From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Bega’s Barbers, Enniscorthy, County Wexford last night; Dr Rory Hearne.
Things are not going to plan for King Kenny and Fine Gael in General Election 2016.
But where is the alternative?
Dr Rory Hearne writes:
King Kenny, Michael Noonan and the fiscal space invaders appear to be losing the election. The opinion poll last week in the Irish Times showed that 63% wanted a change of government and only 30% wanted to see the current government returned!
But it wasn’t supposed to be like this for Fine Gael.
This was supposed to be King Kenny’s coronation with the election just a formality where the Irish people obediently went into the election booths and ticked ‘yes, your majesty’ in the boxes beside Fine Gael and Labour candidates.
The Irish people were supposed to choose the stability of King Kenny and his court jesters over the chaos of the rabble rousing Sinn Féin, Independents and others who were going to ‘wreck the economy’.
And then the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance got found out, again. This time by the Fiscal Advisory Council and Sinn Fein – the government’s economic figures were plucked from outer space.
But there was something else happening in the public mood even before this latest incident of attempted manipulation.
Ireland has changed, and the people are no longer the passive sheep of the past. People are not as easily fooled or bribed by cute hoorism, spin and false promises. They have been fooled too many times by the establishment parties and they have suffered dearly from broken promises.
Irish People no longer vote the same way as their parents or family did. They no longer vote for who can ‘fix the potholes’. We are no longer an obedient subservient society doing what the church, state, government and establishment political parties tell us to do.
We have our own minds and we will decide ourselves what is best for us – for everyone, as a society of Irish people – not just an economy of individuals.
And that’s why the wheels have fallen off the government’s re-election wagon.
The people were supposed to have been bought off by promises of tax and USC cuts – the ‘few bob’ back in your pocket. To say thank you for paying the price of austerity, bailing out the developers, bondholders and banks.
But people realise that cutting taxes is ‘boom-bust’ false economics. They realise we need taxes such as the USC to fund proper public services.
King Kenny is very wrong in thinking as he arrogantly said at his party’s economic policy launch that “the vast majority of people don’t understand” economic jargon.
Recent opinion polls show the people understand very well that if you cut taxes and the USC it will mean longer hospital waiting lists, a worse trolley crisis, more homelessness, less guards on the streets, more expensive college fees etc.
They know that if the USC goes – it will mean a €3.7bn hole in the public finances every year – and that is some serious austerity budget cut.
The graph below shows that if the USC is abolished next year we will lose as much from public spending as any of the austerity budgets during this government’s term of office. Abolishing the USC will give us permanent austerity.
Of course this suits the wealthy top 20% as they can easily afford private health care, childcare, rent, mortgages etc – unlike the majority of people.
Most people would get more benefit from having a universal health system, publicly provided affordable childcare, actually free education and affordable housing, than they would from a few hundred quid from tax cuts.
And the people know this – that’s why in the latest poll in the Sunday Independent, for example, more people chose improving public services over tax cuts.
They also realise that cutting taxes and the USC benefits the top earners more.
They are wondering where the mythical recovery is because they aren’t seeing it.
They know we are a deeply unequal country where half the households in the country have just 5% of the total wealth. But the top 20% have 70% of the wealth.
And what the government have ignored to their peril is that the water protests, the Marriage Referendum and the Repeal the 8th campaign are part of a grassroots and generational shift in views of people looking for real, substantive, change.
My research into the water movement, for example, found that people are not just protesting about the water charges but even more so about the devastating impact of the recession and austerity, the injustice of the banking debts, and growing inequality. They are protesting for a more equal Ireland – for Ireland to be a caring society and not just an economy.
They are angry at the political establishment for not standing up to Europe and the bondholders on the saddling of the bankers and developers debt on to the Irish people. Noonan and the government laugh and scorn at Syrizia, the Greek government, for failing in its attempt to stand up and challenge Europe.
But the Irish people have more respect for Syrizia than the Irish government because even though Syrizia might not have succeeded this time, at least they stood up for the Greek people.
Now the question is. Is there an alternative to King Kenny?
The answer is yes, and no.
Fianna Fáil are clearly not an alternative. They wrecked the economy and showed they are no different -while the Green Party were their supportive side-kick, just like Labour is now with Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil are also likely to go into coalition with Fine Gael after the election.
As for Renua – well they are even more right-wing than Fine Gael and most of them are ex-Fine Gaelers who all voted for austerity budgets until the abortion issue came along. Then they decided Fine Gael were not conservative enough for them. They are also likely to support a Fine Gael Government
That leaves Sinn Féin, Independents, the Social Democrats and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit.
These are offering an alternative. They will substantially increase their vote and the polls show that they could get up to 50 or 60 TDs in the election. But that is still short of the 80 TDs needed to form a government.
Unfortunately they are divided, fragmented and do not appear as a coherent alternative government.
The Right2Water/Right2Change campaign tried to get them to unite around a set of really good common policies and a vision for an Ireland of ‘equality, democracy and justice’ (you can see the policy principles here).
Unfortunately they all didn’t row in behind that initiative.
But there is still time.
I wrote in the Irish Examiner in December 2014 that “it is very possible that in the next general election, whether it is in 2015 or 2016, the Irish people will vote for the most dramatic transformation in politics since the foundation of the State”
I still believe it is possible. But I think it depends on whether people are presented with a coherent alternative. One way would be for the Sinn Fein, Independents, the Social Democrats and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit to unite and present themselves as an ‘alliance for change’.
Imagine a press conference with Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams, Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Finian McGrath and Clare Daly – where they state that they have put aside their differences and have come together to offer the people of Ireland a real alternative government.
That would be a game changer.
Dr Rory Hearne is a Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change. His column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne
Pic: Fine Gael