- 05 Feb 20
The knock comes to the door. The temptation to hide is strong. Life is too short. But this time you open the door, to be greeted by a man with an over-enthusiastically cheery smile on his face. So what happens next?
At the age of 27, I’ve been engaged by the newfound popular protest movement that was galvanised around both the marriage equality referendum and the abortion referendum. In a social revolution largely mobilised by youth, it felt like we were finally waking up to the fact that we have the power to make some kind of real difference.
The upcoming election will verify whether this same momentum can be carried forward into the wider political arena.
It’s alarming (but not surprising) that, during the course of the election campaign, Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney have not mentioned the major achievement of their government: the passing of the abortion referendum and the subsequent introduction of legislation to allow women to access abortion in Ireland. Fine Gael has obviously decided that, on this issue, the risk of losing votes from their core support is bigger than any potential gains.
They are, it seems, prisoners of their past. And Fianna Fáil are no different.
MISTAKES WERE MADE
There is no easier way to demonstrate how ossified the ideologies of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties really are than a conversation with a canvasser.
A call to the door from a representative of a Fianna Fáil candidate – who shall remain nameless – is a most telling example of the unchallenged, calcified ideologies of the party that brought us to our knees.
“Hello,” the figure in the porch greets me, "can I ask you to consider X for your number one vote.” I’m clocking the Fianna Fáil logo. “No, I’m afraid not,” I reply. “I’ve been pretty pissed at you guys for the last ten years and beyond, and I’m amazed that you can show your faces at all on any door step.”
Suddenly, I feel sorry for the representative. “Look,” I say, “I know you’re not the candidate, but you’re campaigning for the values of Fianna Fáil, so I’m sorry that you have to get the brunt of my ire, but that’s the dealio right? I mean you’re on the frontlines here, in the crossfire, so to speak.”
I can see he’s a reasonable guy and has taken a few bullets over the course of his door-to-door push. I’m not sure if he’s quite ready for me, though. He tries a personal approach. “You know X is actually a really good man, and maybe you could consider the man before the party when you’re casting your vote.” I round on him, “But the man is IN the party! Are you taking the piss?!”
“Well...” he says, “you know, he doesn’t agree with everything his party is doing and he’s actually working very hard to try to make changes from within, and sometimes that’s the best way to go about these things.”
“Are you kidding me?” I say.
I’m wound up now. “We’re in the voracious hysteria of late-stage capitalism, we have ten years to address the climate emergency, Australia is burning, Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming uninhabitable, displacing thousands and thousands, and nothing in your party’s campaign is expressing any kind of urgency, or any kind of admission that we need to effect radical change.
"It’s business as usual, carrying on: ‘Mistakes were made, but not by us'. What I want to hear from you is something radically removed from what the Lords of Rampant Economic Imperialism have been telling me. I mean look at the city: we won’t recognise it for the aggressive corporate landscape that Dublin is becoming.”
UNBRIDLED CORPORATE SPECULATION
At this point, three other men who have been prospecting the street are standing mute in front of me and somehow their silence draws my attention to the fact that I’m still in my pyjamas and it’s 3 o’clock. But then I remember it’s Sunday, and I’m in my home. “So, fuck’ em,” I think to myself.
I stand my ground and brazen it out. One man speaks up. “I see you have a bike there,” he says in a condescending tone. “That’s very good, look we all recognise that there is a climate crisis.”
“But,” I say, “We’re way beyond the need to admit that climate change is real, we need to be doing something about it already.” His hackles are up. “Okay, look so you’ll probably be voting on the environment. X has that all in his policy, to address the challenges of climate.”
Now I’m exasperated, and wondering why I bothered getting into this debate. “This isn’t just about the environment,” I say. “It’s about sustainability and social justice. The logic is fucked; if you think you can keep growing an economy to the benefit of unbridled corporate speculation, and at the expense of the most vulnerable – not to mention the climate – then this is the policy of a destructive drunk. One for the road, before we all go down again!”
An impatient sidekick has stepped up. “Come on, let’s go,” he urges. “It’s clear that we’re not going to get anywhere here. Thanks for your time.”
“Hold on," I say, “this is a two-way conversation. I want to change your mind as much as you want to change mine. I’m begging you to tell your candidate that we can’t carry on with the same addiction to growth, without taking care of the most vulnerable.”
I can see they have shut down and checked out, that they don’t really have time for my opinion. And if that’s the case, then they’ve confirmed what I had already figured about the party: they're a bunch of prospectors, moving resources around to the areas that give up the most. There is nothing to be profited here by either of us. We’re all wasting our time.
“Well, look,” the original canvasser says, apparently appealing to my good will, “if you won’t give X your number one, perhaps you’d consider him your number 2.”
I hold up the flyer: “Dinosaurs in space.” And off they fuck, up the road, like drunks leaving a party.
BUILD ON THE MOMENTUM
So: what is to be done, and where should our votes go? We know that at least one of the two biggest players will remain in some form of a coalition or “confidence and supply” arrangement. Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael will continue to be in the driver’s seat, with indistinguishable ideologies, the only difference being their origin and historical class divisions.
We have no choice but to accept that they have created the worst housing crisis in living memory; hospital waiting lists are the longest in Europe; and they have enabled monopoly capitalism to deface our country.
At this stage, however, a vote can – and must – be directed towards providing diversity in our Government, towards strengthening the individuals or parties that will offer the right sentiments, and policies in this next, inevitable coalition.
We must vote past the typical short-termism of Irish politics, and of the major Irish political parties, and continue to build on the momentum, and the ideals, that catalysed the social revolution in Ireland.
I’ll be looking for the candidates most capable of doing that and giving them my No.1, 2 and 3. If enough people do, it will be understood at least as a declaration of intent. We still have the power to make a difference. It is time to shake things up again.
See our coverage of the general election in the new issue of Hot Press, hitting shelves this Thursday, February 6.