Photo credit: Sinn Féin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0

Poll: Ireland’s inexorable march to the left continues

It’s not just an inexorable march to the soft left, either, as yesterday’s Sunday Times poll reveals. Sinn Fein’s surge continues, and much of that surge comes at the expense of the smaller, soft-left parties. The Social Democrats hit a new polling low of zero per cent, while Labour under Ivana Bacik continue to struggle to appeal to people who don’t know what focaccia is. The left are getting more left wing, and the right, well…. What right?

Eoin O’Malley wrote a compelling piece in yesterday’s Sunday Independent in which he speculates that there’s little the Government can do now about the next election, given that, he writes, they lack any other strategy other than “not to appear conservative for fear of scaring away young voters”:

We’ll get the same with proposed hate crime legislation. The Government will toe the line, as it is afraid to point out that such legislation is pointless. Meanwhile, they ignore the fact that streets feel much less safe. Government strategy, if it is that, is to not appear conservative for fear of scaring away young voters.

Of course, young voters only really care about the rents they have to pay or the prospects they have for buying a house. Sinn Féin keep banging out the same tune — that they’ll build loads of public housing, bring in rent freezes, and give cash payments for renters to boot.

It may not work, but at least it’s easy for voters to get. What is the Government’s housing policy in one line? Or even a single paragraph?

As polls show, very few people feel the Government is competent to deal with this problem. But it’s worse than that. Even if the housing crisis were to moderate in time for the next election, you get the impression the electorate has made up its mind. It wants this Government out.

My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the housing crisis is slightly overblown in the analysis of Irish politics. Certainly, there is widespread dissatisfaction about the state of housing, but it’s important to remember that voters very often just latch on to the current thing when they are finding some reason to explain why they are voting the way they are. Most people in Ireland have housing, remember – the total number of homeless or people unable to buy is a relatively small percentage of the population. One reason “housing” gets so much traction as a political issue is, I think, that it’s emblematic of a broader sense that Irish politics is incapable of getting the basic things right – that it is, as Niamh wrote in a brilliant piece yesterday, more about a sense that the country is falling apart at the seams. We can’t build houses. Our streets are not particularly safe. Our main national airport is a mess. Our hire cars cost tens of thousands for a week. And our political class is obsessed with trans rights and alcohol prices and sugar taxes and hate speech and who’s going to be the chairman of the county council next year. There’s a broader sense of malaise, and that something needs to change. Sinn Fein are the most obvious and radical – and, most importantly, viable – vehicle for change, and therefore they are benefitting.

The other thing that’s notable in Irish politics is the complete loss of faith of the voting public in the market, or in non-Governmental solutions to the nation’s problems. Incredibly, in a country where the planning process takes months, and where landlords are regulated to within an inch of their life, there is not one single political party willing to make the case that over-regulation might be a major part of the housing problem. Similarly, there is no political tolerance whatever for proposals that might increase the private sector’s role in healthcare, or transportation, or any other area. The public look around at problems, and they increasingly expect Government to solve them with no outside assistance.

O’Malley writes in his piece – and he is, in my view, correct – that a major problem is the lack of any intellectual energy in the two traditional big parties. There is no counterweight from the Government of any kind to the demands from the opposition for ever more left-wing policies both on the economy, and in the social sphere. The problem there is that by acceding, in some form, to almost every political demand for more intervention or more regulation, the Government is consistently sending the message that the opposition has the right ideas, and the only challenges are implementing them. If the debate is about implementation, then the Government’s only defence for itself is competence. And that, to be fair, is not their strong suit – nor would it be the strong suit of any Government. It’s hard to say you are more competent and trustworthy when you preside over the public sector, with its inbuilt layer of inefficiencies and scandals.

Barring a miracle, the next election will produce Ireland’s first officially left wing Government, led by a party whose youth wing openly admires the record of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and that of the Castros in Cuba.

That’s Hugo Chavez whose daughter is somehow amongst the richest ladies in South America, by the way. We don’t do things by halves, in Ireland – no mild experiment with Blairism for us. If we go left, we’re going to go proper left. I’m increasingly of the view that this might be the best thing for the country in the medium to long term. Until the left are actually in power, the public might not click how many of the ideas that they already hate originated with them to begin with. Maybe that’s the FG and FF plan: In the words of Louis XV of France, Après Moi, le deluge.

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