What has surprised me in the last few weeks is the wonder in some quarters at the outcomes of two, ostensibly at least, very different by-elections. In Clacton-on-Sea, the result delivered to the people of Great Britain its first UKIP MP. Nigel Farage hailed the election of Douglas Carswell as “a shift in the tectonic plates of British politics”. In a very different constituency in the west of Ireland the people, using the PRSTV system, elected Michael Fitzmaurice, who although receiving the second highest number ones, quickly overtook the pre-election favourite to eventually enjoy a comfortable finishing margin. Fitzmaurice may be called by some, the ‘Son of Ming’ but in many ways he is much more reflective of the demographic of the rural, under-developed constituency than his predecessor. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan with his typical flair for the dramatic, echoed the UFC Cage Fighter Conor McGregor, when he announced to those assembled in the Count Centre that ‘We are not here to take part, we are here to take over’. Fitzmaurice also has that rare ability to compose melodic phrases that resonate with the wider public; in his acceptance speech he declared that he was ‘a man of the soil’, a simple, powerful and almost pagan expression worthy of Kavanagh or Heaney.
Simple language can be powerful and a powerful message can often hang on its simplicity. The seductiveness of the simple language that Nigel Farage et al use is difficult to counter. Nationalist and Populist parties can thrive in the atmosphere that pervades the political landscape of Western Europe presently. Protests against austerity are springing up everywhere. Where once we had flash mobs we now have flash rebellions
It is perplexing how ordinary people throughout the United Kingdom think they can relate to this privately educated former banker. Are people really politically engaged when they vote for character driven Candidates who trade on their carefully manufactured personas? Surely this new politics is not sustainable? Recently a caller telephoned a radio show in the UK and said he’d voted for UKIP. When the presenter asked him why he had voted for them, the caller couldn’t name a single policy of UKIP. Sinn Fein still make promises here following on from the auction politics that reached its heights in 2011. When Sinn Fein Candidate Cathal King realised he was losing the Dublin SW televised debate on TV3, he hastily promised SF would abolish water charges. Unfortunately this abolition wasn’t part of the Sinn Fein Manifesto. Their policy proclaimed that they were opposing charges, but opposing is well short of abolishing. SF are learning that if you want to be serious about getting into power you have to have more than just populist policies, you must have policies that will survive retrospective spotlight. Unfortunately Cathal King reverted to default mode when put under pressure by the Anti-Austerity-Alliance Candidate, Paul Murphy.
The results in the Irish By-elections were not good for any of the main parties. Fianna Fail, Labour and Fine Gael combined have less than 30% of the votes in Dublin SW. Fianna Fail on the other hand are not making promises but it’s limited improvements show that in the current climate people do not have the patience to engage with them or forgive them for been at the helm when the country went down the tubes. Michael Martin put in a huge personal effort in Roscommon / South Leitrim knocking on doors all over the Constituency. Unfortunately while he was well received his Candidate wasn’t and at the end of the day it was not Michael Martins face on the ballot paper. Young Emmet Corcoran debated well and showed a passion that was largely absent from the race. He had one or two ideas that unfortunately will never see the light of day. Roscommon has done strange things over the years, electing and dumping Sean Doherty and Brian Lenihan, and for years returning the committed Socialist Jack McQuillan. This time around they elected a man that isn’t even from the constituency.
An absentee TD you might think yet of all the candidates, Fitzmaurice, who came into the race later than anyone, had by far the widest appeal. The Glinsk native resonated with the largely rural area, and whilst people outside Roscommon mightn’t have heard of him, he already had a profile. He had a passion & charisma that motivated a merry band of canvassers, not just constituents, but many from counties such as Longford Galway to take to the few highways and many byways of Roscommon and Leitrim. On the debates he stayed well out of trouble. One point that he made concerned the River Shannon which defines (and often floods) this area. For many years there have been plans to divert water from the Shannon to Dublin. The point made, a tad clumsily but made nonetheless, was why, oh why, can they not get clean water into the taps of Roscommon, when at the same time they can divert millions of gallons of ‘our’ water to the big City? Maybe the answer is that there isn’t the political will to invest in rural Ireland. Fitzmaurice’s argument pits the classic urban needs v rural necessities. Fitz plays the role of the boy in the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ pointing out the obvious to a blinded audience. The seductiveness of the simple answer is very difficult to counter?