The most telling moment in yesterday’s saga in the UK was not the result of the vote of confidence in Boris Johnson last night, but the rationale for it, articulated here by his old rival for the leadership, Jeremy Hunt:
Anyone who believes our country is stronger, fairer & more prosperous when led by Conservatives should reflect that the consequence of not changing will be to hand the country to others who do not share those values. Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 6, 2022
“We must change, or lose”, spoke Mr. Hunt. It wasn’t personal, at least not openly. Just a matter of the next election. Britain would be better, he believes, with a Conservative Government, and so the Conservatives must have a leader who can win. You may agree, or disagree, with that, but there’s a conviction to it. A sense that politics is important, and the outcome of the next election matters more than the personal success of an individual politician.
What a remarkable contrast with Ireland.
At the time of writing, the Conservatives in the UK are in trouble, but they are in a vastly better position than either Fianna Fáil, or Fine Gael. There’s a perfectly reasonable chance that the Tories can win the next election either with Mr. Johnson, or with a new leader. There is, effectively, no chance of the present Irish Government being re-elected in its present form.
And yet, its members do not seem to care. There’s no real sense from them that a Sinn Fein Government would be bad for the country, or something that they must panic to avoid. This, by the way, is not to say that a Sinn Fein Government would necessarily be bad – just that if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs do not believe that it would be, then one wonders why they are in politics at all.
The irony, of course, is that a Sinn Fein Government in Ireland would represent a much bigger shift in policy than a Labour Government in the UK. Labour, if it wins the next UK election, will likely govern as it usually does – a moderate party of the centre left.. Sinn Fein, by contrast, have basically promised to transform the whole country, and make it much more like the South American socialist regimes they openly admire. Anybody who sincerely believes in the state which FF and FG have built for 100 years should – you might think – be fundamentally opposed to them, and doing everything in their power to keep them out.
But it all comes back to the same point: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs, deep down in their hearts and souls, don’t really believe in anything except being there. My colleague Niamh wrote last week about Jack Chambers, the FF TD for Dublin West, having a damascene conversion on the abortion issue. Nobody sensible really believes that Jack Chambers has a firm position on the abortion issue, though, any more this week than last. His position, like the FF and FG position on almost everything, is “whatever they tell me on the doors”. Campaigners for abortion weren’t fooled by him, laughing openly. The joke, of course, was on anyone who’d believed him before last week. You should never truly take an Irish politician seriously when he professes to believe in anything.
In fact, as a general rule, the Irish establishment, including our media, is much more interested in British politics than it is Irish politics.
In Fine Gael, the party leader is under Garda investigation for potentially illegally leaking Government documents. And yet, in Ireland, we spend more time looking askance at Britain’s leader for getting a fine for breaking the covid rules. The Fianna Fáil leader broke his most explicit promise at the last election – it was his very first act after the election, in fact – not to put FG back in Government, but in Ireland, we’re obsessed with what Boris said or didn’t say about Brexit.
And so it is that the Irish political establishment is on course to be given a hiding of unprecedented proportions at the next election, and they don’t, really, appear to care. There’s a resignation to it. A sense of the inevitable. A sense that “it won’t be too bad”, or that “it doesn’t really matter anyway”. We drift along, from tedious row to even more tedious scandal, children’s’ hospital to maternity hospital, banning turf to banning speech, floating along by borrowing ideas from NGOs and outrages from journalists because our guys have no ideas of their own. Hoping against hope, if we’re a backbench TD, that fixing a few potholes will save the seat, and we’ll be there to rebuild in opposition and get a few outings on Prime Time.
It’s the contrast between a country that takes politics seriously, and a country in which nobody, nobody at all, takes any real responsibility for governing. The voters, even, have given up on any real sense of accountability or reform, and, like the politicians, are just waiting, with limited enthusiasm, for the next chapter.
Irish politics is dull, dreary, depressing, and mediocre. Perhaps that’s why we’re so interested in the fate of Mr. Johnson, and his party. Because at least there’s a sense that what they do matters. That there might be consequences, and changes, as a result of the decisions taken in Westminster. Here? We drift along miserably, knowing, in our hearts, that the TDs are probably right. Nothing of any importance is going to change, no matter who leads Fianna Fáil, or Fine Gael. You’d wonder why we bothered shedding all that blood becoming independent at all. After all, the only hurdle our lot seem to think they have to clear is “not as bad as what they have in London”. If that’s the standard to which we hold them, then we have no right to complain about the state of the country.