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Thread: 2011 and the last of the Gombeen Princes

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    Politics.ie Member Malbekh's Avatar
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    Default 2011 and the last of the Gombeen Princes

    With the GE of 2011 we will finally see the end of a particular plague in Irish politics. The nature of our democratic process always lends itself to a coalition government, and the 2+1 nature of previous governments has had the added affliction of having independents and pseudo-independents all extracting their pound of flesh in order to support the status quo. But it's not as simple as that. The independent gombeen princes can only garner so much in favour and kind but retain their seats on the backbenches. Their power is limited compared to the real princes, who, because of their ability to top the local polls and bring in one or more TD's based on their surplus and preferences, have sought and maintained a ministry role within government and then used their influences at national level to bring favour to their local constituency.

    And so since the early 1980's we have had a cyclical scenario in Irish politics where, thanks to the withdrawal of local taxation - which reinforced the reduction in the perceived role of councillors against TD's - we had a situation where people voted on local issues rather than national ones, nothing new I understand, but now a perception grew that by voting for independents and certain politicians, the constituents would gain in terms of employment, access to services, and improvement to those services and infrastructure. And this became self-prophesying. What was the point in voting for a national candidate when a local driven candidate could offer so much more in terms of payback? Thus we have 30 years where the local and parastatal nature of Irish politics and semi-state bodies has only increased their relevence and importance.

    In order to bring this to a natural conclusion, we also have to pay attention to the other topic that has ruined our political landscape and that is the nature of legacy politics.

    Roughly speaking, and paying little attention to offending sensibilities, legacy politics is literally dying on its feet. The idea of voting for a political party purely for family reasons is an anachronistic trapping from the past. By and large it benefits only two parties, FF and FG. A generalisation and perhaps a truism, is that these voters are both rural and aged. We have already seen how the rural/urban divide is striking in terms of how the respective voters vote. It's FF/FG in the rural areas and Labour/FG in the urban ones. The significance however, is that as this century continues along, populations continue to cluster towards the cities and away from these legacy strongholds. Furthermore, the forthcoming decade of stagnation will further increase the legacy flight by means of emigration to urban and foreign destination.

    And so in 2011, we will have a coalition government with a comparative enormous majority over the opposition. FF, Green, SF and Independent TD's will be completely irrelevant in terms of importance in local and indeed national politics, The Irish electorate are no fools in terms of electing self-serving politicians. What is the point in electing these TD's if they are in no position to action on the promises whispered in bars, funerals and houses of their constituents? We will, after a very long time, finally have a government with a full mandate to govern on national issues only, with a sufficient majority to see things through, and a genuine opportunity to bring about genuine political reform.

    It is at this point that we reach the unknown. Strategists in Labour and FG will be spending quite a lot if time cogitating on their most important task, and that is, remaining in power and a further reduction in FF's power-base. And therein lies the rub. Unless the forthcoming coalition engenders genuine political reform by doing away with the local parastatal nature of Irish politics, promoting local government to its proper place and installing a list system, we risk the possibility of returning to this awful spectre within 5 years. This cannot happen again. The unbelievable circumstances that have arisen to allow this change occur - and the price we are paying for it - must not be wasted. It is imperative that Labour and FG launch their campaigns on a joint platform of wide-reaching reform. This opportunity can only come about in the best of times and the worst of times.
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    Politics.ie Member OceanFrog's Avatar
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    Great post.

    But are you sure we'll have an election in 2011? I'm beginning to have my doubts, and Cowen has refused to confirm all 3 writs will be moved in March 2011 ...

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    Very good, thoughtful post......surprised it hasn't led to more discussion.....

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    Politics.ie Member Panopticon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malbekh View Post
    With the GE of 2011 we will finally see the end of a particular plague in Irish politics. The nature of our democratic process always lends itself to a coalition government, and the 2+1 nature of previous governments has had the added affliction of having independents and pseudo-independents all extracting their pound of flesh in order to support the status quo. But it's not as simple as that. The independent gombeen princes can only garner so much in favour and kind but retain their seats on the backbenches. Their power is limited compared to the real princes, who, because of their ability to top the local polls and bring in one or more TD's based on their surplus and preferences, have sought and maintained a ministry role within government and then used their influences at national level to bring favour to their local constituency.

    And so since the early 1980's we have had a cyclical scenario in Irish politics where, thanks to the withdrawal of local taxation - which reinforced the reduction in the perceived role of councillors against TD's - we had a situation where people voted on local issues rather than national ones, nothing new I understand, but now a perception grew that by voting for independents and certain politicians, the constituents would gain in terms of employment, access to services, and improvement to those services and infrastructure. And this became self-prophesying. What was the point in voting for a national candidate when a local driven candidate could offer so much more in terms of payback? Thus we have 30 years where the local and parastatal nature of Irish politics and semi-state bodies has only increased their relevence and importance.

    In order to bring this to a natural conclusion, we also have to pay attention to the other topic that has ruined our political landscape and that is the nature of legacy politics.

    Roughly speaking, and paying little attention to offending sensibilities, legacy politics is literally dying on its feet. The idea of voting for a political party purely for family reasons is an anachronistic trapping from the past. By and large it benefits only two parties, FF and FG. A generalisation and perhaps a truism, is that these voters are both rural and aged. We have already seen how the rural/urban divide is striking in terms of how the respective voters vote. It's FF/FG in the rural areas and Labour/FG in the urban ones. The significance however, is that as this century continues along, populations continue to cluster towards the cities and away from these legacy strongholds. Furthermore, the forthcoming decade of stagnation will further increase the legacy flight by means of emigration to urban and foreign destination.

    And so in 2011, we will have a coalition government with a comparative enormous majority over the opposition. FF, Green, SF and Independent TD's will be completely irrelevant in terms of importance in local and indeed national politics, The Irish electorate are no fools in terms of electing self-serving politicians. What is the point in electing these TD's if they are in no position to action on the promises whispered in bars, funerals and houses of their constituents? We will, after a very long time, finally have a government with a full mandate to govern on national issues only, with a sufficient majority to see things through, and a genuine opportunity to bring about genuine political reform.

    It is at this point that we reach the unknown. Strategists in Labour and FG will be spending quite a lot if time cogitating on their most important task, and that is, remaining in power and a further reduction in FF's power-base. And therein lies the rub. Unless the forthcoming coalition engenders genuine political reform by doing away with the local parastatal nature of Irish politics, promoting local government to its proper place and installing a list system, we risk the possibility of returning to this awful spectre within 5 years. This cannot happen again. The unbelievable circumstances that have arisen to allow this change occur - and the price we are paying for it - must not be wasted. It is imperative that Labour and FG launch their campaigns on a joint platform of wide-reaching reform. This opportunity can only come about in the best of times and the worst of times.
    I'm sure you will appreciate some related comments and criticism, given the time and effort you clearly put into that post.

    1. Gallagher and Marsh point out in their great guide to the 2007 election that independents enjoyed support on a demand-side basis; they got more votes when they appeared to be able to get more for their constituents. In 1997, the government needed local support and bought off independent TDs. In 2002, lots of new independents won seats because people wanted to get the same unfair benefits from the State. But they weren't needed! So in 2007, most of them lost their seats. Now the government gets independent support, but it can't spend lots of money to get their support, so maybe they won't be very popular next time round.

    2. In contrast, the localism of the four most popular parties will not be changed by a large majority. The largest two parties are mostly alliances of local powerful families, and the third is a mix of that model and the more traditional socialist organisation. There is no incentive for a new government based on these three parties to change the system. Three possible routes:
    - sideways: influence of a minor coalition partner (this has not worked for the Greens so far)
    - bottom-up: a mass movement (unlikely, most people don't actually care about how our democracy works)
    - top-down: an elite movement of opinion-formers like Garret aimed at the political elite directly and personally rather than through the ballot box (seems to be the current strategy among reformers, but means the proposal lacks a large support base at an inevitable referendum)

    3. It is surely the case that the local and service-delivery focus of Irish politicians is the main reason for their failure in addressing sensibly any questions that are not about local service delivery. Ireland's only national electoral competition is for the powerless Presidency. General elections are contested in tiny areas by multiple incumbents; this generates the Irish political equivalent of Gresham's law, where bad legislators drive out the good ones.

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