Politics to me has never been about getting one over, or doing down, perceived opponents. I accept that for many people, maybe even most people, it tends to be. The worst motivation is always assumed. The worst possible construction is placed on any issue. Our politics are ill served by being almost entirely reactive and rarely proactive.
Movement, even in an agreed direction, is invariably criticised as being too late and/or too slow. Sequencing is particularly viewed poorly. Do it all and do it now, is the expectation that never be met. Part of that expectation is that legislation should be delivered in a ready to go fashion, as if there should be no role in a parliamentary process that scruitinises and amends.
The sclerosis that reactive politics creates is a culture where nothing clear gets stated, lest the words get misconstrued with the actual context lost. Analysis and real accountability disappear when we rely on memes and tropes, repeated endlessly, to establish narratives that help explain nothing.
To govern is to fail. To seek to do things differently is an admission of failure. This helps create a politics that is not only risk adverse but is also change repellent.
Because of this change happens far more slowly than it needs to. Despite all this change does manage to occur, even if we often fail to acknowledge such change.
How we measure change exacerbates this problem. Gains are there to be won not shared. Wins need to be gained in order to create certain losers so that they appear real. Battle lines have to be absolute. There is government and there is opposition. The idea of shifting coalitions that are issue dependent is seen to be heretical.
Considering government as an amorphous whole is a particular conceit. Shared government means just that, an ability to achieve but only partially. It doesn’t mean absorption. It shouldn’t mean loss of identity. The lines of attack seem to indicate otherwise.
In a mature political society it should be possible to pursue agreed approaches while stressing distinctiveness. These are unnatural divides that exist within political parties and within government as much as they exist within politics itself. While acknowledging these divides we don’t have accept them as being the only way we operate.
We need to stop behaving as if the holding of political beliefs are akin to being part of a religious cult. We can and should be able to disagree without having to reduce to invective. Views can and should change. Being persuaded by others’ arguments is not a weakness.
Since coming back to local government I’ve tried to turn my back on the point scoring, name calling, character assassinating aspects of Irish politics. I can’t see the point of it. I’ve certainly come to believe that it achieves little. I’ve learned that it’s best to concentrate on trying to achieve things. So much energy is wasted on the circus element of politics.
The most pointless aspect of our politics is that of the kneejerk response. Because it has been determined that adversarial politics are the only type we can practise, we are similarly expected to have pre-determined responses to any given situation.
Proof of this is how I expect many will respond to what I am saying here. I am expecting some pejorative comments about me and my party attributing many of the ills of the World to our existence. I’m expecting some amount of whataboutery, where unconnected or very tenuous facts will be presented to undermine the context I seek to make with these observations.
Once I would have reacted and would have done so badly. Now I have to interpret what is real and what is contrived. Because so much of our politics has been reduced to background noise, perhaps we have to learn to listen less in order to be able to listen better.
Then, perhaps, we can learn to respond better instead of trying to react more.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle