- 13 May 19
With the European elections on the horizon, it’s time to focus on the candidates who are serious about delivering a just and equal society, and action on climate change.
We’re so distracted these days! So many things demand urgent attention and an instant yet (somehow) considered, response. Slaves to the algorithms, the herds follow where they’re led. It’s all about the clicks. Headlines hustle, crises chase crises. If you’re not outraged at least twice a day you may be dead.
Yet, while much public discourse is jagged and fragmented, there is also a palpable energy and excitement, a sense that political logjams are beginning to move: the times may be a-changin’. But how? What needs close and immediate attention? We can’t abandon the field to the knave and the rogue. Yet, if we spend our days reacting to everything, we focus on nothing in particular.
‘This Time I’m Voting’ is a Europe-wide campaign encouraging young people to vote in the forthcoming EU elections on May 24. It identifies climate change, pollution, the refugee crisis, youth unemployment and mental health as key issues. I’d add Brexit and the re-emergence of republican ultras preaching the gospel of physical force, and marching about the place in paramilitary garb. Plus, of course, the continuing growth of the far right in Europe.
Some of these issues, notably Brexit, are beyond our control. On the rest, our impact may be as part of a movement or through the ballot box. The movements, like Extinction Rebellion, are up and running. But what of the looming elections?
This time around, your vote isn’t about sticking a finger in the Government’s eye or undermining the European project. Nor, and this is especially relevant in Ireland, is it about opting for egotists and eccentrics. Rather, it should be about constructively engaging, critiquing, proposing – and opposing. It’s about electing serious people with soundtrack records, who can be trusted to genuinely represent the voters and engage with the issues.
At first glance those offering themselves in the EU Parliament elections are a strange mix. There are some very fine candidates. There are also some chancers and charlatans. Caution is required. Caveat emptor!! There are some great candidates in the locals too, but looking through the full list, one feels that the showband era never really died!
It is, of course, fine that there’s a range of views, among candidates. But if we want to avoid giving oxygen to thugs and bullies, it’s imperative that everyone uses their vote on May 24.
This is especially true of young people. Polls show that those aged 18-24 are the most positive about the EU, but youth voting in the European (and local) elections is consistently low. Irish proponents of ‘This Time I’m Voting’ say they want to build on the high youth turnout in referendums on the 8th Amendment and Marriage Equality, and for the climate strikes on Fridays across the world.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but complacency is a major risk. The belief exists that poll results in recent years have defined Irish society for a generation. Up to a point, that may be true, but society needs constant gardening and vigilance regarding unseemly influences. One of these is the growing visibility of right-wing populism here. This is perhaps a consequence of Peter Casey’s comments on Travellers in the Presidential election. Though he has subsequently been at pains to distance himself from anti-traveller views, his rise in the polls was hardly unconnected.
Populism and the far right are a much bigger threat in other EU member states, but it would be foolish to underestimate the threat here. A number of candidates in both EU and local elections will seek to take control of the debate, raising and promoting views that are at odds with the broadly accepted norms of modern Irish society.
Going for such populists baldly may not be the best approach. Confrontation and denunciation by the so-called liberal elite is manna from heaven for them and their facilitators in the media. They thrive on vilification. They love donning the mantle of victimhood.
The Swiss-based ‘Operation Libero’ offers an alternative. They beat right-wing populists with viral videos, condoms and an iron determination not to let them decide what matters. It’s essentially a project by millennials. They say that “everyone is talking about identity, who we are, where we’re from, the past. So we need to go on the offensive, change the conversation.”
They’re not messing around. They have reversed the fortunes of Europe’s once-most successful far-right group, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), with a series of funny, subversive campaigns. But they don’t just oppose. They emphasise the positives of what they believe in.
Operation Libero’s co-president Flavia Kleiner says that politics has moved far beyond the left-right or progressive-conservative divide. She told Jon Henley of The Guardian that “it’s increasingly about constructive versus destructive.” She gave Henley her top tips and they include: reframing the debate; being accurate; honest, understandable. “You have to be responsible and positive,” she said.
Operation Libero sounds very like the grassroots coalition that delivered the Marriage Equality and 8th Amendment referenda in Ireland. The two inter-linked movements are peopled by committed activists. But does this mean that the same energy can be mobilised here, against populism and the far right (including republican ultras), for climate change action and constructively challenging the political system? Complacency is the enemy. The very success of the pro-Amendment movement has led to key figures being courted by the political parties.
This poses a huge risk. The movement may be fragmenting. It needs a fresh injection of energy! The elections on May 24 offer an opportunity to further advance the campaign for a new and better Ireland; and, by extension, a better Europe.
But everyone needs to vote – for candidates who are constructive and progressive on social and climate issues. You know who they are. Vote them in. Forget the rest.