Monday, 28 February 2011

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Well, the Irish election results are pretty much in, and if you listen to the press, it's a momentous revolution:

With recounts taking place in a number of constituencies, the projected outcome last night was Fine Gael 76 seats, Labour 37, Fianna Fáil 20, Sinn Féin 14, United Left Alliance 5 and Others 14.
The share of first-preference votes was: Fine Gael 36.1 per cent, Labour 19.4 per cent, Fianna Fáil 17.4 per cent, Sinn Féin 9.9 per cent, Independents 15.2 per cent and Green Party 1.8 per cent.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. Yes, Fianna Fáil has been handed a thorough beating, after being the party of government for most of the past 80 years. Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin have done better this time than in any election since the state was founded.

But: this is a social revolution, not a political one. Fianna Fáil is out not because most of the voters wanted a different ideological and economic model, but because they wanted a less corrupt one. The political, legal and financial élite consisted of a couple of hundred men, all told - sitting on each others' boards, handing each other donations, lifting regulations to help each other out. It came - naturally - to a crashing stop and bankrupted the whole country.

So what did the voters do? They elected a party in Fine Gael which believes in the same things as Fianna Fáil: that the route to Irish prosperity is to maintain its status as a European tax haven for any dubious corporation with a brass plate to screw up on a rented front door. Other than the Labour voters and those angry enough to vote Sinn Féin, the Irish have voted for a new set of faces on the old policies. Enda Kenny and his friends haven't been hobnobbing to the same degree with the disgraced financiers who destroyed the entire country, but they're fully paid-up members of the permanent political class all the same: the neo-liberal consensus remains fully intact.

The difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - and this isn't a joke - isn't ideological: it goes back to the civil war. People vote between two rightwing parties on the basis of what happened in 1922, and to a shameful extent on the hereditary principle: too many people inherit their seats as part of family dynasties.

Perhaps the biggest change in dynastic terms is the fact that the new Dáil includes no member of the Haughey or Lemass families. A junior minister at the Department of Education and the Department of Enterprise, Seán Haughey was first elected a TD in 1992 but has now lost his seat in Dublin North Central. Both his father and grandfather held the office of taoiseach: he is a son of the late Charles Haughey, and his mother, Maureen, is a daughter of Seán Lemass. His uncle, Noel Lemass Jnr, and aunt, Eileen Lemass, were also members of the Dáil.
The Lenihans had three representatives in the outgoing Dáil but this has been reduced to one. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan made it on the fifth count in Dublin West but he will no longer be accompanied by his brother Conor, who lost out in Dublin South West. Their aunt, Mary O’Rourke (née Lenihan) was eliminated on the second count in Longford-Westmeath. Brian Lenihan Snr, (1930-1995) father of Brian Jnr and Conor and brother of Mary, held the office of tánaiste and a variety of cabinet posts; he was first elected a TD in 1961 and, unusually, his father, Patrick Lenihan (1902-1970), joined him in the Dáil after the general election of 1965, and they served together for five years.

And on, and on: the Hanafins, the Coughlans, the Andrews, the Healy-Raes, the Tom McEllistrims, the Cowens, Springs, de Valeras, Kennys, Barrys and Uptons all point to a rotten, and permanent, political class.

FF have been handed their hats in a big way today, and a few proper lefties have got in, but we really shouldn't mistake a change of guard for a change of policy, which I think is a real shame. Some cogs have fallen out, but the machine carries on.

The other tragedies in the election are the annihilation of all FF female candidates, and the total destruction of the Green Party. They propped up the Fianna Fáil government in a coalition, enabling the total destruction of the island's economy, while making virtually no gains for environmentalism. The result was rejection, and I can't see Ireland electing another Green to parliament for a generation, just when we need serious environmental politics desperately. John Gormley traded credibility for a ministerial limo and a higher profile, and betrayed his beliefs in the process: we'll all suffer for this.

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