and moan it's at the bar or from behind the wheel of their new vw on their new mobile. bottom line Irish people need to bitch, but when they have money in their pocket their quite happy to leave it at that, and to hell with joe and joesephine soap living on the breadline. never mind the Senad either pobail is cheerleading that strategic banner, best to let him have his moment

Wednesday said...

I think having only 50 TDs would make it all but impossible for parties other than FF and FG to get elected. And that would defeat the whole purpose.

Ciarán said...

I don't read the Irish Times (and I'm not particularly inclined to get an online subscription), nor am I particularly fond of Fintan O'Toole, so you'll have to excuse me for being out of the loop, but how exactly is the question of the current goings-on with Aer Lingus at Shannon related to the issue of constituencies and the nature of representative politics in the 26 counties?

Wednesday said...

In a nutshell, O'Toole says that this move was an inevitable result of privatisation - Aer Lingus's responsibility is now to its shareholders, not to the national interest, and so from now on all its decisions will be based primarily on its bottom line. And he makes the point that people in the Shannon region voted overwhelmingly for parties that supported the privatisation of Aer Lingus. Hence the column's headline, "You get what you vote for".

It's a good piece, I can email it to you if you want.

Worldbystorm said...

Yeah, was a good article. What's sad, but almost amusing, is the way in which IBEC et al are now leading the chorus agin this move when they woudl be vociferously in favour of the privatisations that made it possible. And wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to hear from the right about how airlines are really just bus services in the sky...

Ciarán said...

That'd be great if you could send me the piece, Wednesday. How can I get in touch with you about it?

Wednesday said...

Send your email address to ceadaoin@gmail.com.

It'll be tomorrow though, because I'm not in the office today and I don't have a subscription on my home computer.

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